Internationalisation of brands. Best practices to work with translation agencies


Every year hundreds of brands embark on the adventure of conquering new markets. Some of them carefully prepare their global expansion. However, it is not uncommon to see some powerful brands withdrawing their international operations overnight. Sometimes the reason is simple: they can’t get their message across.

In order to excel in their global marketing strategy, brands must be special attention to how they communicate to their audiences in another language. The process is complex and goes beyond translating a couple of slogans. In occasions, it involves reformulating a brand proposition to adapt it to a new market.

Are you a key stakeholder in the internationalisation process of your company? If so, this post will guide you on how to best approach the localisation of your brand in a new market. Follow these steps. Your annual results will reflect the investment and your target audience will respond positively.

1. Choose a reputable translation agency

There are hundreds of translation agencies out there. Most of them provide linguistic services for countless sectors such as government, health, energy, and tourism. If you need to localise your brand make sure you find a translation agency with a wealth of expertise in the international marketing and e-commerce fields. Most of them include their portfolio of clients on their website and, in many cases, they have an area dedicated to case studies. The question is: how do you find the right language provider? It is simple. As a starting point I would suggest Googling potential professional organisations or associations of translation agencies in your area. For instance, the Association of Translation Companies includes on their official website a section called ‘Find a translation agency’ where you can filter the results by country, language, fields of expertise (e.g. localisation, engineering, technology) or certification. Once you have identified the best agencies for your business requirements then I would suggest inviting them to tender. Listen to their sales pitch, assess their level of expertise in the marketing and e-commerce fields, listen to their case studies, ask about their translation process, the technology they work with, their credentials and awards, etc. All these will help you find the right language provider for the localisation of your brand.

2. Pick the right translation service

All agencies offer different translation services depending on the costs that companies are willing to pay (e.g. machine translation, machine translation with editing, and human translation with proofreading). The more you pay, the better the quality of your translation. I have lost count of how many times I have had to explain the implications of choosing machine translation. However, there is still a big proportion of people who think that Google Translate can do the job. It can certainly do the job but it will also ruin your brand reputation. Unfortunately, machine translation is the worst possible option for your multilingual content strategy. It can easily damage your reputation and it will kill your SEO strategy. If you care about your brand then I would suggest you opt for a translation service that includes human translation and proofreading. The more you pay, the more polished the localisation of your brand will be.

3. Provide the agency with very clear instructions

Every brand has an identity and is identified by a set of values. According to the American Marketing Association “a brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary.” In a nutshell, a brand represents who you are as a business. Therefore, are you willing to put at risk everything your brand stands for?

Translators are not mind readers. They certainly have lots of qualities and they stand out for their problem-solving skills. You provide them with a challenge and they solve it. However, the easier you make it for them, the more accurate your translation will be.

Every localisation project starts with some business requirements and should be followed by a very specific set of instructions. What is your brand’s tone of voice? What are you preferences in terms of writing style? What is your intended audience? What is their age group? Can you provide any extra information about the market your brand will be exposed to?

All this information is very relevant to translators and will define their translation choices. Your instructions should include as much information as possible. Try to include pictures on your translation brief so that translators have a better understanding of the context and provide specific examples about do’s and don’ts. Last, but not least, don’t forget that your translation brief is not a one-off thing. It should get updated regularly with any changes.

4. Share key documents with them and brief your agency on any major changes on your marketing strategy

Every brand has a set of internal documents that are used by employees to ensure the brand is respected at all times. Do you have any brand or copywriting guidelines? Then do not get paranoid about confidentiality; share them with your translation agency. This information can be very beneficial for the translators. If your brand is being rebranded or there are major changes in the writing style of a particular campaign, you need to let your translation agency know. The more detailed the information you provide, the better your brand will be represented in another language.

5. Give feedback to the translators and guide them during the entire process

Are your translators stuck with something they do not understand? Translators are often provided with chunks of text without a context. They only have access to some segments and they may have questions about the content. Make sure that you answer their queries so that there are not misunderstandings in the target text. Can you provide visual examples of where the text will be featured? This will help them to picture the text in context. Once the translation is over, spend some time reviewing the new content and provide the translation agency with some feedback.

6. Make sure you have an input in the translation quality assurance process

Translation agencies have their own quality assurance processes, which ensure that the output of a project is up to a certain standard. Generally, they have a team of translators and proof-readers who supervise the work done by others. They carefully go through the different points of the translation brief and make sure that all requirements are met. I strongly recommend that brands contribute to their own translation quality process for one simple reason. There is no one more expert in your product than yourself. One of my suggestions is to develop your own translation quality assurance checklist so that translators can go through this list before submitting their work. The best way to approach this document is to follow these steps:

  1. Analyse previous translations and note down all errors
  2. Sort out these pitfalls in different categories (e.g. format or grammar)
  3. Create a document with a list of elements to be checked before submitting a translation
  4. Always provide clear examples of where the error is and how to avoid it

7. Hire in-house and native translation professionals to supervise your brand localisation

Brand localisation is a complex subject that requires a vast array of language, culture, IT and marketing skills. Personally, I highly recommend hiring specialised translation professionals to supervise the work done by agencies. One of the key advantages of hiring native in-house translators is that they can assess the quality of the final output. I have numerous reasons to think this is the best approach to excel in your localisation strategy. I will name just a few. For example, they can manage the localisation process internally and work hand-in-hand with the translation agency to develop a comprehensive translation brief with all the necessary instructions for the translators. They can also check whether the values or the tone of voice of the brand are reflected in the target text. If something important is missing, they will be able to highlight it. They can easily identify whether cultural references have been captured in the new text. Last, but not least, they have the language and translation skills to assess whether the output is up to a certain standard. If something is not good enough they can go back to the translation agency and ask them to make amendments.

Have you been involved in the internationalisation of a brand and the project did not as well as expected? Please share your stories in the comments section.

About me | I am an all-round international communication and marketing professional with expertise in translation, localisation, copywriting and content management, among other things. I help organisations to communicate effectively across languages and cultures. If there is anything I can help you with please do not hesitate to contact me. 

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