Dan Schaefer

Content Writer, Programmer, Marketing Consultant

December 20th, 2013

Translate Your Marketing Material for International Sales

Marketing Tools, by Dan Schaefer.

Translating your marketing material to a different language may seem like a simple task: find a translator, submit documents, receive translated documents, and publish. But marketing material appeals to human emotions, and emotions are not easy to capture with words in your own language, let alone a language you don’t understand. The bottom line is that you’re not simply translating the words; you’re translating emotions, so a simple literal translation is almost always insufficient.

speed, accuracy, impact

Balancing the three realities of translation

Marketing material translation requires you to strike a balance between the three independent elements of speed, accuracy and marketing impact.  These independent elements share a relatively small space of common ground, as shown in the diagram.  Considering each of these elements independently:

  • Speed: You can optimize speed by using an online translation engine like Google Translate, but you will sacrifice context and ultimately have limited impact.
  • Accuracy: You can optimize accuracy by hiring a translator that provides literal translation, but it will lack proper context and emotional impact.
  • Impact: To maximize marketing impact, you can hire an in-country autonomous marketing team that creates their own marketing content; however, your budget may not support it.
Assuming you don’t have the budget to hire autonomous marketing teams in your targeted geographies, you will want to aim for the middle ground of speed, accuracy and marketing impact. The ten points below provide guidance along this path.
  1. Regional Bias: Humans unconsciously include colloquialisms and metaphors in everyday conversation. Most of these regional expressions do not translate with sensible meaning. For example, computer network professionals often refer to the transmission of voice, video and data as a “triple play” scenario. “Triple play” is a baseball reference used in a metaphorical sense, and a literal translation for cultures unfamiliar with baseball will be meaningless. This is not to say that you should avoid regional references, but make sure they are clearly identified so that your translator can search for a parallel in the targeted region.
  2. Wordiness: Different cultures have different levels of sensitivity in the level of wordiness. Americans, for example, tend to be more wordy than Japanese. So if you’re writing material for both markets, you may want to hedge on the word count to find a happy medium.
  3. Single-Source: To streamline your translation process, each document should have one – and only one – source. All translations will flow from that single source, which keeps all translated documents in sync with each other. Further, the single source document should use a format that easily works with other tools. XML (Extensible Markup Language), for example, is a very pliable document format. It allows easy integration with most other document-processing tools, including tools that your translation vendor may use.
  4. Automate: Implement a process that controls document flow from original source to final translation. This will allow you to coordinate and optimize resources. For example, your translators receive a heads-up when a source document is changed. This allows them to schedule the updates into their workflow and get the job completed quickly.
  5. Layout: Inconsistencies in document layout can surface when a translated language is more or less compact than the original language. For example, a 20-page document in English may result in a 15-page document in Chinese and a 24-page document in Japanese. If a paragraph references a diagram on the same page in the original document, it could flow into a different page in the translated document. One good way to avoid this situation is to use custom XML tags. You can easily spot the custom XML tags in the translated document and ensure that the referenced diagram is placed nearby.
  6. Translator Consistency: Ask your translation vendor to assign the same translator(s) for all your material and updates. Over time, a translator will build a level of familiarity with your material, and this familiarity will make him/her more efficient. Further, be willing to train your translators in your market and technology. You’ll have to pay them for their time, but it will have a positive impact on quality.
  7. Glossary: Create a thorough glossary of your company’s terminology. Your translators may have questions on terminology, so you need to provide a quick and thorough reference for them to consult. For example, your company may use the term, “symbol conversion rate” to describe the rate at which your product can process encrypted symbols. Make sure your translators have access to a description of this term so they can find – or invent – similar terminology in the target language.
  8. Translation Memory (TM): Many translation vendors use software to automatically create a cross-reference of commonly used phrases and their corresponding translations. The TM is then used to assist the translators by pre-translating a document. This not only helps speed up the translation process, but it ensures consistency across all your marketing material. TM also benefits you in those situations when you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to request the translation of a commonly used phrase; you simply consult the TM through the vendor’s online application.
  9. Quality Assurance (QA): Use a QA team to double-check your translator’s results. This may or may not be necessary, depending on the amount that you trust your translator to get it right the first time. It is good practice nevertheless to get a second set of eyes on the final material. (Your in-country sales team may want to take on this task.)
  10. Schedule: The translation process should be scheduled into your product release cycles. Prior to each product release, work closely with the Product Management team to ensure they provide accurate product information with sufficient lead-time for translation. You’re goal is to release fully translated product information on the same day that your new products are released.

You can’t put your best foot forward if you speaking not the correctly. Even minor grammatical or spelling errors can negate your marketing efforts. Also, don’t assume, as many American companies do, that foreign markets read and understand English. While this may be true in some limited cases (e.g.; the Netherlands), it is generally not true, and any arrogance you show by not translating your marketing material will reflect negatively on your sales. The costs associated with translating marketing material must therefore be built into the international business plan.

With the above considerations in mind, you can build a translation process that cost-effectively allows you to market internationally.

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