Forget direction translation; what your content needs is transcreation.

When it comes to writing copy for overseas markets, we all know the importance of translation. After all, a quick word or two popped into a translation app is all that we need to set us on our way. Or is it? We’re going to take a look at this simple solution versus the concept of transcreation.

Over the years, there have been many examples of marketing blunders, some made by very high profile organisations, simply because they took a shortcut on the translations rather than investing resources and budget into using native copywriters.

Enter the world of transcreation

So, what is transcreation exactly? Transcreation (a merger of the words ‘translation’ and ‘creation’) is all about writing copy in your own language, conveying the same message but taking into account cultural differences. These differences could be related to the written word but might also extend to colour and image. On the other hand, translation involves the direct translation word for word from one language into another. Even if the sentence makes sense, direct translation can easily convey the wrong business message. That’s because nuances are not captured during the translation process. And no amount of artificial intelligence can replace the subtle interpretations provided by a human being.

As marketers, we tend to be well-versed in the idea of customer psychology, how marketing touches on the emotional (as well as the rational) in a bid to encourage action. But, unfortunately, direct translation simply won’t cut it when trying to make your message resonate with global audiences. What’s really required is someone with the skill to deconstruct the message and then reconstruct it in a way that speaks to the target audience, not just in terms of words but in terms of emotion to encourage the desired call to action. 

Put on your customer’s shoes

And as a global marketer,  it’s essential to remember that you will be competing with local businesses that each have a better insight into the mind of your target audience. As someone who travels regularly, I have seen excellent examples of television adverts recreated for a local audience, even down to very different straplines and jingles. I have also seen television adverts in English with subtitles for the local market. It doesn’t take much to determine which of those adverts is the one that’s likely to be the most effective. So, no, cutting costs in this way is a false economy and is unlikely to deliver your required results.

But back to copy. Transcreation focuses on achieving the desired response in each language rather than being faithful to the original text. Global marketers need to be prepared for a final text to look nothing like the original. But what’s important? That the text looks the same or that the response is the same?

When direct translation makes sense

So, what’s the importance of translation, and why would we even use it?

Translations are generally much faster, don’t require in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and are closer to the source language. A good translator will usually paraphrase so that the final sentence makes sense – unlike translation apps that can lead to some hilarious (or embarrassing) results. But, translators are rarely concerned with literary style, your brand’s message or your target audience’s response.

Therefore, direct translation is often better suited to materials that are more factual than emotional: product guides, instruction manuals, FAQ documents etc. However, if you’re looking for marketing copy, advertising taglines, headlines to attract an audience or anything that requires the audience to connect with your copy on an emotional level, you want to ensure you are using transcreation.

Transcreation v localisation v translation

So, if direct translation stays faithful to the source text, what’s the difference between localisation and transcreation? Essentially, localisation tweaks the text to suit the message, culture or audience. An example of this would be converting US English to British English – the language is the same, but the spellings can be quite different. A British reader can read and understand the US text but might find themselves somewhat irritated that the company has not bothered to address the spellings. Localising into British English overcomes the issue and makes the text more presentable for a British audience. And vice versa, of course. 

Transcreation, as we have already seen, goes back to the original message, considers culture and nuance as it converts that message into an actionable phrase or statement for the audience. Transcreation looks at audience intent.

Of course, as marketers, we’re interested in results: engagement, leads, conversions and so forth. As we move from direct translation to localisation and finally, to transcreation, we can expect those results to increase in line with our investment. However, don’t expect the same result from a simple translation as you would from a completely customised (transcreated) message. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for; using cheaper services can be a false economy. And it’s not just about the engagement or leads. If you’ve placed poorly-translated adverts in the local market, you may find your brand image negatively impacted – or at least giving the local audience a good laugh at your expense!

Top tips for content that travels

Final thoughts

In essence, understanding that not everyone speaks your language and making some effort to communicate with your target audience will bring you more business. And this is where the importance of translation comes in, even if it’s very simple. However, how you protect your company image and your brand and encourage the desired response from your target audience will depend on how much you invest in creating copy that conveys the right impression and message. And there’s no doubt that transcreation wins hands down every time.