It begins with your great product

You’ve got a product. It’s a great product. Let’s say it’s an electric toothbrush. You develop an app to go with the toothbrush, teaching customers how to use it, pointing out areas that might need particular care, letting them track their progress and alerting them when it’s time to replace the brush head. The app represents added value for your customers, strengthens their relationship to the brand and makes it more likely they will buy other products from your brand.
Development and production cost money. Developing the app costs money. Advertising and marketing cost a lot of money. If the product is highly successful – or if you are a large company – you take it to foreign markets. And because you want it to enjoy the same success on those new foreign markets, you support product sales with an app localized into the language of each country you enter. You want to be sure the app fulfils its purpose for people in that country, so it needs to really speak their language – fluent, natural, idiomatic – for ease of understanding and a positive user experience. And so you find an excellent translator and set aside a reasonable budget for translation in order to get the best results. Makes sense, right?

Low translation budget?

Apparently not to everyone. An agency I’ve worked with for years approached me recently, asking me to translate that very electric toothbrush app. I quoted them a price, which I was told was too high and they didn’t have the budget for it. They asked if I would be willing to check the translation afterwards at least. I was curious to see how the translation would turn out for such a low price, so I agreed. No surprise, the end result reflected the low budget and tight deadline given for the translation. It wasn’t terrible on a technical level; there were only a few typos and mistakes in spelling or grammar. But it was hopelessly literal. Hard to understand in places, bordering on ridiculous in others. It screamed “bad translation,” and I felt like screaming too. I let the agency know that the translation was unusable and the whole thing needed extensive reworking. They said the client was in a hurry and had decided for the cost-optimized solution. I was to correct mistakes only and ignore the rest.

You get what you pay for

Well, the customer is king, I guess. You get what you pay for, after all. I corrected the typos, spelling and grammatical mistakes, imagining myself as the customer. How I would download the app, looking forward to using it and learning from it. Getting something of value from it. How I would open the app that first morning to use the toothbrush. Morning, when you’re still half asleep and need to ease into the new day slowly, calmly and – most importantly – without getting pointlessly worked up. How I would stare in disbelief at the absurd, barely intelligible language in the app, feeling anything but calm. How I would close the app – maybe even delete it – and never use it, because of the terrible user experience. And the next time I buy an electric toothbrush, I’ll try a different one, from a manufacturer who might treat me a bit better. Who cared enough about me to spend the money on a comprehensible, friendly translation.
It’s always the same old song, you see. As translators, we see this kind of thing day in, day out. You make amazing products. You provide wonderful services. You employ teams of experts to make what you offer the best it can be. In order to stand out from the competition and create a wide base of satisfied, faithful customers. Marketing campaigns cost you months of preparations and hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars (euros, pounds, insert currency of choice) – only to crash and burn when you allocate minimal time and funds for localization into target market languages. Without even realizing it, you are presenting yourself on these markets using appalling materials that discredit your reputation, damage your brand and put you at a distinct disadvantage against your competitors. And why? Because you are telling your customers that they don’t matter.

Is it worth damaging your reputation?

So the next time you’re budgeting for offering your products or services on an international market, please set aside enough funds – and time (!) – for high-quality localization. Don’t underestimate the significance of an investment that will pay off many times over and set you apart from the competition. Customers remember how they felt using your products or services. Don’t ruin the impression with a “cost-optimized solution” in the wrong place.

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