Ensuring Brand Integrity with Terminology Management

By Emmanuel Margetic
July 2011

Ensuring brand integrity with terminology management

Successful businesses provide useful products or services – but useful products or services alone do not guarantee a successful business. Building a brand that consistently engages customers through appealing language and logos will get potential customers to try – and eventually – to trust a company’s product or service. When brand language is inconsistent, however, the brand becomes diluted or misunderstood. This results in the loss of potentially loyal customers. Managing a company’s brand language is important for any company, but it becomes vital when a company expands its markets across borders and translates its messages into other languages. Terminology management is an essential tool for both domestic and international businesses in helping them maintain clear and consistent messages.

A Case In Point

The Melting Pot, a North American fondue restaurant franchise, is a good example of a company that found out just how essential terminology management can be.

In 2010, The Melting Pot’s successful franchise was ready to expand into Mexico. Its kitchen training material had been translated into Spanish previously – specifically for The Melting Pot’s Spanish-speaking American employees who originally came from various Latin American countries – by the translation service provider MultiLing. Executives from The Melting Pot thought the Spanish they were currently using would be sufficient for the menu and other materials to be used in Mexico. When the Mexican franchise owners visited The Melting Pot’s headquarters in the United States, it became clear that one dialect of Spanish is not always the same as another.

The Melting Pot easily resolved this by having MultiLing create a terminology database that provided a glossary of new terms appropriate for the Mexican locations. In the end, The Melting Pot was using the same basic language, but with country specific terms.

Getting started

Building and implementing a terminology management system is basically the same notwithstanding if it’s a large international company or a small to medium domestic one. The only difference will be in the scale and complexity of the system. The foundation for a good terminology management system is a database with preferred terms, synonyms, trademarked terms, and conventions for acronyms or unique trade language.

The first step in building a database is deciding on how to organize and assimilate it once it is built. Adequate thought must be given to making it easy for users to find and identify the best terms or language for a particular situation. The more planning is incorporated into a terminology management system the more potential problems will be eliminated. With a well thought-out system, unproductive searches and disputes over correct terminology will be minimized.

Once a business has worked out the organization for its system, it needs to research and review all of the company’s communications (instructional, educational, marketing, etc.) to find common terms relevant to its industry and its particular company. This research and review stage is a continuing process for most companies. If the review is only done once, over time some of the terminology will become stagnant and irrelevant. When terminology research and review is approached as an ongoing practice, it keeps the company vibrant and its brand strong.

In the case of reviewing terminology in multiple languages, in-country experts should always be consulted to ensure that the terminology has been accurately understood and translated.

Domestic companies’ need for terminology management

Even though domestic companies do not have to translate their messages into a foreign language, most have their own vocabulary of industry jargon. Companies need to designate specific definitions for the specialized jargon unique to their industries and companies so that its meaning can be communicated clearly and consistently. Companies are often so accustomed to the language of their industry or organization that they may not recognize when terms or phrases require a definition in order to communicate effectively with current or potential customers. An industry outsider could be a useful resource in determining what is commonly understood and what is not. Once defined, the correct use of this terminology should be carefully maintained. Inconsistent use of jargon leads to confusion and frustration and can cause lasting brand damage.

Synonyms can be another problem area for many companies. Large enterprises frequently encounter the necessity of defining which synonyms should be used in the context of their companies. Smaller businesses, however, often tend to neglect this issue, which proves to be detrimental. Companies need to consider clarity of meaning rather than just the appeal of variety when synonyms are used. The time a company spends, even a small domestic company, in protecting the integrity of its brand through terminology management, is like an investment in brand injury insurance.

International companies’ need for terminology management

Terminology management is even more critical for companies doing business in international markets. The quality of translation services can vary dramatically. Translators who are not native speakers usually do not understand the subtle nuances words can have in a particular culture. Careful attention must be paid to how a company’s message will be perceived in order not to cause offense or confusion.

As in the case of The Melting Pot, even though the language was the same, it became clear that different countries have their own dialect with words and phrases unique to that culture. When the wrong word or phrase is used this can often lead to misinterpretation and to a company highlighting itself as a “foreigner” in that particular market.

Synonyms exist in every language. But as helpful as synonyms may be in giving a company more options when describing its product or services, without careful scrutiny they can easily lead to misunderstanding. When The Melting Pot expanded into Mexico and began translating its company’s materials into a second dialect, it realized that it had to make some changes in the original English version’s use of synonyms so that the correct meaning would still be retained after multiple translations. Synonyms, acronyms, and jargon can be clever and strategic but may be difficult to translate with the same meaning.

Keeping a consistent, global terminology database will allow international companies to create material quicker and more efficiently. The automation process will save time and money, and help to keep brand marketing consistent throughout all translated languages.

Create a “do not translate” list

Once a terminology database is intact, creating a “do not translate” list in order to keep some specific trademarked terms unchanged may be an important step. Translating a trademarked term will weaken its power with the consumer and severely damage the defensibility of the trademark.

By keeping specific terms consistent across all languages, companies can improve their credibility. At the same time, a “do not translate” list should only be reserved for trademarks or terms that are important to the identity of a company or its products. Businesses should choose carefully which terms should stay unchanged across languages and which ones should be translated. A strong brand successfully balances the need to maintain the credibility of its trademarks with the need to accurately communicate the value of its product or services to the consumer.


A company’s success is built by loyal customers who have been convinced through appealing brand language to try its products or services. Keeping its brand message consistent, especially when a company expands internationally, is critical because if a company’s brand language falters, the confidence and loyalty of its customers may waver. Terminology management is a great way for a company, domestic or international, to ensure that its brand remains strong and consistent – just ask The Melting Pot.