Multilingualism in Museums, Part 5

Marketing3 Marketing Terms Modern Museum Translators Need to Know (and Why)

These days, effective translating in museums is about communication, not just translation. In that and many other ways, modern museum translators find themselves borrowing from the world of marketing to engage visitors. 

This is part three in our series on multilingualism in museums. This time, we focus on the forces that drive our translation techniques and how similar they can be to those that drive marketers.

Brush Up on Your Marketing Terms

If you’re at all familiar with modern marketing techniques these days, then you might have heard the terms “user experience”, “hyperlocal”, and “buyer persona”. They’re buzzwords that get bandied about in marketing circles but which might sound a little foreign to museum translators.

That’s a shame since translators need to know about these terms if they’re going to help museums fulfil their mission-based goals. Each term, in its own way, describes an important concept in how to effectively communicate with the people you need to reach. Whether it’s a consumer of shoes online or a consumer of ideas in a museum, the key to reaching both is communication. Marketers know this. Museum translators need to know it, too. Here’s why…

Driving Force: the Mission-Based Role of Communication in Museums

We’re well past the days when museums were considered the “keepers of culture”, or mere storage and preservation halls for the artefacts of history. Nowadays, museum mission statements have been rewritten to incorporate a new agenda: the notion of having a responsibility to serve the public.


How do modern museums fulfil this type of visitor-oriented mission?

  • Outreach
  • Engagement
  • Interdisciplinary exhibits
  • Interactive exhibits
  • And more

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Museum translators play an increasingly important role in helping museums teams reach these and other goals.

Not surprisingly then, the tools they use are remarkably similar to those used by modern digital marketers. That’s because it’s all about communication: how to best communicate with your target audience.

Here are three concepts museum translators (and the museum communication team) can borrow from the field of marketing to reach a diverse population of museum visitors.

1. Buyer Persona

Marketers study “buyer personas”, which are fictional characters representing the ideal customer. It helps them envision their target audience so they can create targeted messaging for the customers they most want to reach.

Translators need to be briefed with several buyer personas so they, too, can envision whom they’re targeting with their translations. For example, there’s the immigrant community located near the museum who might benefit from some outreach programs. The way you word your marketing collateral, your exhibition panels and other translations can greatly affect how well you’re able to engage that particular population. Bring them to life as you create your translations and you’ll do a better job of “speaking their language”.

3. Contextual Marketing

Culturally-sensitive translations can go a long way toward reaching a specific population. Marketers call this idea “contextual marketing”. Translators have a different word:

You’ve heard the term “transcreation“? It’s the notion that translators need to deliver a targeted message to a specific population (sounds a lot like marketing!). Transcreation involves creating a culturally-sensitive message that may or may not be different from the original.

4. Hyperlocal

Girl in museumDigital marketers benefit when they can build a local customer base comprised of people who live or work within walking distance of their client. That pretty much sums up what museums are attempting when they do local outreach to underserved populations. Whether it’s the immigrant population they’d like to bring in for cultural sharing events or it’s the bilingual kids in the local elementary school who’d love to visit the museum for a school trip, your local audience matters just as much as those who are visiting from around the globe.

Making your translations feel local with region-specific references and personalized messaging based on demographics, weather, or geography can help translators reach a hyperlocal audience.


Thinking like a marketer can help align you with museum goals. Rather than just preserving artefacts and educating the privileged few, as they did in the past, museums now see their role vastly expanded to include serving diverse populations and responding to their needs… even competing for their interests(1). We hope these three marketing concepts can help you help your museum clients reach those goals.