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Cheap Marketing Translations Are a Total Waste of Money

Photo by Helen Cook, http://www.flickr.com/photos/hvc/2481898225This post is about two clients’ complaints. Usually, people are reluctant to blog about this kind of thing, because blogs are supposed to attract clients, not repel them. So am I, but I still find the lesson in these complaints too important to miss the opportunity to share it.

One of the main translation marketing ideas that I constantly reinforce in my articles is price differentiation. Imagine two translations. The first one is required for legal reasons only and will never even be read. The second one is an expensive marketing video that a client invested many thousands of dollars to produce. Can the prices for these two very different translations be identical? Of course not. While the first translation may contain errors—and no one will care—the second translation must be excellent. Even if the word count is the same, the second translation will take much more time than the first one. This means that the price must be different, too.

With some translations, it is quite okay to put quality second and price first. But with marketing content, this approach is just a waste of money. Marketing translation is not like user manual translation. It requires more time; it requires a committed and very experienced translator. Whereas with technical translation, style is not that important, marketing translation warrants engaging style. And style is a problem for most translators. So those translators who have the rare ability to produce translations that read as if they were originally written in the target language, are expensive. Thus good marketing translation will always cost more than almost any other translation.

To illustrate, let’s look at two customer complaints about marketing translations that we received last summer.

First complaint

A new client asked us to provide a marketing translation in the medical field. He opted for translation only (our lowest rate), explaining that this was usually good quality in his experience. Even though our experience was different, we did not push our premium rate on him, which is at least 50% higher than the “translation only” rate. After delivery, the client came back and said that the quality was insufficient.

Our mistake: Even though the client was very firm about his belief in the quality of “translation only,” we should have insisted that this assumption was incorrect in our experience.

Second complaint

Another client asked us to translate a few pages for a software developer website. This time, we did the right thing from the outset by offering our premium rate. The client, however, said this did not make sense to him, as he expected a regular rate. Instead of standing our ground, we just explained the difference and said we could also provide a translation at a lower rate, if he wanted that. He went with the lower rate. After delivery, he complained about style. We reminded him about the higher rate that we had suggested initially and he had rejected. The client said with disappointment that we should have made the distinction between the two rates more clear.

Our mistake: We were too quick to offer a lower rate as a cheaper alternative to soothe the client, instead of insisting on the appropriate rate.

By the way, we did not charge the clients for these two translations because of the complaints.

Lessons learned

First, it is important to make it crystal clear to a client that marketing translation is more challenging than regular translation and as such calls for a higher rate.

Second, when the client refuses to pay a higher rate, there are two options:

  • If there is no chance at all of producing at good translation at a lower rate, we must insist on a higher rate, even if it means seeing our client go elsewhere.
  • If there is a chance of producing a good translation at a lower rate, we need to explain thoroughly to the client that the quality may be lower than expected and we will not accept any responsibility for this. If they choose a lower rate, they do so at their own risk. But this approach is a double-edged sword: you will cut your hands, even if you are careful. People are wired in such a way that if quality is low, they still feel that you put one over on them, despite your explicit warnings.

Third, our reputation is too important to risk it by doing cheap marketing translations. From the business standpoint, these are not so lucrative anyway, because they are usually small, but challenging. Losing such projects is no big deal. Damaged reputation IS a big deal, though. As Warren Buffet says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

If you need more reassurance, read this post about looking at marketing translation as investment.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.