When translation is not enough

Translating marketing content is different from most other content. In fact, it’s not even called translation. It is transcreation.

What is this service exactly?

Why transcreation?

Why transcreation?

How is it different from translation?

How is it different from translation?

How to succeed with transcreation?

How to succeed with transcreation?

Marketing copy is one of the most important content assets you own. It’s what your prospects encounter first. It is what they are going to remember and judge you by. It needs premium treatment because it must work extra hard to bring those customers through the door.

Often, when words are simply translated from one language to another, they may not actually resonate with people from a different culture. For instance, familial and community ties are valued more than individualistic behaviour in some cultures. Hence, when designing or writing for such cultures, the copy as well as the visuals need to reflect these values. Also, there may be subtle nuances in the colors, numbers, symbols, and body language preferred by the people of one region over the other.

Transcreation differs from translation in five important ways:

  1. It usually involves copy writing from scratch. If existing content is very specific to the home locale, customers from a different region or country will not relate to it. At such times, creating fresh copy can turn out to be more efficient than numerous rewrites of the original content.
  2. While translation may be carried out a single linguist, team work and close collaboration with the client is necessary for transcreation. It calls for some hybrid skills such as copy writing, translation, and subject matter expertise. Transcreation teams cannot be recruited, they have to be built as the skill sets required are rare to find.
  3. Quality metrics for translation and transcreation are different, as both content types have different objectives. Accuracy and faithfulness to the original are priced highly in translation, but transcreation metrics may include lead nurturing, customer engagement, and brand awareness. However, the metrics may not be limited to these and may vary according to business priorities.
  4. Transcreation is used in limited contexts unlike translation which has widespread use throughout content assets. Candidates for transcreation are usually website homepage, ad copy, and tag lines. It’s use is limited because of the cost and time involved. So, consider carefully which content may require transcreation. For instance, transcreating a blog post may be overkill. Your language services provider (LSP) can advise on this.
  5. Transcreation is not a use case for machine translation (MT) obviously, as it needs high-quality and creative professional human effort. In contrast, content that is not client-facing is now regularly run through MT engines.

To make transcreation successful, keep a couple of things in mind:

  • Make sure there is a creative brief to start with. In this brief, clearly mention the target audience and the tone of voice you want to use to address them. It matters a lot in some languages like those in Asia where there are multiple levels of formality. Also, if there are variants of a language being used in a locale, specify which one you want. It makes a lot of difference in stating these things upfront rather than launching your campaign, finding that it’s not clicking with your users, and re-doing everything. The creative brief lays down the central idea of the brand messaging. In the absence of a brief, the messaging may vary from locale to locale, which is not what you want.
  • Given the nature of the content, many companies may think that it can be entrusted to a marketing agency. However, for the best results in international marketing, your agency must coordinate with your LSP. There are things about multilingual copywriting that an LSP understands better than marketing agencies. Take for instance the copy for digital ads. While a marketing agency may know how to create great copy, the LSP knows how to create great copy which is relevant to the locale as well as true to the original idea.
  • Make sure you are not saying “trousers” in the US and “pants” in the UK. Using locale-specific terminology is an essential part of transcreation. Create a style guide and glossary and clearly mention the terms you want used and those not. Make sure your transcreation team members have access to it. This also helps in getting multilingual search engine optimization (SEO) right.
  • There are many levels of transcreation that an LSP can provide, depending on the market, its sensitivity to culture-relevant marketing, and of course, your budget. Determine the level you want upfront to avoid misalignment with the LSP.

Lastly, be proactive in giving feedback to the transcreation team, as it’s close collaboration that ultimately makes transcreation work. Establish clear and agreed-on feedback and review processes to ensure smooth working of the transcreation and marketing teams.

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