10 reasons why you should hire a marketing translator

Image of international flags on a globe that has been placed on a keyboard (Canva), symbolising that international marketing translators are key to success

A good marketing translator can increase brand awareness and potential sales in different target markets. However, many businesses try to save costs by installing automatic translation software on company websites. This is a false economy, as is relying on the cheapest and fastest translation agencies. So, why hire a qualified marketing translator? How much value can a specialised translator add to your business? What exactly is a marketing translation and where can you find a trustworthy professional?

All these questions will be answered in this blog post. To help me do this, I’m joined today by three special guests: a fellow marketing translator, Chiara Vecchi, who has specialised in translations for natural beauty products, as well as Robert Rogge and Julija Savić, who work for the new online translation platform ‘Zingword’.

Zingword is a unique platform where translators can market their services. It’s invitation-only for professionals and “made for translators first”. Translate Digital Marketing readers can redeem an invitation here. (Note: I don’t receive any financial rewards for promoting Zingword – I just like their business model and the fact that translators can set their own rates. 🙂)

1. Quality assurance

Quality assurance is key for hiring good marketing translators

There is absolutely no point in spending money on any service if you can’t be sure of its quality. That’s why it’s important to do your research carefully. Where have your potential translators qualified? 

Qualifications and memberships

In the UK, I’d recommend looking out for professional translators who are members of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) or the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). In the States, you’d search for someone with an ATA certification and in Germany for a member of the BDÜ

I’m a member of the CIOL. To be accepted, applicants must submit evidence of a reputable translation qualification at postgraduate level (in my case, the CIOL’s diploma of translation). They also need evidence of experience, as well as positive and relevant testimonials from previous clients. Potential customers therefore can rely on quality control that’s already inbuilt in the membership scheme.

Good agencies will only hire qualified and professional translators who are native speakers of their target language. Before deciding on an agency, please check which qualifications and how much experience their translators have in your chosen subject area. 

Translation agencies and pricing

Another issue to consider is how well translators are treated and paid by certain agencies. The translators’ network Proz can shed some light on this. Too often, agencies pay far too little for a skilled job that they want to be completed in record time. This is not a recipe for success for any of the involved parties.

A new online staffing platform for translations is trying to change this. Zingword’s co-founder Robert Rogge tells us: 

“I have been working in the localisation industry for about 13 years now. The original idea was to solve, on a fundamental level, issues related to sourcing qualified translators. We have designed our platform so clients can get to translators quickly. For example, clients can type in their language pairs, and if they search for ‘marketing’ and ‘gardening’, they can find a translator who specialises in marketing and who is passionate about gardening.

We’re working on other things, too, like promoting good rates and working towards quality. We don’t allow clients to sort by price, and we order the search results using our quality/matching algorithms.” 

This certainly sounds like a good approach for both clients and translators. Crucially, translators can set and display their own prices on Zingword, while clients are encouraged to focus on subject expertise and quality rather than just cost.

2. Direct communication

Image of coloured paper pinned to a pinboard. Text says: "Let's Talk". Symbolising direct communication, which solves many translation problems

My personal preference is to work with customers directly rather than through general marketing translation agencies. One reason for this is that direct communication with my clients is crucial for planning the project. It’s also important to establish whether we are a good fit for each other before we start.

Typically, we’ll go through about twenty questions as part of the onboarding process – both for marketing translation and for copywriting projects. This is essential because I need to be completely clear about the business’s aims, brand voice and target audience. 

Onboarding questions

Topics we’ll discuss include, for example, how the business would like to address their audience (formally / informally), whether the company already has a glossary, style or brand voice guide (also in terms of gendering), and if they need straight translation, localisation and/or transcreation services. I’ll cover these in more detail below.

Most mainstream agencies are unlikely to go through this detailed process with a client unless they specialise in marketing.

I ask more questions and leave comments in my first translation drafts, too, which ensures that the text is perfectly tailored to the client’s target audience. This one-to-one relationship between customer and marketing translator is crucial for a high-quality end product.

Direct problem-solving

Julija Savić, content and social media manager at Zingword and a translator herself, adds: “Once I transcreated content written by a copywriter acquaintance of mine. As part of the project, we established regular meetings whenever I needed to clarify something, which enabled me to create a text that echoed the core of his messaging. Having a direct line to the content source should be common practice— it’s the best way to ensure you’ll be receiving truly top-notch, multilingual marketing texts.

A fellow marketing translator, Chiara Vecchi, even encourages phone conversations rather than just relying on emails: “Sometimes, picking up the phone will save you and your customers time and avoids a never-ending email thread. So, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, it’s a great ally!”

3. Cultural knowledge

Image of two shelves in head form facing and sharing cultural knowledge with books (Canva). Meaning: cultural knowledge is crucial for translators

It’s important to hire a translator who is completely fluent in both the source and the target language, and who has in-depth knowledge of both cultures.

This is not a given. For example, quite a few translators possess a good – but not perfect – understanding of their source and target language and culture.

