Bad haircut? Or great style?
We’ve probably all seen a mangled translation at some point — the kind that are bad you can’t miss them. But there’s another kind of bad translation that often slips through unnoticed — what I call “bad haircut” translations. They’re sneaky… and they might be ruining your marketing efforts.
OK… why “bad haircut”? What does hair have to do with your marketing assets?
Well. You know that feeling when you get home from the salon, look in the mirror and think… uh oh. The haircut is OK-ish, but it just doesn’t look right on your head.
That happens with translations, too.
“Bad haircut” translations are the ones that are good enough that they seem “correct.” You might not notice that anything’s wrong at first. The words are all there, and they make sense — mostly. But if you look closer, something isn’t quite right.
Writing style matters — especially for marketing translations
Bad haircut translations happen when your translator doesn’t pay attention to their writing style. You see, translation is about much more than just switching words from one language to another. It’s about more than being grammatically correct. It’s also about writing style. But lots of times, that gets ignored.
Style is a combination of the words we use, the length and rhythm of the sentences, and how casual or formal the writing sounds. Writers (and skilled translators) spend a lifetime perfecting their writing style. And, especially when it comes to marketing translations, you can’t afford to ignore it.
Here are a few examples of writing style, so you can see what I’m talking about.
If you have two things standing next to each other, you could say that they are “really close to each other” or that they are “in close proximity.” “Really close” is more casual, “close proximity” is more formal or technical.
If you’re reading a translation of a technical manual that says “the components are really close to each other,” you’re looking at a bad haircut translation.
Or, imagine reading about handcrafted leather shoes that are “made with first-class processing.” That might be an “accurate” translation, but it doesn’t sound right to an English-speaking reader. They’re going to be much more impressed (and likely to buy) if they read about the “exquisite craftsmanship.”
Poor style is sneaky…
These types of low-quality translations are insidious. If you’re not a word-nerd, you might not know why they don’t sound right. In fact, if it’s not your native language, you might not notice that anything is wrong at all.
If the translation is for internal or private use, this kind of issue might not be a big deal. But if it’s a marketing translation, a “bad haircut” is a serious problem. Marketing materials need to hit the right tone to convert your readers into customers — and that takes style. Really good style.
Your marketing translation needs style to make a great impression
If your translated marketing materials sound awkward and wooden, your company will come across as awkward and wooden, too. The expense and effort that went into perfecting the original marketing assets will have gone to waste.
With a top-notch translation, though, your customers won’t notice that they’re reading a translation. They’ll seamlessly connect with your company in their language — just like the customers in your home country. That’s why style and “voice” make such a difference in marketing translations.
What goes into a top-notch marketing translation
Not everyone who writes can write well. Writing clearly is a skill that takes effort and practice. And it’s the same with translators. Excellent translators need to be excellent writers — and that’s especially true when it comes to translating marketing materials like brochures, websites, white papers and blog posts.
High-end marketing translations need to take the subtle nuances in the original text and bring them across with the perfect turn of phrase. This often means adapting the writing for the new audience. Word-for-word translations will not do.
I do German-to-English marketing translations, and I’ve noticed that Germans love to refer to products and services as “reliable partners” or “reliable companions.” A typical German marketing claim might “accurately” be translated as: “Acme company is your reliable partner when it comes to home security.”
There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. Not really. But it sounds stiff and wooden, and it isn’t going to make American consumers whip out their credit cards.
Sometimes translators need to be copywriters, too
If you’re marketing to an American audience, you’ll get much further by saying something punchier like “Acme home security — we’ll be there when you need us.” It’s times like these when a skilled marketing translator will know how to rewrite the marketing claim for the new target market.
Most companies invest a lot of time, effort and money in their marketing assets. Each detail is carefully considered. Each phrase is carefully crafted by a copywriter. When it’s time to expand to new markets, the same effort should go into the translation.
How to get a brilliant marketing translation
Here are some tips to get the a “perfectly styled” translation that suits your business perfectly:
- When it’s time to translate your marketing materials, spend as much effort finding the right translator as you did finding your copywriter.
- Mention any details that are particularly important, especially if there is wordplay involved.
- If there are important graphics in your campaign, make sure that you give your translator the graphics and layout for reference.
- If you have a brief that explains your brand voice, target audience, etc., be sure to share that too. The more specific, the better! This will help your translator get the tone and style right for your audience, so the writing converts in the new language just like it did in the original.
Also, make sure your translator or agency feels comfortable coming to you with queries. Translating marketing materials is a creative process. When you have an open dialog with your translator, they’ll be able to go the extra mile in terms of creativity and style. Communication and dialog will help you get a finished translation that speaks to your target audience — it’ll be like the difference between a $15 cut-n-go service and a visit to a high-end salon.
Wordsmith, at your service!
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