Category Archives: Matt Baird

Customs Clearance for Your Content Marketing

How to get your message across the border?

By Matt Baird

The United States may be the largest consumer market in the world, but did you know that 96 percent of the planet’s consumers do not live here? With purchasing power on the rise across the globe and the internet making our world smaller than ever, there’s no better time to market your products and services abroad.

But before you attempt to cross the border, consider this: Less than six percent of the world’s population speaks English well enough to shop or do business in that language. Research shows that the vast majority of people prefer surfing online in their native languageand that includes millennials, history’s first “digital natives.” The message is clear: Offering more local-language content increases the likelihood of purchase.

Today’s “digi-savvy” marketers know that paving a smooth customer journey is much more than clearing a path from product to purchase. You have to invest in the story and turn customers into fans. Creating content that is relevant and valuable is just as important in most foreign markets as it is in the US. A survey of shoppers in some of the world’s largest economies showed that now nearly 40 percent of online shoppers use social networks to get inspiration for their purchases.You not only have to speak the local language, you have to do so in a voice that the locals can understand. Click To Tweet

So, if you want to take your online shop overseas—or any product or service for that matter—you’d better pack your story along for the ride. But when you transport anything across borders, you have to make sure it clears customs. The same goes for your content marketing. It has to pass through the language and cultural barriers. And much like the customs clearance process, proper preparation is the key to smooth and rapid market entry. Here are some tips to get you started.

Translate it…but:

This may seem obvious, but you can’t tell a story if people can’t read it. So, the first step is having your content correctly translated. And that’s the caveat. You’ll spare yourself a lot of wasted time and frustration by seeking out translators who specialize in content marketing. These language geeks can capture the nuances of your content and avoid embarrassing—or costly—mistranslations. As native speakers of your target language, they’ll point out culturally sensitive subject matter and offer ways to appropriately repackage your message. While a bilingual colleague or an eager and inexpensive college student may help you understand something written in another language, they probably don’t have the skills to produce high quality content in that language.

Resist the machines:

There’s certainly a place for technology, but it’s not in marketing, where your goal is to engage human beings and elicit a human response. When you cut to the chase, even translation technology vendors will tell you that it doesn’t pay to use their machines for creative materials. The simple fact is: consumers left scratching their heads won’t be clicking on LIKE, SHARE or BUY. Translation technology will continue to make headlines, but remember this: Even one of the world’s most famous (fictional) robots, C-3PO, said, “Sometimes I just don’t understand human behavior.”

Build locally, and they will come:

Once you’ve put your story in a new language, it’s time to go deeper. Avoid the mistakes of others who build captivating content marketing campaigns that lead to a brick wall of English text. Every step of the customer journey must be in their language—from the Facebook post to the landing page to the BUY button. The industry term is localization, which means converting everything from language, currency, and dates to the look and feel of your sites to match local preferences. Even the right colors can make a difference. The entire experience should feel native. And be sure to keep this in mind: marketing channels vary across the globe. While Facebook dominates the Western world, it’s nearly non-existent in China, where WeChat and Weibo are the places to see and be seen.

Take it slow, and talk to the experts:

A truly global content marketing campaign is serious business. Take it one step at a time. Talk to localization experts to learn the tricks of the global marketing trade. For example, if your company is business to business, there are ways to reduce the entry barriers and reach more markets with (nearly) the same content. You can probably get away with publishing your white papers, case studies, and blog articles in English in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, German in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and universal Spanish in the nine Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. On the other hand, if you’re targeting consumers in specific age groups on social media, you’ll need to adapt the content for each individual country.

Depending on the size of your international marketing aspirations, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. But don’t be discouraged. With such a sea of potential customers, you’d be well advised to take the plunge below the surface. Use these tips as a guide to get you started. Focus on your message, work with professionals, and keep your sights on creating a native customer experience in each country.

The lesson to be learned from the many pieces of content that don’t really resonate with their intended target audience—that don’t “clear customs”—is that you not only have to speak the local language, you have to do so in a voice that the locals can understand. If you can appreciate that difference, then you’ll be well on your way to seeing your content arrive perfectly packaged on the doorsteps of potential customers around the world.

Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator and copywriter specializing in content marketing and corporate communications. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 100 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

To Translate or Not to Translate

Five Tips for Knowing When You Need Professional Translation

By Matt Baird

Matt Baird“A little knowledge goes a long way.” That’s what Michael, the owner of a fast-growing company, said to his business partner when discussing the process of taking their US success into international markets.

His partner couldn’t agree more. Sales were up, and they both knew why. Michael had decided to have his sales training materials translated and adapted for each market by professional translators who specialize in marketing and sales.

This was a brand new concept for Michael. He had never seen the value of translating internal documents. In fact, he’d never been involved in the translation process at all, leaving those types of tasks and decisions to his staff. Plus, his international sales teams communicate in English, and everybody understands one another. So why should he care?

Deciding what material to translate and whether you need professional translators with subject-matter expertise is not always easy. But taking the time to understand and make those decisions can pay off. Here are five tips that can help.Asking the right questions can make all the difference. Click To Tweet

1) Does it really need to be translated? This is the first and most important question decision-makers need to ask themselves. Pull your team together to decide what you actually need. You’d be surprised which parts you can cut right from the get-go. Companies have been known to trim hundreds of pages off their documentation by consulting translators, who can help flag the parts that don’t apply to foreign markets. Michael and his team agreed that the company’s sales training workshop was key to their success, so that’s what they focused on.

2) Is it “for-information” or “for-publication?” Next, ask yourself this: how important is style, or is technical accuracy more important than a polished shine? Chances are if you are trying to sell or persuade, or if image is important to you, accuracy alone will not suffice. An inexperienced translator may deliver a translation that is accurate yet overly influenced by the original language, resulting in clunky sentences and awkward vocabulary. An experienced specialist can ensure your translations read like original content written by a native speaker. Be aware that some translation suppliers sell for-information quality at for-publication prices. So, be sure to clarify that point up front. Though Michael’s translation was for internal purposes, his sales training materials needed a for-publication level of quality.

3) How big is my audience? One approach is to calculate how many people will be reading your content. Are you preparing a nationwide ad campaign or an in-house memo? Would an awkward or even flawed translation affect your corporate image and sales? Might it even lead to legal liability issues? It’s vital to have your glossy magazine ads and other widely read external communications professionally translated. For in-house documents with limited circulation, you may want to choose a less expensive option.

4) How technical or specialized is it? You may think that technical content is easy to translate. It’s not poetry and the terms are in the dictionary, right? Think again. The more technical and specialized your subject matter, the more your translators need to know it inside and out. Poorly written technical content often means the translator was in over their head. And though your bilingual engineer may seem like the obvious choice, they likely lack the years of training and practice necessary to transfer information between the two languages in writing, especially if translating into their non-native language. But your bilingual employees are great assets! Have them work with the translator to create a bilingual glossaries of technical terms and/or put them in direct contact with the translator for questions. Michael took the time to talk to the translators selected for his job to double check whether they were at home in the sales world.

5) How important is it? You may only have a target audience of one, but if that one person is vital to your business—or is the future of your business—then do-it-yourself or for-information translations simply won’t do. Imagine you’re a start-up looking to pitch your products or services in non-English-speaking markets. A sub-par translation would give a terrible impression of your company. And you might not even know how bad it is if it’s a language you do not understand. But your potential market will!

Michael discovered that a great translation—even for internal purposes—can have a huge impact on your bottom line. So, plan ahead and take charge from the start by studying your options. Look for translation talent with subject-matter expertise, and involve them in the planning stages. Get your own people involved so you know what you need. And take control of the controllable: avoid ambiguous language and produce in-house glossaries.

Translation, like language itself, is a nuanced business. Knowing what to translate and whether you need a professional translator is not always easy. Asking the right questions can make all the difference. Business owners, executives and other decision makers ignore these questions at their own peril. Getting it right will determine the success or failure of what you’re doing—whether it’s a high profile marketing campaign intended for millions or a highly nuanced message aimed at your internal sales team.

Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator with over fifteen years of experience. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

By Matt Baird

Matt BairdWe’ve all seen them: eyebrow-raising “translations” that leave you either shaking your head or slapping your knee. Just ask Google and you’ll find countless examples such as a no smoking sign in Israel that says “violators will be peralized” (yes, it’s even misspelled) or a bilingual road sign in Wales telling Welsh-speaking truck drivers: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”

While blunders like these make for great laughs, mistranslations can have far more serious consequences on your company’s image and really stick you where it hurts—your pocketbook.

