Don’t Sabotage Your Company With Cheap Translations


Picture the scene. You’re on the verge of a product launch in a foreign market, everything is perfect, from your social media strategy, branding and product descriptions to your website and retail channels – everything that goes into a successful product launch.

Well, almost everything. It only remains to turn those finely honed product descriptions into similarly informative, precise and appealing texts in the native language of your target market.

So what do you do? When you have a mountain of short, relatively simple texts to process, it’s only natural to try to save money with your translations. When costs have mounted in every other marketing area, surely there’s scope to save money on translation? What could go wrong?

Plenty. Cutting corners in their content translation strategies can be hugely costly for large and small businesses alike as they seek to grow, leading to product databases stuffed with poorly written descriptions and slogans that make no sense at all.

Why It’s Vital to Avoid Translation-Related Branding Disasters

Sometimes these errors can be amusing to outsiders. For example, when Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market in the 1980s, their famous “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan was translated as “Eat Your Fingers Off” to Chinese chicken fans. In fact a quick google will bring up thousands of similarly amusing blunders. But you can bet that the mistake wasn’t funny to the company’s directors.

KFC got away with their blunder, but small companies seeking to expand don’t have that kind of leeway. No matter what your business is, the way you translate your content can be crucial to helping it grow.

  • Smaller companies have to fight to maintain the distinctiveness of their brand and the way they present themselves really matters. It communicates their unique personality, introduces their range of products and generates trust among potential buyers.
  • In a world of many different cultures, a sensitively written translation also adds credibility to foreign companies. First impressions from native audiences can make or break your product launches and if the style and content isn’t right, they will be unlikely to choose your company over local brands.
  • Good translations can also protect against brand damage. For example, if you are selling a facial moisturiser that isn’t suitable for children, this needs to be clearly stated in the packaging. Any mistakes in areas like this can lead to huge legal costs and ruin your brand.

We’re not the only ones concerned by this trend either, Home Business Magazine have also been looking into common problems companies face when looking for translation services. The damaging effects of poor quality translations on companies is clearly no seldom seen incident, but rather an ongoing issue. Despite all of the excellent reasons to make translation the centrepiece of cross-border marketing strategies, sourcing translations is often a fraught process. But why?

No business wants to be embarrassed by poor translations. The desire to limit costs is understandable, but in theory there’s no reason why accurate, compelling translations cannot be sourced at an affordable price. The problem lies in how businesses source the translations they require.

The Cynical World of Low Cost Translation Agencies

Translation agencies have become adept at promoting their services to international clients, but they don’t always have all the skills to back up their promises.

Unscrupuluous agencies know what SEO managers want and they use this to their full advantage. One common trick they use is to lure companies in with dazzling sample translations, while assuring clients that thousands of similar texts will be forthcoming.

Then, reality bites. The stream of actual content doesn’t resemble the samples in the slightest. In cases like this, the agency has sourced a sample from one of their best workers, and then turned the main task over to a pool of freelancers, who may or may not be expert translators. When that happens, quality control will likely be sacrificed.

Sometimes, agencies also attract clients by prominently displaying CVs from genuinely accomplished, well-qualified translators. Clients naturally expect that kind of ability to be applied to their texts, only for the results to resemble raw Google Translate outputs.

What’s happened here? Obviously the agency has deceived their client by exaggerating the abilities of their workers, and the client has understandably fallen for it.

How to Safeguard Your Translation Efforts Against Costly Errors

Finding an agency that can satisfy your translation needs isn’t difficult, but it does require due diligence.

As a general rule, try to avoid simply choosing the agency with the best price per hundred texts and be a little sceptical of slick advertising or website design. Go a little deeper.

Another useful idea is to look at testimonies from past clients. Don’t be afraid to contact them to check that their opinions have been faithfully represented.

It’s also fine to ask for evidence of the qualifications or in-country experience possessed by your agency’s translators, and to make sure that these professionals will be the ones working on your texts.

If need be, make direct contact with the agency. Talk to their staff about how they select translators and how they check their abilities. You should be able to get a good sense for how knowledgeable they are about languages, and how seriously they take the task of meeting clients’ needs.

Go Beyond Translation by Hiring Transcreation Experts Instead

It also helps to be very clear about what is required of your translators. Remember, a marketing style that is appropriate in Italy won’t be exactly the same in the United Kingdom or Germany.

Good translators can accurately translate key words and retain your brand identity, yet tailor their texts for the culture of your target market. This is what we call “transcreation.” It’s a far cry from plugging texts into Google Translate and tweaking a few verbs here and there.

Transcreation involves paying close attention to tone, flow, vocabulary and the meaning of every word, while retaining the spirit and content of the original text.
This takes real expertise. That’s why agencies that specialise in transcreation tend to be slightly more expensive, and it’s also why it’s worth paying a premium for their services.

Good transcreators represent a blend of fluent, imaginative writers, marketing experts and diligent translators. As such, they tend to be thin on the ground, but it’s worth seeking them out. The alternative is putting your work out to pools of able writers with little foreign language expertise, or professional translators who aren’t comfortable writing marketing texts…

All companies want their content to read well, avoid glaring spelling and grammar mistakes, reflect their brand identity and possess the attractive, soulful quality that all good writing possesses. Getting to that stage isn’t as simple as hiring the first agency you find. It takes care, attention and creativity to market across borders, and it also helps to explore all of the options available to you. Just be careful about choosing the cheapest option. You may well regret it.

Written by SamUrq


  1. jose - February 15, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

    I love the word “transcreate”, it really defines the work of a marketing-oriented web translator. Only translating into our mother-tongue can we achieve the “ohhh effect” that only a few other companies aim at. Hope clients soon understand how important a good translation is, how it can boost online sales, increase customer satisfaction… How is it companies still use Google Translate or low cost online translation?

  2. Tom - March 23, 2017 @ 12:48 pm

    I see really interesting information here

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