Lost in Translation? That’s so 2003…

Successful translation of Marketing content can bring a torrent of new revenues from foreign markets. Or it can do lasting damage to your brand. Here are three tips for success!
lightbulbs with business buzzwords in filaments

Successful translation of Marketing content can bring a torrent of new revenues from foreign markets. Or it can do lasting damage to your brand.

We were doing a Quarterly Business Review with one of our clients: it’s when they look at the leverage they’re getting from language assets, and work with us on ways improve quality and control costs. The Director of Marketing popped in say hello, and stayed to chat. We asked her a very direct question: “What keeps you up at night?” She pulled out a chair and sat down, and told us about some of the things she worries about when launching marketing campaigns internationally.

“What I think most about is the Message,” she told us. “Remember the cola campaign with the tagline: “The Drink That Refreshes”? And how in Chinese it became ‘Dig Up the Bones of Your Ancestors?’” Well…I don’t want be that the person who missed that one. All that time and effort only to flop locally. “

We all looked at the floor. It’s tough to think of the poor soul who got it wrong. And the millions of dollars spent to set it right. Our client continued:

“Working with marketing text is tricky…If it doesn’t convey the sense and style of the original then it loses its meaning and intent, right? And translation for the web, for marketing, brochures, blogs, social media…all of that stuff, it takes a different set of skills from what you’d need, say, for technical information like training texts or service bulletins…So, a translator has to parse the meaning of a sentence and understand if it needs simple ‘translation’ or actual ‘transcreation.’ Just because a slogan or a tag-line works in English, there’s a good chance it won’t carry the same intent and meaning and humor into German or Chinese. ”

“The translator not only speaks the target language natively, but also understands the product or service they’re translating for…” I muttered. “Domain Expertise, right?”

“Exactly,” she confirmed. “Translators have to get inside the heads of both the writer and the reader. Should it have the same tone, the same voice as the original? What’s appropriate for the target market? We’re relying heavily on the translators and reviewers to figure out what’s going to work locally as well as globally”

Nobody wants a mis-step here, I thought. The stakes are too high. Negative publicity or meaningless content that does nothing, or worse harms your product.

So how to approach the translation of marketing content?

“What are some best practices? I asked.

She laughed. “Vendor selection,” she said. ” I know that you guys at MondragonLingua put your translators through the mill and make sure they have native language skills AND domain expertise, so I worry less about that now. But I still want to see the same translator, whenever possible, assigned to my content. Tribal Knowledge is important.”

I nodded sagely. We’d been doing that automatically. But we also had a back-up translator. And a back-up to that back-up. All of them were familiar with our client’s content. Anyone of them could jump in at any time.

“Second,” she continued, “build in the time to conduct careful review of the translated content as it comes back. Ideally, we conduct market research or A/B testing with a sample of consumers in the target market, but that doesn’t always happen. There just isn’t the time. So, what we do, as you’ve seen, is have translators and reviewers make changes in real-time but make certain those changes go into the translation memories and term banks. ”

“In-country, in-context,” I agreed.

“And that works well. Also, you gotta have good workflow-management tools, right? You have to enable rapid transfer of both source and translated content, let reviewers to access and track the content, and enable that back-and-forth between translators, reviewers, project managers and the marketing department. ”

“So erm…our workflow platform, LinguaHub. You’ve been using that but now you’re connecting directly into our TMS… ”

“Correct. You guys helped us set up a connector from your TMS into our CMS and, let me say, that makes life a lot easier.”

 We covered a lot more ground after that, including some discussion about when to use machine translation and the nascent world of Neural MT. But I’ll save the conversation for another day. Our client had laid out the basics. As she put it:

“Follow these simple rules and the ‘Bones of your Ancestors’ can Rest in Peace.”

If you’d like to know about our work in Marketing and Global Digital Marketing, click the box below. Or reach out to me here!

Related content from GALA: Corporate Localization Strategies and Tactics

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