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The central goal of any service industry is clear – have you done the job that your client has paid you to do? Whether it is finding them a new employee, putting on an event, or, in our case, accurately translating various pieces of content, there is outwardly very little that matters apart from the quality of the result.
Time and cost are two key variables in the quality equation, and technology is helping to reduce both to a bare minimum, but I can’t help thinking whether there is another more intangible aspect at work. An aspect that robots won’t be able to replicate quite so easily….
What role do relationships play in ensuring excellence?
Some might view translation as a mechanical task, replacing words and phrases from one language with words and phrases from another language, but in my experience far from every translation is so simple. 98% of the work might be routine, but it is in that last 2% that the essence of the work is found. Translators spend the vast majority of their time honing and perfecting that 2% – and they are only able to do it if they truly care about their clients.
For me, caring about clients doesn’t only mean wanting to do the best job for them, it also means asking the difficult questions and challenging them when required. If you want to do the best possible job, you need to be steered in the right direction, and although you might not want to “bother” the client, it is during these sometimes difficult conversations that we get to know each other. It would be easy to decide not to ask the questions (and go with the safe answers), but the end product may well suffer as a result.
Relationships grow from a place of mutual exploration, and excellence is born when we decide to go that crucial extra mile (even though we are often not sure where it will lead).
The capacity to be passionate and seek to go above and beyond the call of duty is something that is uniquely human, and for anyone working in the service industries, it is what will save us from the rise of the machines. When we are dealing with others, it is rare that events happen according to a set plan – there are always tangents, about-turns, and dead-ends. Success lies in how we choose to react to these events.
The best reactions come from a place of caring.
I am so lucky to have worked with many fantastic clients over my translation career and as I have built up my company I have always sought to keep a few key clients close to me so that I don’t forget about the importance of caring working relationships. There is something incredibly gratifying about investing your soul in a project and then hearing the gushing praise of a client at the end. Somehow it makes it all worthwhile, and you give of your very best when the next 2% challenge comes along.
There is something magical about being passionate about your work. It can’t be measured, and it even defies description, but I hope that it is what sets Absolute Translations apart.
The translation industry, like countless others, is threatened by the rise of the robots.
On the face of it, translation is one of those mechanical activities that could easily be handled by a nifty piece of Artificial Intelligence. Google Translate is just the start, imperfect as it is, and it wouldn’t be surprising if even the most qualified translator has had a peek on Google before to refresh their memory.
Of course, we also use A.I.; every reputable translation company uses technology to improve quality and increase efficiency to speed things up. You see, when someone needs a translation, they usually need it in a hurry.
However, they also need it to make sense to the reader.
In an increasingly globalised world, that reader might be from South Korea, Switzerland or Surinam. They expect any communication to be concise and adapted for their understanding. A text can be translated mechanically, but unless there is a degree of cultural adaptation, it will utterly lose its soul. Only a human with an intimate knowledge of the source and target cultures can ensure this.
This adaptation and recreation of the original is called transcreation.
It is a blueprint for how humans across many industries will survive the robot onslaught.
You see, a key aspect of a great translator’s arsenal is the ability to fill in the gaps and create something uniquely perfect. A robot could translate a Shakespearean sonnet from English to Japanese, but I very much doubt that it would retain the original beauty. That would take hours of careful consideration from only the most skilled translator (who writes Japanese poetry in their spare time).
Creatively filling in the gaps is what humans do best.
In communication terms, the deeper meaning is often found in what is left unsaid; unspoken inferences weaving their magic and taking a message to a whole new level.
In terms of different industries, the parallels are striking. The legal industry is a minefield of jargon that could be swiftly dealt with by an A.I. bot, but ask it to comfort a confused divorcee or aggrieved company owner, and it will struggle. Hospitality is another example where a robot can book us into a hotel, but only the warm farewell from a receptionist will send us on our way with a smile on our faces.
The subtleties of human experience ensure that the human experience will always trump the robot one.
The history of our workplace has been one of adaptation and adoption of new technologies. However, no matter how streamlined the process, the very best results are achieved with a sprinkling of humanity to add the cherry on top. Life is short and every day is precious, so why would we choose to live without that cherry? That is what a life with A.I. would look like – very easy, almost effortless, but with little to truly savour.
To me, translation is about remaining as true as possible to the original, but in every piece of work, we also have to remain as true as possible to the reader.
This tightrope is something that A.I. will never be able to tread.
There is a human story behind every business, because there is a human story behind every human.
Our story is one of humble beginnings. It all started more than a decade ago in the old garage of my octogenarian granddad-in-law. It was located on a hillside with million dollar views overlooking Brisbane city. My then husband and I did not pay rent, because we did not have money, so we shared granddad’s beautiful little Queenslander while also looking after him.
I was doing translations on an old desk next to a car and I also had a filing cabinet, which was empty. Hesitatingly, I had put my university degrees up on the wall. They looked out of place. But I needed them there, because I did not want to see the sceptical look on a client’s face again, when they came to drop off a document for translation. And so Absolute Translations’ journey began.
Unfortunately, not long after, my life turned upside down and I had to part from my little garage and my dear old granddad. As I had nowhere to go and no money to get there anyway, a French student of mine gave me a room in her home for a couple of months. These were times I will never forget. Sarah. A golden heart. There weren’t any city views, but it was what saved me.