Imagine the money you would spend to completely rebrand yourself if the translation of your witty, well-thought-out tagline left your Spanish-speaking customers scratching their heads. And how much would it cost for a PR campaign to explain why the catchy slogan for your brand-new product launch was translated into something that makes people squirm?

Now, if bad for business weren’t bad enough, how about life threatening?

Medical professionals certainly understand how critical getting lost in translation can be. One wrong word, even in a non-medical text, can lead to illness or misdiagnosis. Picture having to recall millions of cans of baby formula because the instructions, translated from English, were misleading and could have sickened or even killed infants.

Getting Lost: Have you ever wondered how translations go astray? One reason is a general lack of appreciation for the importance of professional translation and interpreting. But that’s not surprising. The road to getting translation right is, in fact, congested with many common misconceptions. Think of them as billboards that constantly distract and confuse: “Everybody speaks English now. You don’t need an interpreter or a translator!” “Your coworker knows Spanish. Have her do it!” “Just run it through Google Translate!”

It’s not that there is no truth to these notions. Many people do speak English, so you probably won’t need a professional interpreter on your next family vacation. And if your colleague speaks Spanish, by all means put her skills to use. Even free online translation tools have their place: Browsing foreign language websites is a great example. The trouble is that when it comes to your business—where your company’s reputation and even legal liability come into play—blindly trusting your instinct to dismiss the importance of a solid, professional translation process will lead you down a road that ends in costly embarrassment and more.

Getting it Right: Still not convinced? Let’s clear up four of the most common and distracting misconceptions so you can refocus on the road to great translation.

1) Everybody Speaks English Now. Why Do I Even Need an Interpreter or Translator? In fact, only 17 percent of the world’s population speaks English natively. Non-native speakers can easily misunderstand, misconstrue, or completely miss the fine points of your message. Wit and persuasion can fall flat.

Research shows that when people spend their own money, they want to use their own language. Don’t you? International players know this already. That’s why so many commercial websites around the world are professionally translated and updated in multiple languages. It’s just good business sense.

2) My Coworker Knows Spanish. Why Not Just Have Her Do The Translation or Interpreting? Knowing two languages doesn’t make you a translator or interpreter, just like knowing how to sing doesn’t make you an opera star. Here’s the problem: many bilingual people overestimate their skills. Even when bilinguals are fluent in both languages, they aren’t always good at moving information and emotion across the language and cultural barrier. Often, relying on an amateur is a waste of human and financial resources.

Professional translators and interpreters can transfer complex ideas—technical, legal, financial, and more—accurately between languages and cultures. Professionals also have specialized terminology and subject-area knowledge, and they know how to choose the most appropriate solution when a word has many possible translations. All of this takes considerable experience and top-notch writing skills.

3) Can’t I Just Use a Free Online Translation Tool? The short answer is, “No.” A computer simply cannot comprehend all the nuances of language. It cannot interpret the meaning of a text. It can only read the words and translate them based on dictionaries, databases or other algorithms. You cannot ask clarifying questions of these tools or explain the context of your document to them. And there may be confidentiality issues at stake when you upload your text to a free site.

You can’t afford to risk your image, liability, and reputation. Services like Google and Bing might help when you need to get the gist of a document quickly and when accuracy isn’t important. But if you use them to translate something into a language you don’t speak, you’ll have no idea what the outcome is and where the errors are.

4) Aren’t Computers Replacing Human Translators? Interestingly enough, since free online translation services have been around, the market for professional translation and interpreting has actually increased. This isn’t surprising: as Google and Bing open the door to global markets, users often discover just how important translation is—and realize that they have sophisticated language needs that only human professionals can meet. Machine translation is a growing industry, but even then, the output needs to be edited by (human) professionals to eliminate errors.

Don’t Get Lost: Getting a translation wrong can hurt your bottom line, ruin your image, and even cost lives. Getting it right can be as simple as understanding the need for professional translation and interpreting—the roadmap that keeps you from getting lost—and knowing how to screen out the misleading signs along the way. So whether you’re translating a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, an employee safety manual, or information for your state government, consult a professional. That way you’ll be sure you’re keeping your eyes on the road every time.

Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator with over 15 years of experience. He also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.