This is part 2 of this post. For part 1, please follow this link.
Thinking Translation Doesn’t Matter
Even if you agree with the above considerations, you might still believe that your product is so appealing that translation—whether good or bad—can neither add, nor decrease value. Or you may assume that your suite of marketing tools in the original language is so powerful that any quality of translation will do. Again, such approach might be appropriate with less important translations, but with customer-facing content, it can be disastrous. Imagine a user who looks at your product on a website and scratches their head, having hard time figuring out what the product’s features are from a sloppy translation next to it.
Below are two examples illustrating the paradigm of thinking I’m trying to challenge in this post—marketing, in particular when it comes to translation, is secondary to the product or service:
General Electric’s Acquisition
This is an example from Winning by GE’s legend, Jack Welch. It shows how overemphasizing your product and your own marketing strategy while completely dismissing other forms of marketing can lead to decreased sales. In 1988, GE acquired an engineering plastics business from BorgWarner. GE had an engineering plastics division of its own and sought to create cost synergy by selling BW products through GE’s distribution channel. What GE failed to recognize, however, was the difference in the marketing approach used by the two companies. The GE salespeople were accustomed to making a technical sale, convincing engineers to switch from metal to plastic. BW sold commodity-like products in the old-fashion way, relying on personal relationships and hefty expense accounts. GE decided it didn’t need this kind of marketing and let go 90% of BW’s sales force. As the assumption proved to be incorrect, GE saw its market share drop dramatically, and the acquisition never reached its full potential.
Russian to English Localization
This example illustrates how a sloppy translation turns away folks, in particular when written communications is how you primarily get your message across. This is what a Russian PC game publisher experienced after localizing into English a PC game that was a runaway hit in Russia. Although everything but the seemingly unimportant aspect—translation—was identical, the English version didn’t fare as well as the Russian one. Released in 2008, the English game received an average ranking of just 60% from the major game portals. Some of the end-user comments were:
- “This isn’t mana from heaven, it’s acid rain. There’s pain on every front. Badly translated English? Check. This isn’t just the odd typo and misused word; some of the dialogue makes very little sense full stop, and the storyline suffers as a result.”
- “It doesn’t cease to baffle me what went wrong when the developers hired a writer to write up the dialogue and the actors to deliver it… The text is filled with grammar errors and typos. The flow of the dialogue seems halting and the logical conclusions that the characters make based on the evidence they have are not well founded.”
- “… Endless badly written dialogues.”
Although the sales figures for this game are unavailable, it’s likely that with this kind of reception, the lost profits could easily outweigh the “savings” generated by buying cheap translation.
Whenever your translate any customer-facing materials, a simple rule to remember is that by saving on translation, you are likely to set your expansion up to fail, despite the great product or service. It doesn’t follow of course that a perfect translation guarantees success. But if your product fails in a foreign market, at least you won’t wonder whether you lost the entire investment due to saving inappropriately on what was just a fraction of the total expansion budget.