I never returned to a garage, but these humble beginnings have shaped me and have made Absolute Translations to what we are today. We have never taken for granted the business that came our way and the trust that clients placed in us, and we never will. We are very proud of who we are and where we’ve come from, but we will never take you for granted.
Because without you and without your trust we wouldn’t be here today.
By Al Ries
Your Brand’s Name Might Be a Liability Once You Cross the Border
What’s the biggest change in marketing in the past 50 years?
You could make the case for the Internet. Or Big Data. Or mobile marketing. Or PR. Or celebrities. Or a number of other revolutionary developments.
But in our work as marketing consultants, we find the biggest change is the shift from national marketing to global marketing. Our clients are mostly focused on building global brands.
When brands cross borders
Problems can occur. Take the name of the brand. As long as a brand is a registered trademark in the countries you wish to do business in, you might assume everything is taken care of.
Not so. A name that works well in one country won’t necessarily work well in another country.
Take Kremlyovskaya, the No.1 vodka in Russia. Any vodka that is a leading brand in Russia should be a best seller on the global market. But it’s not. An English-speaking person cannot pronounce or spell a word like “Kremlyovskaya.”
English has become the second language of the world. Any brand designed for the global market needs to use a word English-speaking people can relate to.
Countries have positions, too
Russia is known for vodka. It’s not surprising that Smirnoff was founded in Moscow in the 1860s.
Smirnoff isn’t an English word, but it is a word English-speaking people can easily use and pronounce. Thanks in part to its Russian connection, Smirnoff is the best-selling vodka and the best-selling distilled spirit in the world.
In many ways, a country’s position is even stronger and longer lasting than a brand’s position. When a brand is in sync with its country of origin, the brand has a much better chance of being successful on the global market.
With the right name, of course.
When it comes to names, companies have options. There is no supreme authority that determines what a brand’s name has to be. Companies can always use different names in different countries.
Sometimes they have no choice. Kremlyovskaya is not “Kremlyovskaya” in the Russian language. It’s “Кремлевская,” because the Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. So for many countries in the global market, every Russian brand name needs to be translated into the Latin alphabet.
And how do you do that? You try to find English letters to replicate the sounds of the Russian name. Hence, Kremlyovskaya.
That might be logical, but that’s not good marketing thinking. Countries like Russia which uses the Cyrillic alphabet and China which uses a picture language have a marketing advantage. Almost nobody will notice if they ignore their phonic names and create new brand names that will work on the global market.
“Red Square” vodka would have been my name for Kremlyovskaya.
Every language has unique sounds
You might not understand a language to understand what a person is trying to say. I don’t speak Spanish, but I can generally understand what a Spanish speaker is trying to say by his or her tone of voice.
Not so in China. In a half dozen visits to China, I still have no idea what a Chinese speaker is trying to say. Is he or she angry? Sad? Argumentative? Agreeable? Who knows? The Chinese language has many sounds no English speaker every uses.
Great Wall Motor, a leading Chinese automobile company, was planning on building a global brand with its SUV vehicle. The brand name in Chinese is 哈弗.
Initially, the sound of the name was translated into “Hover,” but that brand name could not be used globally because of trademark issues connected with the generic word “hovercraft.”
No problem. Instead of “Hover,” the company decided to use “Haval.” Today, Great Wall’s Haval brand is the largest-selling SUV brand in the Chinese market.
Both “Hover” and “Haval” are easy for English-speaking people to pronounce and spell. But these are exceptions. The English translations of most Chinese brand names are not going to work on the global market.
Take Snow beer, the largest-selling Chinese beer brand. The name is easy to pronounce, but its connotations are wrong.
Tsingtao, the second largest-selling Chinese beer, is a difficult brand name to pronounce and spell, one reason its distribution in America is primarily limited to Chinese restaurants.
If they want to be big successes on the global market, both brands could use different names.
Germany is known for beer
The largest-selling beer brand in Germany should be a global best seller. But it’s not.
Warsteiner? How could a German brand name starting with “War” become a best-selling global brand? Unlikely.
Why not give the brand a different name on the global market that it has on the domestic market?
That’s exactly what the country has done. Germany in Germany is “Deutschland.” Germany in Spain is “Alemania.” Germany in Sweden is “Tyskland.”
Many countries follow similar patterns.
Albania in Albania is “Shqipëia.
Austria in Austria is “Österreich.”
Hungary in Hungary is “Magyarország.”
Poland in Poland is “Polska.”
Spain in Spain is “España.”
Sweden in Sweden is “Sverige.”
Turkey in Turkey is “Tükiye.”
Names can be persuasive
Consumers assume names have literal meanings. When a motorist sees a sign that says “Lakeview Drive,” the motorist assumes that somewhere on that road is a view of a lake.
Marketing people can take advantage of the consumer’s inherent belief in the truthfulness of a name. “Otherwise, why would they have called it Lakeview Drive?”
But the meaning of a name can change depending on the language involved. So in building global brands, you need to make sure your name works in the language of the countries you plan to do business in.
Many corporate executives have an emotional attachment to the names of their brands and hate changing them. In particular, we have had many discussions with Chinese companies over the need to modify their names to make them more effective on the global market.
But changing a name is a difficult decision for many executives. After one frustrating meeting on this subject, the head of our Shanghai affiliate said to me, “By the way, did you know the name of our country is not China?”
“No, I didn’t. What is the name of your country?”
By Al Ries on Advertising Age
Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm he runs with his daughter and partner Laura.