Is your translation agency damaging your brand?

I was talking to a global marketing director recently, and he told me he was worried that his translation agencies were damaging his brand. Here’s a flavour of what he said:

“My existing agency just churns the words in and out – they don’t understand the brand”

“There is an excessive focus on process and automation at the expense of quality”

“They make money from pushing through a high volume of words, rather than ensuring creativity and quality”

“They don’t spend the time they need to understand the brand”

He’s right to worry about the integrity of the brand, and his concerns threw up some interesting questions for us at Freedman. How do brands handle and value translation in business? How do you make sure you find a team that will protect your brand? How do you get the best out of that team so your brand resonates globally and locally?

Protecting your brand is your top priority

Many things can get lost in translation but your brand is your most precious asset so you can’t let it become one of them.

All global marketers know that protecting the brand is paramount, nonetheless translation is very often taken for granted. Maybe it’s because there are so many challenging creative hurdles to negotiate before you get to the translation stage – concepts, imagery, content creation, legal approvals, sign off and production. By the time you get to the point of translating the copy there’s a temptation to think ‘surely the most difficult steps are behind’?

Well, don’t relax just yet!

If you allow your content to be translated with lack of clarity, understanding or competence you could well ruin all your previous efforts. Time spent crafting the right taglines and humorous paragraphs in the communication style which your customers love and which embody your intrinsic brand values will be wasted. Worse still, if any of these are misinterpreted you could end up with something along these lines…

A brand value related tagline: Engaging Efficiency where “Engaging” means warm, friendly, and approachable, got mistranslated by an agency and in some languages ended up as “committed efficiency”. For example:

French: Engagé dans l’efficacité as opposed to Efficacité conviviale

Spanish: Apostar por la eficiencia as opposed to Eficiencia agradable

German: Engagierte Effizienz as opposed to ansprechende Effizienz

If your brand is truly global your advertising needs to resonate across all markets in the same way it does in your home market – and with the same values resonating over and over again as you launch new products, brand and social campaigns. You want control of your identity, but you won’t maintain control by using literal translations and clinging onto the master copy in fear of getting it wrong.

How to protect your global brand in local markets

So what should you do to make the most out of your creative in all local markets while protecting your brand image and values?

Unless your copy is very straightforward- perhaps technical with little or no marketing aspect to it – then you should not translate it. Instead you should transcreate the copy, and there’s a significant difference. Your brand conveys a message, not just words. That message reflects a set of values that need to be understood in the local language. Translating the message word for word won’t work. This is why it’s so important to have your translators understand your brand and appreciate its value.

You need to invest in creating and updating your brand guidelines, and briefing your linguists, copywriters and translators properly. Any specialised professional agency will ask you for a brief to fully understand your campaign creative concept and goals. They may come back with questions and queries from the linguists.

Getting the best from your translation agency

A useful tip when you are struggling to choose between several agencies is to ask questions to determine how they will go about it, and to see if they have an established process. Good questions might be: who will be responsible for the quality of the outcome and who will actually work on your copy? How will the linguists be selected? With no understanding of the core creative and taglines and without the right talent involved you’ll only have a small chance of being successful, so make sure you get the right team on board.

Once you’ve picked the people to support you, how can you work together to make sure that your brand thrives globally in a consistent manner but resonates locally at the same time?

  • Be clear on what your brand guidelines and values are and make them available to your linguists or partner agency, make sure your teams and partners are all on the same page and clear on what is expected of them.
  • Provide a complete brief including all your expectations and the campaign background. If your agency is providing a template, do take the time to answer questions that arise– this is critical information so invest time in this stage.
  • Since you are talking about your most precious asset it is worth investing not just your time but also budget into getting the right agency in place. It’s not advisable to engage with agencies who sell on price & speed only as they provide a poor ‘words in and out’ translation service and not transcreation.
  • Ask your potential agency of choice if they have a process in place and what it means in practice. How do they manage brand compliance and their ownership of this area?
  • Use creative copywriters, knowledgeable in the subject matter who are able to adhere to brand guidelines and key words The right agency will pick copywriters with the subject matter expertise, so ask them how they go about getting the right writers on board.
  • Make your assets available – translating a tagline / piece of copy by itself is very dangerous if linguists cannot put it into context.
  • Your work needs to be looked at holistically – your tagline should work for TV, digital assets and collateral if that’s what is part of your campaign.

Ask for back translations into English (or whatever your master language is) – these are literal and often clumsy but very informative so you will know what’s going on. Remain involved!



Freedman International
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