Lost in Translation mondragonLingua

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!
One of our clients is the Director of Marketing at a manufacturer of safety equipment. Recently, we asked her to share some of the challenges she faces when translating marketing content.

“What I think most about is the Message,” she told us. “Translation might be accurate, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the target locale. Remember “The Drink That Refreshes”? And how in Chinese it became ‘Dig Up the Bones of Your Ancestors?’”

We got a chuckle out of that. Briefly. But it’s tough to think of the poor soul who got it wrong. And the millions of dollars spent to set it right.
Ten years ago, when Machine Translation (MT) was ramping up, we were fearful of our jobs. We thought Google Translate would be the end of our industry. Who needs a translator when they can just copy and paste into an algorithm? Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. Turns out that the machine still needs a human.
Our client continued:

“Working with marketing texts is tricky” she told us. “If they don’t convey the sense and style of the original then they lose their meaning and intent, their very essence.”

“Second, translation of marketing content: for the web, brochures, or blogs… requires skills that are completely different to those needed to translate technical texts.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Well, a translator needs to able 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 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.”

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.

“First, ensure your translation partner has the skills you need. I know that you guys at MondragonLingua put your translators through a rigorous selection process to ensure 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. Conduct market research or A/B testing with a sample of consumers in the target market.”

“In-country, in-context,” I agreed.

“Thirdly, have a powerful workflow-management system that enables rapid transfer of both source and translated content, allows for reviewers to access and track the content, and facilitates a robust back-and-forth between translators, reviewers, project managers and the marketing department.”

“You’re using our portal? ”

“I am, and now we’re also using the Connector from your Portal 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.”

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