The Real Cost of NOT Professionally Translating Marketing Materials

As modern consumers, we are constantly inundated with information through the use of mobile devices and wearable tech. This means that we are rarely off the grid. Digital content is coming at us from all angles and as a result, we have become very good at the art of ‘extreme skim reading’. As we try not to drown in content, we are learning to filter out anything that isn’t 100% relevant to us. We simply don’t have the time anymore to invest in reading something – anything – unless we feel that we really get something out of it. And we make that judgment call with lightning speed. Fifteen seconds, which is what the average person gives content, is like a lifetime. So when your potential customer is reading your text, you need to make it count.

When companies create their English marketing materials, they have it covered – the messaging is clear for an English-speaking target audience. But as a business starts to grow and enters new markets for the first time, how will the English copy fare? Many companies work with an ‘English first’ content strategy, where marketing content is first created in English (most often the company’s business language) and subsequently translated into other languages. In the beginning, a marketing translation is often more cost-effective and easier to manage than engaging with content creators and marketing agencies in the new target markets.

In the translation industry, professionals often talk about localization. What does that mean? The essence of localization is to make translated text as relevant as possible to readers in the target language. The aim is to speak to the reader in such a way that he/she wouldn’t even realize that the text is a translation. Why? There are two reasons:

  1. Familiarity

People tend to feel safer buying from a company who speaks the same language as them and who shares the same cultural values. In an e-commerce context, consumers face a lot of uncertainties when buying products or services from another country, so it’s only natural that they would be somewhat more skeptical about a foreign company. Is it safe to pay with my credit card on this website? What’s the return policy? What are my legal rights buying products from another country? When a potential customer first interacts with a company’s content, they should feel like they are in safe hands. This means presenting common information in a way that is familiar, using common phrases and style. In other words, they should feel as though they are on a website or dealing with a company in their own country.

  1. Avoiding unnecessary distractions

Clear, concise communication is at the core of all successful marketing strategies. The same holds true for localization of messages to non-English speaking audiences. In order to do this, eliminate any elements that will cause the reader to pause unnecessarily, anything that will distract them from the core marketing message. For example, if prices are displayed in USD only on a website, a German reader would have to convert the prices into EUR to understand if it’s a good deal or not. This means stopping, calculating in one’s head or checking on a currency conversion website. By that time, a prospect may already have lost interest and moved on.

Another example could be the use of slang in marketing messages. Making sure that a message is culturally relevant is important. A literal translation of a pun, funny saying or slang verbiage likely will not directly translate into anything that makes sense in another language.

While some practices may be understandable for companies that have infrequent and small translation requirements, we’ve run into three practices that often hang on long after some businesses’ multilingual translation needs have become regular and extensive, costing money and/or impacting quality.

Using bilingual employees to do translations

This is something we hear frequently from companies. They don’t usually have any translation needs because they have employees who take care of it for them. In some companies, this means those employees handle speaking with the occasional Spanish-speaking customer or translating brief emails. But sometimes company leaders, even leaders of large companies, believe they can continue to rely on their employees as they translate marketing materials, websites, etc. This approach has hidden costs that are often overlooked.

  • – Opportunity cost: Bilingual employees generally have other jobs at the company. The time they spend on translation takes away from their main job. Using employees is often seen as a cost-saving measure, but the use of these employees – often highly skilled and paid – represents an opportunity cost since it takes them away from their primary job. Using professional translators can actually be cheaper that the work lost by using employees.
  • – Delays: Because employees have other work that can’t always wait while they concentrate on translation, translation projects are often long and drawn out processes.
  • – Poor quality: Companies wouldn’t think of just letting any employee write their marketing materials, but see no problem with simply handing these materials over to any bilingual employee for translation. But a good translator not only has to know both the source and the target language extremely well, and has to be a good writer in the target language. Having an employee whose only qualification as translator is being bilingual handle translation needs is inviting quality problems.

Failing to plan for translation

When a company gets to the point of knowing that its marketing materials will regularly need to be translated, it’s time to start planning for translation from the beginning of the content development process. Translation agencies can offer many suggestions for writing, designing, and authoring marketing content that will smooth the translation process later, saving time and money.

Translating marketing materials should be an investment in expanding a business. In a world where people’s attention span is shorter than the time it takes to say ‘content marketing’, every interaction with your potential customers, however fleeting, must be interesting and inspire confidence in your brand. So when you get your marketing materials translated from English into another language, you need to get it right from the start. Investing in a high-quality marketing translation is your best bet to ensure that your translated marketing materials will really resonate with your target audience, and that you will see a faster return on your investment.