No word-for-word translations

In marketing translation, this can lead to mistakes. For example, some puns or phrases might refer to a current topic in local politics or entertainment and can’t be translated word-for-word.

Julija Savić agrees: “Being a language expert directly correlates to your knowledge of the target culture. The education we receive as translators-in-training necessarily includes acquainting ourselves with the cultures speaking our language pair(s). Without this kind of expertise, a client could end up with an inappropriate or straight-up offensive campaign.”

Local traditions

An issue a marketing translator can advise on is whether certain bank holidays or traditions (say, Halloween-related products) will translate and sell well in the desired target market. Often, they won’t. 

Chiara Vecchi, who specialises in cosmetics translations from English or German into Italian, adds: “When you work with someone who knows the culture of your target market, they might be able to spot better marketing opportunities based on their knowledge of the country and its culture.”

So, it’s crucial for marketing translators to understand cultural references in their source language and to adapt this creatively for their target audience. They also need to keep up to date. In my case, I was born and raised in Germany and I’ve been living in the UK for over 24 years. Apart from following the British news and culture in my daily life, I listen to German news, read German books and take CPD courses offered by the German Union of Translators (BDÜ).

4. Consistency

Three red darts pinned right on the center of a target (Canva). Meaning: consistency is key in marketing translations

Pros of CAT tools

Qualified translators will often work with so-called CAT tools (“Computer-Assisted Translation tools”) to ensure their translations consistently use certain terminology. For example, a brand may prefer a specific term for their products, and a CAT tool can help remind translators to use this word rather than a different one. 

CAT tools also help with spell-checking and quality assurance, e.g. making sure that the layout of the source text matches the target text, that hyperlinked or bracketed content is displayed correctly, and that everything has been translated. The tools automatically build a translation memory as the work progresses, which is handy. They can sometimes apply automation to pre-translate content, which may speed up the process.  

Cons of CAT tools

However, using automated translation can hinder rather than help, as certain grammatical structures or mistakes will have to be completely reworded. That’s one reason why many translators prefer not to use machine translations. Sometimes it takes longer to rewrite them than to come up with fresh content!

Not all freelance translators use CAT tools. They can be expensive and aren’t essential in all subject areas. However, they can be a good investment for professional marketing translators. Often, agencies will only employ those who have experience in using certain CAT tools. 

I currently work with SDL Trados, which isn’t cheap but widely used and versatile. For fellow translators who would like to try a free CAT tool to test the waters, why not volunteer with Translators without Borders, who use Memsource

5. Branding, tone and style

Brand marketing concept symbolised with a notebook, brand tag and coffee cup on office desk (Canva) Marketing translators need to understand your brand.

We’ve seen in a previous blog post how important correct brand voice is. The tone, style and general branding of a company need to be conveyed correctly to foreign target audiences. A professional translator who specialises in marketing, localisation and transcreation is crucial here.

For example, if your ideal client is young, hip and laid-back, you’re much less likely to need the formal address (‘Sie’) in German. You may also use some slang, jokes or creative puns (within reason). A target audience of more conservative, elderly consumers would expect very differently worded content.

A good marketing translator must be sensitive to your needs and requirements in these areas. They will also make sure to go through a detailed questionnaire on this and other key issues with you before any work starts.

Julija Savić adds: “When you’ve been in the translation game long enough, you come to realise how much adapting to the tone and style matters in all types of language work. For marketing clients, it’s even more important since you basically need to take on the persona of the business brand. A true expert in marketing translation will understand your brand voice and replicate it for the best approach towards the target audience.”

6. SEO skills

Magnifying glass with arrows pointing to the letters "SEO" (Canva). SEO skills are crucial for marketing translators.

As we’ve seen above, word-for-word translations are unlikely to work well, especially in marketing. This is also true for SEO content. Just because Google users in the UK search for certain terms doesn’t mean that German users will try similar words or phrases. A competent marketing translator, therefore, needs at least basic knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO) and SEO keyword research. That’s why I qualified as an SEO content writer in addition to my translation diploma.

Robert Rogge confirms that SEO skills are crucial: “SEO is the bedrock knowledge in marketing you need to have. It’s not the only thing by any means, but it is definitely the first thing. I’d throw some additional things into this category, like understanding character count limits on title tags and descriptions, how to use Open Graph texts, and strategies to improve CTR on Google with those tags.

7. Marketing knowledge

"Marketing knowledge" written with chalk on tarmac over colourful graph and rising arrow (Canva). Marketing knowledge is key for specialised translators

General marketing knowledge is important, too. Marketing translators will know their ROIs from their KPIs. Social media marketing skills are also valuable, as translators may need to craft social media posts or online advertising content and can advise on what will and won’t work well in their target language.

Robert Rogge adds: “It’s helpful to have functional knowledge of email marketing, PPC marketing, social media marketing, and different ways to build audiences. A good example of this would be knowing the importance and trends of good subject lines in an email. Also, the importance of that preview snippet displayed in the email client. Knowledge like that supercharges the translator’s abilities.”

