B2B Tech Marketers

Translation is not a commodity

In the 15 years or so I have been involved in transcreation for leading tech brands, it’s never failed to amaze me how translation can all too often fall by the wayside in multi-lingual technology marketing campaigns.

While organisations can spend countless hours, effort and money on planning, developing and executing their campaigns, they tend to take more of a commodity, price-driven approach when it comes to the final step of translating their content into the languages of their target audiences. Why such a shift in their approach when so much is done elsewhere? Think about how much you spend on agency fees, media, channel programs, SEO, social etc. Consider the science, knowledge and energy that go into optimising every single aspect of your marketing initiatives. Yet all this investment in time and money will be wasted if you fail to give your translations the attention they deserve, and fail to choose the Language Service Provider (LSP) that is right for you.

Not all translators are equal

Translation is all too often considered by B2B tech marketers as a price-driven commodity market with little or no differentiation. The cheaper the cost, the better. This all stems from a misconception that all translators are born equal. But think about it – are all copywriters the same? How many bad copywriters did you come across before you found the one or two who could understand your products, your brand and who could find the right tone to reach your target audience? The same goes with translation, only the language differs. Make no mistake: translation is not a commodity, it is a key link in the campaign value chain. That’s why you should show extreme caution in selecting the right LSP.

Cheap translation – what happens behind the scenes?

Of course it’s important to keep your translation costs down – not least at a time where marketing budgets are being squeezed and every penny counts – but “going cheap” is not the solution. Translation is no different to any other industry: you get what you pay for. Go cheap, and your copy will be translated by a junior translator with little or no experience in technology or marketing, and with at best only a vague idea of what your product does and who you’re talking to. Not to mention the fact that in all likelihood, this translator will work in complete isolation, with no support from a project manager whose sole concern it is to turn the job around as quickly as possible, and achieve the highest margin. Carrying on with the copywriting analogy, it’s like getting your copy written by a junior copywriter who’s only worked on pet food or hotel chain accounts, without any brief whatsoever on your campaign objectives, value proposition or tone of voice. Is that your ideal scenario for your new cloud app and your latest big data solution?

And don’t even think of machine translation, which has admittedly got better with the advent of AI and machine learning, but will never match the human brain when it comes to putting yourself in the readers’ shoes, and zero in on what’s going to make them want to buy your product or attend your webinar.

You are not rich enough to buy cheap translations

The scenario is predictable and yet many B2B tech marketers still sleepwalk into the pitfalls: you go cheap and chirpy, the translation is below par, your country stakeholders get frustrated – the standard feedback is “it was Google-translated” – they ask you to have it retranslated or just retranslate it themselves. In both cases it will cost you more and take you more time than if you had got it right the first time. And bear in mind that although a country marketing manager may be a brilliant marketer, CRM expert or event speaker, they may not necessarily be talented writers. What’s more they often have to rewrite the text under huge time pressure to meet their deadlines. So how can you be sure that their translation will be free of any typo, spelling, grammatical or syntax error? Your brand is too precious to take that risk.

Don’t think cost, think ROI

When it comes to translation, don’t think cost, think ROI. Calculating your translation ROI won’t be an easy task since translation is part of a tightly integrated campaign process. It’s difficult to single out the translation factor unless you’re prepared to compare the response rates of a bad translation with the response rates of a punchy, engaging transcreation for the same campaign. But who’s got the time and money to do this?

So it’s rather a question of marketing common sense: people who receive your comms don’t have to read them. IT managers, CIOs and tech enthusiasts are exposed to countless offers and promotional messages every day. It’s hard enough to draw their attention and raise their interest with powerful concepts and copy, let alone with bad translations. A bad translation will generate few leads, or no lead at all, and will damage your brand in the long term. Before you know it you’ll counting your losses…

The true cost difference

Put things into perspective. Consider translation cost in the light of your overall campaign spend. Take a pan-European campaign that costs you $100,000 in total. Based on that, an ordinary, literal translation will cost you in the region of $5,000, whereas the cost for a powerful, engaging transcreation will be anything between $6,000 to $7,000. That’s only 1% to 2% of your overall campaign spend. Yet this marginal difference in spend could be the difference between success and failure in markets which, put together, amount for several times the size of your domestic market. Can you really afford to take that risk?


B2B tech marketers should approach translation with exactly the same care and diligence as other key elements in the campaign value chain. Translation is not a commodity and the cost between standard, literal translation and inspired transcreation is only a fraction of your overall campaign cost. Going cheap is not only a false economy, it could spell disaster for your multilingual campaigns. For your next campaign, make sure you choose the right LSP.