The answer sounds obvious, when you look at translation from this perspective. But is this really the perspective that translation buyers have when they choose a translation vendor? Some do, of course, but some don’t. In this post, I will share one possible reason for this.
A human brain has a protective mechanism that makes it very painful for an individual to lose money—much more painful than missing an opportunity to earn money. We are wired in such a way that we want to save the money we already have much more strongly than we want to earn more. Various experiments have confirmed that the pain of losing money, say $25, is much stronger than the pain of failing to earn even a larger amount of money, say $75.
A common dialog
This protective mechanism applies perfectly to buying translation. Let’s imagine a dialog between a translation agency and a typical buyer:
Buyer: I want to have this booklet translated. How much will it cost?
Agency: Depends on what quality you expect. For marketing texts, we recommend premium quality, which is the most expensive.
Buyer: Premium? I am not into premium stuff generally. If you offer me a Mercedes, I’d say, “No thanks, a Honda is fine.” Does that make sense?
Agency: Yes, you can buy standard service, which includes translation + editing. It means that one translator will do the translation and the other one will check it.
Buyer: A second translator reading my translation? Sounds like overkill to me. One guy is good enough. I don’t want to pay someone for just reading my translation.
Agency: Do you realize that you are going against our recommendations and quality will be less than perfect?
Buyer: Yeah, that’s fine.
Protective mechanism takes over
So, what’s happening here? The client chooses to buy a cheaper translation, because he is weighing two things in his mind: (1) saving the money that he already has and (2) paying more for something that has a potential of a higher profit. This is where his protective mechanism takes over, convincing him to put saving first. The client has a hard time understanding the difference between premium and non-premium quality, as it applies to something as “ordinary” as text.
It’s all about perspective
This client needs a change of perspective. Premium quality in translation does not equal the premium quality of a Mercedes-Benz. The main distinction between the two is that a premium translation is an investment in the future, while a Mercedes-Benz can even be a liability. For example, you may not want to buy a Mercedes-Benz, because you do not really need the benefits that come with a premium price. But investing in the future calls for a completely different perspective. You want to buy something that has as much benefit as possible, because this will likely have an impact on your ROI. A premium translation will engage your target audience better, making them more eager to buy from you. You are likely to earn more as a result. On the contrary, if you buy anything less than premium quality, your target audience might dismiss your offering, because they will not take you seriously. In this scenario, your entire investment will be wasted.
A few more examples
There is another side to the problem of the protective mechanism that stops you from getting the optimal results. Saving makes sense only when it pays off. It is a good habit, until cutting costs becomes the ultimate goal, putting the goal of making profit on the back burner. In other words, saving wherever possible is not an effective business strategy. This is known as being “penny wise but pound foolish.”
I like the example that Robert Kiyosaki gives in one of his books. His parents would spend several hours going to the other side of town, where food prices were lower. They would save a couple of bucks and be happy about it, without realizing that they would have come out ahead if they had spent this time working instead.
Another example is the question of OpenOffice versus Microsoft Office. If, as a business owner, my top goal is saving, I would go with OpenOffice. But since my top goal is efficiency, I choose MS Office. Otherwise, the cost of the time it takes to fix various problems associated with incompatibility would have quickly exceeded the savings.
Do not get me wrong: Each level of quality has its place. If a client wants to translate something for legal reasons, a premium translation would be overkill. I am talking only about premium translations that I perceive as investments that a company makes to promote its products or services and get more business.
When it comes to translating marketing content or other texts that your business success hinges on, don’t let your brain’s protective mechanism lure you into saving money as the prime goal. Your priority should be the highest ROI, not the lowest cost.
Have you ever succumbed to your protective mechanism when buying translation? What was your rationale?
If you need more reassurance, check out my article about the importance of approaching translation as carefully as you would approach your investment in stocks.