Marketing translation resources

A great resource for any marketing translator is Crisol’s Marketing Translation Course, which I completed a while ago. Their SEO Translation Bible is also excellent. In addition, I recommend taking continuing professional development courses via the Chartered Institute of Marketing and taking social media marketing courses, such as a Facebook Blueprint qualification, which have helped me gain marketing knowledge.

Again, general translators or agencies may not have this specialist knowledge and so are unlikely to be the right fit for your next marketing campaign. 

Need proof? Check out some of the worst foreign ad translations listed by Business Insider

8. Copywriting and transcreation skills

Paper and Crumpled Pieces of Paper / Copywriting (Canva). Copywriting is a big part of marketing translation.

Marketing translators need to be excellent wordsmiths and know how to write effective sales copy. That’s why many specialist translators like me take copywriting and SEO content writing courses.

“Transcreation” (i.e. a mix of translation and copywriting skills) wasn’t a very well-known term when I sat my translation diploma exam in 2003, but it’s become very important in recent years. This is especially true for marketing translations. Slogans, for example, normally aren’t translated word for word. They may need to be completely rephrased to make sense or to satisfy local cultural sensibilities.

Transcreation in action

When growing up in Germany, I was very familiar with the Haribo jingle: “Haribo macht Kinder froh – und Erwachsene ebenso!” The literal translation would have been “Haribo makes children happy – as well as adults!”, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Instead, a transcreator needed to come up with a rhyme that would not only largely keep the meaning but also fit the rhythm of the original jingle. The end result? Kids and grown-ups love it so – the happy world of Haribo”. Much better!

All creative processes take time. This is true for copywriting and transcreation. Coming up with a good 5-word slogan can take days rather than minutes. That’s why transcreation and copywriting aren’t usually charged by word but as a project-based fee or on a day rate.

9. Localisation skills

Pins pushed into a globe (Canva), symbolising localisation.

Localisation is connected to marketing translation and cultural knowledge, but it goes further than that. It entails adapting all content (including non-textual components) to the target market, often a specific country or region. Translators will need to ensure that e.g. currency, phone numbers, addresses, measurements and date formats are completely localised (for example € prices instead of £ prices, “1.8.21” instead of “1/8/21” date formats). This even includes images. For example, a Japanese IKEA catalogue will use very different images to a British one (e.g. lower table heights, different room decor and models – as well as different fonts, of course).

Different dialects and idioms as well as factors such as the meaning of certain colours or words in the target market will also need to be considered. 

Finally, a specific product or service that sells well in one country may not do so in another for cultural reasons. That’s why it’s important to get localisation advice before spending a lot of money and effort on marketing something that will never sell in its current form. 

The perfume “Cashmere mist” wasn’t a hit in Germany, for example. Why? “Mist” means “manure” in German. Not a great name for a fragrance. Should have gone to… a marketing translator. 

10. Value for money

Hand putting coins into a smiling piggy bank (Canva). Symbolises saving money with marketing translations

How expensive is it to hire a marketing translator? Well – it will be more pricey than going for a cheap agency that is unlikely to employ specialist translators. The cost of good marketing translations will usually depend on the complexity and urgency of the text, as well as on the language combinations. 

But – and this is a big ‘but’ – think about your long-term gain. The old saying “buy cheap, buy twice” still holds. It might be pricier to hire a specialist freelancer, but if you have found someone who is trained and experienced in your specific subject area, is easy to work with, will answer your questions directly and has good testimonials, you better hang on to them. They are rare. Plus, you won’t have to spend more money to fix a poor translation.

Robert Rogge agrees: “Marketing translation is practically invaluable. Companies on the cutting-edge of localisation and marketing, who have heavily invested in this, have come to this conclusion, too. I have heard so many clients say that price is not an issue for them. I think the challenge here is to walk all those clients in the industry through the return on investment of their localisation efforts, so they can come to this same conclusion.”

Save money in the long run

Yes, a professional marketing translator can really help you sell. Cheap translators, free machine translation and AI copywriting bots are available, but won’t understand or wow your customers. A bland translation by someone who isn’t versed in localisation, transcreation, copywriting, marketing, or isn’t 100% confident in their source or target language is simply not a good investment. You get what you pay for.

For Julija Savić, it comes down to this: “If you care about long-term profit and the success of your marketing campaigns, you will invest in quality translations. Disregarding quality, on the other hand, is bound to end up in costly mistakes that could damage both your finances and your reputation as a business. In marketing, short-term savings never mean permanent benefit — so make sure to find a translator who can benefit your business!”

Do you have further questions about marketing translation or copywriting in English or German? Then get in touch! I’ll be happy to give you more info. If you’re interested in my services, check out my rates and testimonials here

For any other language combinations, why not visit Zingword, CIOL or ITI for professional marketing translators who have specialised in your specific subject area? Let me know how you get on! 🙂

Finally, fellow translators who are interested in being listed on Zingword can join by clicking on the invite link below.

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Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

Owner, Translate Digital Marketing

I especially love working with ethical, fairtrade and green small businesses.