Translating Your Business Copy

Exporting products or services to a new country is sure to expand your market, but getting product information and marketing material translated effectively is a must.

The decision to export products and services into a new country is an obvious one for businesses intent on expanding, but it’s a shift that requires a great deal of preparation. Translating marketing and product information into a different language, or tailoring material to suit a different English-language culture, is an important first step.

Mark Johnston, Managing Director of Vetstream – an online veterinary information service based in Cambridge – says that, for his company, penetrating the US market depended on adapting an entire product range. Vetstream produces an online encyclopaedia of clinical information on dogs, cats, rabbits and horses. American vets, however, wanted content to be written in ‘American English’ and also expected it to represent American expertise and opinion-leaders. So Vetstream revised their database to satisfy a wider audience. “The US market is so big, ten times the size of our core UK market, and our content is tailored for it now,” says Mark.

Automated translation

If your existing customer base is diverse and your customers primarily approach you online, then translating material into multiple languages may be a necessity. Herbal beverage company Mama Tea is keen to export and so markets itself primarily through social media and blogging, channels that are key to attracting international attention. “We did a lot of work on Google Analytics and saw the sheer numbers coming to our URL and blogs, and that the hits were coming from a lot of different countries,” says founder and CEO Anna Louise Simpson.

Anna has since translated her marketing copy using a free online translation service, which translates her site’s pages into over 70 languages. Automated translation services – among them Google TranslateSDL BeGlobal and Systran – won’t provide results as polished as those produced by a professional translator, but they can do enough to enable a company to fulfil orders from large numbers of international visitors. As Mama Tea strengthens its foothold in other countries – with tweets supporting a launch event in Moscow and localised social networking in China – Anna Louise predicts a time when she will need to employ dedicated local translators.

Translators and agencies

Dedicated translation services will do a more thorough job of capturing and understanding subtle differences in languages. Outsourcing translation projects tends to be more cost-effective than hiring translators and many agencies offer a range of services – from basic document translation to search engine optimization based on accurate identification of keywords that fit your target markets. The right agency is most likely to provide material that is fit for purpose if they are fully briefed on your brand, the style in which you generate material in English, and your key messages.

“We did a lot of work on Google Analytics and saw the sheer numbers coming to our URL and blogs, and that the hits were coming from a lot of different countries.” Anna Louise Simpson, founder and CEO of Mama Tea.

If that sounds costly, remember that it may not be necessary to translate all content. Not all your web pages will be appropriate for local markets. An inventory of web and other marketing materials is an important first step.

On the other hand, businesses should certainly think through the implications of only translating part of their web offering. A translated homepage that isn’t backed up by an ability to respond to emailed enquiries in another language will frustrate your international visitors and potentially cause you to lose sales.

What to look for

Look for translation agencies that offer a range of services: basic document translation, legal expertise in the required languages and familiarity with web content translation exercises. Some will also provide localisation testing and cultural consultation.

Check that your agency is certified. International standard IOS 9001:2008 shows quality management systems within an organisation and EN 15038 is a standard issued by the European Committee for Standardisation and is specific to translation services. University towns are usually happy hunting grounds for translation services, but organisations with an international reach are easy to access. In the UK, the Association of Translation Companies vets members and imposes a code of conduct.

Translations of product material that fail to capture a brand’s ethos can lead to embarrassing gaffes or simply a business failing to gain any traction in a new territory, while contracts or distribution agreements that are poorly translated can lead to costly disputes. A considered approach to translation can help remove these risks.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK