« Back to all posts

Is Marketing Translation Dead?

marketing translation light bulb

Advances in technology and automation over the last 20 years have enabled businesses to take great leaps forwards in terms of translation efficiency. Increased sophistication has also fundamentally altered how translations are completed and priced, but a lot of the focus has been on achieving consistency to increase leverage. But what is the impact on the creativity that is needed when translating marketing content? Have we reached a point where we should ignore leverage and consistency and focus on creative adaptation instead?

When computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools first arrived in the translation industry, we were all able to start slicing and dicing whatever content we worked on. Offering the users the freedom to almost instantaneously view exactly how many words, repetitions, and fuzzy matches they had used, the new tools delivered pretty much everything a client could possibly want. If a potential customer was not interested, ourselves and our competitors did everything possible to convert them over to a world where leverage and consistency ruled.

Over time, this practice of centralization and over-leveraging of translation memories resulted in local messaging that are conformed to stay loyal to the source content. Translation gets too literal, and local sales and marketing teams in various markets feel that the content no longer speaks their language.

Sometimes we come across what central teams call ‘rogue development projects’. What happens in such cases is that local teams take it upon themselves to write their own material or hire local freelancers to help. Whilst such practices might resolve short-term problems, the companies concerned are effectively paying twice for their translations. They’ve not only paid for work done by their own central HQ team, they’re also out of pocket for local work sourced via either their internal work payroll or from their local sales/marketing budget.

Other potential negative impacts of ‘quick fixes’ like this include:

  • Local teams do not benefit from corporate HQ’s expertise.
  • Poor global campaign coordination causes end-to-end inefficiencies and under-utilization of global marketing automation tools and SEO.
  • The gap between a client’s global vision and local realities widens, resulting in communications breakdowns and fragmented brand messages.

Ironically, rather than delivering their intended savings, practices like this often end up costing more money for frequently inferior quality.

I propose a different approach that eliminates such headaches altogether, or at least most of the headaches. 

In doing so, my assumptions are that:

  • Marketing collateral materials rarely contain vast quantities of content. To put numbers on it, the length of online help/documentation generally runs to hundreds of thousands or even millions of words, while marketing content usually comprises just thousands or tens of thousands.
  • Marketing content’s intended functions are very different to those of technical content. Its key objectives are to build clients’ brands, and boost interest amongst target consumers at each stage of the sales process. Such objectives are, by definition, designed to elicit a more emotional response from readers.
  • While brand truths remain universal, key selling propositions must often be fine-tuned for individual local markets if they are to be effective. Worse still, ignoring local adaptation in favor of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may even result in large losses for major brands.
  • Marketing messages designed for different channels must be tailored to fit their intended audience. For this reason, specific elements of content often need to be tweaked when used in a media channel other than the one they were originally written for.
  • Complete decentralization of all marketing collateral materials and websites frequently generates very fragmented and inefficient marketing plans.

Given these assumptions about the creation and adaptation of marketing content, the most workable approach would surely be to combine the best of translation and creative adaptation. To this end, I believe that translators and copywriters should work together with client’s internal resources as dedicated teams on a long-term basis.  I cannot stress enough the need to involve all people, internal and external, at every step of the process and for year after year. This builds an understanding of the company, the products/services, marketing objectives, and so many more aspects that enable successful global and local campaigns.

People:

  • As mentioned above, clients requiring translations should create virtual teams of internal staff and external partners. They should also ensure that their team’s various members collaborate right from the initial planning and originating stage rather than just at the execution. By doing so, transcreation specialists can build a better understanding of their clients’ plans and key products. Such a step is also likely to measurably speed up turnaround times and upgrade quality.
  • Rather than simply paying on a per-word basis, companies should explore payment options such as paying for time, retainers, or other arrangements. This enables the formation of virtual teams of global talents that complement their own HQ and/or in-country staff. The big advantage here is that such resources can be shared globally, you will not require headcount, and only pay for the time needed. In short, you can build a virtual global marketing team that can develop local marketing content by external local experts even before you have your own marketing employees in your local offices.
  • The best way to understand local sales and management teams, is to listen carefully to their viewpoints. Finished projects that fail to satisfy their expectations will either hinder local marketing efforts or simply not be used.

Technology:

  • Clients should strive to use all available translation and creative technologies that are known to add value to translation work.
  • When using translation tools such as CAT, companies and external vendors should be careful about how they attempt to use leverage and segmentation. I think CAT-tools are great for translation work, they keep track of the projects, show you who changed what, have excellent content checking features, and are of course very useful when translating.
  • But if you force a breakdown of a written page into small pieces (segments), you also force the translators to keep the same flow and sentence structure across all subsequent languages. While this can easily be adjusted during the process by, say, merging segments, the translators’ interface encourages translators to think by segment and restricted by the flow of the source text rather than that of their native language.
  • In content such as that intended for use in Asian markets, the flow of words may well be very different. As a result, attempting to segment such content sentence by sentence will frequently result in translated text that looks and sounds very clumsy. But this is also true for most languages and as a Swede, I find this to be true of my own native tongue. While I understand what the writer/translator is trying to tell me, the language he/she is using just sounds plain awkward and wrong.
  • In summary, CAT-tools should be used with care, and maybe not for some content. And when used, you should consider segmenting the text on a paragraph or document level – depending on the content’s intended function. In doing, so the translator will be able to enjoy the full benefits of the various features offered by CAT-tools.

Timelines:

  • Clients should start by creating a content matrix for all marketing communications, outlining what is needed and when/where, as well as who will help make it happen and how. With a tiered approach, this should not be too complex.

Communications:

  • As effective communications are essential for all virtual teams, team members should meet online or face-face as regularly as possible.
  • Clients should also implement effective collaborative platforms and harness shared project plans that keep everyone informed and engaged at every step.

While exact measurements for individual pieces will vary from company to company, the above steps represent some of the cornerstones for building a successful global marketing localization plan. If you’d like to learn more, please shoot me an email!