A few days ago on LinkedIn, a translator I follow posted something that I would never have had the guts to say:
“If you are marketing yourself as a transcreator or marketing translator, then you need to have a) studied translation b) studied copywriting c) studied marketing. And if you haven’t studied all those things, you have no business calling yourself a transcreator.”
Honestly, I don’t have it in me to be that blunt. But I completely agree with her. In fact, a project I worked on just last month proved her point. Here’s what happened.
Accurate isn’t enough – when transcreations go wrong
One of my colleagues, Sarah — who is a highly skilled marketing translator / transcreator for German — recently hired me to fix the English translation of her website. She’d already had it professionally translated, but there was a problem. The German website was full of personality, overflowing with friendliness, and made it clear that the person behind it is fun to work with.
All of that had gotten lost in the translation.
Sure, the English was accurate. The grammar was correct. But it sounded stiff and boring. The message behind the words — hey, I’m friendly, fun, and I write with personality and style — was missing. Sarah’s brand voice was just gone.
Style is crucial for marketing translations
If I was a German-speaker visiting Sarah’s website, I would have thought “Wow, she’s a great writer, a funny person, and I’m sure she can bring my marketing materials to life in German!”
But as an English-speaking visitor (which is Sarah’s main target group) I would have thought: “Hmm, OK. She seems professional enough. But not very creative.”
Huge difference, right? But here’s the thing: if a marketing translation is done right, there shouldn’t be a difference. The English-speaking visitor and the German-speaking visitor should both walk away with the same good impression.
There’s a happy end to the story
Fortunately, someone pointed out to Sarah that the English translation on her website wasn’t on par with her German text. She came to me to get it fixed.
Here’s what I did:
- I transcreated the headlines. Headlines are the key attention-grabbers, and they need to have style and panache. The previous translator had just… translated them. So they were “accurate”, but they weren’t doing their jobs. For the key headlines, I came up with a few different options for Sarah to choose from.
- I injected some (of Sarah’s) personality into the English text. In some parts of the translation, I was able to keep the existing translation but adapt the writing style to give it a little more punch.
- I retranslated sections of the text. In many places, the way the message was communicated in English was so different from the German that I had to completely rewrite it. It wasn’t wrong, per se… the basic information was there, but the brand voice wasn’t. I went back, read the original German text, and then rewrote it to make the messaging clearer and friendlier. Sarah’s sense of humor came across again.
Sarah and her business partner were thrilled with the results, and it made me realize that my skill set is really unique. I not only hold the highly regarded Diploma in Translation from the Chartered Institute of Linguists (which I earned with honors) — I’ve also been studying marketing and copywriting for over 15 years. I’ve spent thousands of euros on different training courses and certifications. A lot of what I’ve studied — like the Copyhackers training in “conversion copywriting” — is more than what most translators need or want to learn. But nonetheless, every single thing I’ve learned influences my translations.
Key skills for a marketing translator / transcreator
So, back to that LinkedIn post — I absolutely agree that, to offer high-quality transcreations and marketing translations, you need to know marketing and copywriting and translation. Why? Because elements of each of them go into creating an excellent transcreation.
Good writing – it’s all about style
Writing confidently and with style is crucial for any translator. Getting the words from one language into the other is only the beginning. Any translator needs to edit their work and make it clear and easy to read. But for transcreation, you need to hone your copywriting skills so you can bring across different writing styles and brand voices in your translations.
Headlines are one of the hardest parts of copywriting — and the most important. As a marketing translator, you need to study headlines so you know what works in your target language. Headlines and taglines can almost never be translated 1:1 — you need to make them clever, catchy and attention-grabbing, and that is different in each language.
As a transcreator, you may need to help your clients research their new target market, rethink their branding/positioning, define a customer voice for the new language, etc. But even if you aren’t doing high-level work like this, studying marketing will make your writing more effective. The goal of marketing and copywriting is always to persuade, and the more you know about both, the better you can do your job.
Where to get the training you need
Ready to learn more? Here are some resources that I’ve used!
Copyblogger – Copyblogger is a great resource for all things content marketing (e.g. how to create engaging blog content) but they also have some great resources on copywriting in general. Check it out here: https://copyblogger.com/copywriting-101/
Copy Hackers – The creators of the term “conversion copywriting,” Copy Hackers blend marketing psychology with copywriting. Their flagship course Copy School is listed down below, but here are some free resources to check them out: https://copyhackers.com/copywriting-tutorials/
Inexpensive paid resources:
Conversion Copywriting for Beginners by Copy School – This $25 course will let you dip your toes in the water of conversion copywriting.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser* – I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I own two dog-eared copies and learn more every time I read one of them.
Get Fit for the Future of Transcreation by Nina Sattler-Hovdar* – A great guide for anyone who wants to get started with or learn more about transcreation!
Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy* – This classic book on advertising was written in 1985 and still holds true today. Full of examples and absolutely worth your time.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin* – Seth Godin is a master of marketing, and this book consolidates much of what he’s written over the past few decades. This is more about marketing than copywriting, but when you know marketing, you understand what copywriting is trying to accomplish. And then you can write better copy!
Expensive (but excellent) paid courses:
The Copy Cure by Marie Forleo – If you feel like your writing style is a bit stiff or boring (or if you’re a German to English transcreator like me and you need some help making your translations sound less… German), this course is for you. It includes tons of extra materials on customer research, storytelling, writing emails, blogging, etc. It may be more than you need as a translator, but if you’re looking to give your own marketing a boost as well, this is a great investment.
Copy School by Copy Hackers – This is like a whole master’s degree in copywriting. It covers everything from voice-of-customer research to writing email sequences and about pages to long-form sales letters, homepages… the list goes on. If you just want to become a better translator, this is probably overkill. But if you’re intrigued by digital marketing, well… check it out.
Links marked with * are Amazon affiliate links. If you click the link, I’ll get a small commission from Amazon (which costs you nothing). Commission or not, all of these books are excellent.
Wordsmith, at your service!
Do you need copy for your website? Content marketing that converts? A translation or transcreation of your German marketing materials? Let’s make it happen!