Category Archives: Reputation

How important is courtesy to you?

I recently received an unusual surprise: an anonymous note on my unit door posted by a neighbor who obviously wanted to remain unknown. The note contained a noise complaint. Days later, having successfully resolved the noise issue (the neighbor never identified himself or herself, and the condo building board never received a complaint), the matter of good manners hovered on my thoughts for a while.

While I was working out the noise problem, I was working with a very polite client of mine on a multilanguage layout project for a local lighting company in Ohio. Each lighting fixture is sold with an information sheet in Spanish and Canadian French. These sheets are composed in InDesign CC; my task involved setting the translated text to an InDesign document (given by the customer or freshly created by myself). A pretty simple workflow.

However, my customer and I were facing miscommunication problems and some curt responses to our queries. My customer is a consummate diplomat in these situations; he has the capacity to listen and absorb his translators’ complaints and misgivings about a project but he will reframe them to the client in a way that is true to content but respectful to the customer.

You may feel like shouting on the phone, but it would be bad manners to do so.

You may feel like shouting on the phone, but it would be bad manners to do so.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” In Spanish we have an older saying with the same meaning: “Lo cortés no quita lo valiente.

However, there are different degrees of courtesy accorded to family members, friends, neighbors, business associates, distant relatives and complete strangers. The way I learned to be courteous and polite can be summarized thus:

  • Show equanimity (temple, in Spanish) in the face of rudeness
  • Continue to be nice in the face of antipathy
  • Give a calm response to angry outbursts
  • When in doubt, be polite
  • Avoid namecalling
  • Give the benefit of the doubt as the other person may have different reasons for saying/acting the way he does
  • Internalize (i.e. be sincere) all your expressions of courtesy to avoid sounding like a phony

These are some of my own standards of courtesy. Very few things in life anger me more than a lack of civility; however, I rarely, if ever, respond in anger. If I do, I am quick to apologize.

But you might think that all this talk about politeness is old news to you, even a trite topic. But courtesy is like humor: it’s not universal and nobody expresses it quite at the same expected level. Agreed, the Japanese and Koreans may exhibit a more elaborate degree of courtesy than New Yorkers or Texans. The point remains that we should cultivate a basic level of courteous behaviors to the point that they become second nature, regardless of our interlocutor’s behavior or level of courtesy. It is only by internalizing these behaviors that we can avoid two disagreeable outcomes:

  • Look and sound like phonies
  • Our expressions of friendship and concern are manipulative

During a Graham Norton show a few years ago, a British comedian made a shrewd observation about Americans: “In California, people are friendly in order to network and offer their business cards” (the paraphrasing is mine). Sadly, I’ve seen the same behavior in countless conferences, meetups and social gatherings across America. In short, the behavior I’ve witnessed can be summarized as I’ll be friends with you if you buy something from me.

Consequently, have we come to expect courteous behavior only when things go our way or when we stand to benefit from a relationship with a customer or a colleague? What is more relevant to you, business owner or company representative, should courtesy permeate your business dealings in every situation?

The acquisition of manners finds its best vehicle in the home, and behaving well under pressure is its best expression. Good manners harness a person’s virtues —those tried-and-true character traits— found deep inside him as sunlight brings out the hues and tints on a landscape. It is through good manners shown that most people form a good opinion of an individual: she’s patient, respectful, attentive, friendly, dependable. Social media may be the desert mirage where good manners evaporate, but we can still rise to the occasion and let our goodness through with a kind gesture, which is at the root of all civility.

Have we become so concerned with that sad substitute for a good name, brand, that weed masquerading as a flower which thrives only on poor soils? Are we so enamored with the glitter of one-word descriptions as shortcuts to communication, thus relegating courtesy to the perpetual folder of “Nice to have”? I am persuaded that politeness, far from being the much-maligned veneer of politicians, narcissistic managers and con artists, begins with integrity and self awareness, attributes commonly found in “individuals of stature and profundity, of flesh and substance…”, as noted arts advocate Eric Larrabee once wrote.

Being courteous is a hallmark of professionalism as well. Indeed, showing up on time for interviews and meetings, for example, reveals respect for the individual and for her time. In writing this piece, my intent is to invite you to ponder the following: are you being polite to your colleagues, customers and vendors because you are naturally courteous…or because it is a means to an end?

Think about it. All candid and courteous comments are welcome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Courtesy to customers, Public Relations, Reputation

Charge a fee for your service, not your self-esteem

America, the perennial land of opportunity and home of the Braves, the Cavs and the Cubs, has also become the land of positive thinking and an incessant cauldron of relentlessly optimistic how-to books. If you were born in poverty or if your talent goes unrecognized and your ego is sorely bruised, America is the land for you.

For translation students, bilingual or polyglot workers and professionals aiming to become translators and baccalaureate translators everywhere, America not only preaches the gospel of free markets and entrepreneurship, but also the hopeful message of self-esteem-based pay.

How so? Consider how many times you’ve read or heard the expression “get paid for what you’re worth” or references to a translator’s self worth being more deserving of the 2 to 4 cents per word she’s pressed to accept for her highly skilled labor. As somewhat tangible proof of this psychological thinking, here’s a recent blog posting posted in an anonymous translation blog:

charge what you're worth (anonymous blog)

Marketplaces are about supply and demand, products and services, buyers and sellers, not feelings or egos or personal worth. Business deals and negotiations should not be personal in nature nor should they be taken personally. For example, if your translation quote is rejected (especially when no reason is given), you should just shake it off and learn from it. Success in any profession is not about closing every single sale, winning every customer and satisfying every user. Failure, contrary to what the positive thinking movement asserts, is not a negative event but a necessary and yet enriching one.

Yet some of my colleagues conflate their personal worth (character, good name, good habits, etc.) with their professional competence, as so deftly described on this piece written in response to a posting by Corinne McKay on her blog Thoughts on Translation:

translators underestimate worth and talent

What is of concern is the apparent connection shown between a translator’s personal worth (i.e. how good a person is, her value in the community, her parenting skills or her contribution as a human being) and her earnings. The realities in any marketplace contradict and disprove this flatulent fallacy. There are two points I’d like to establish:

  1. Only your professional services (translation, editing, proofreading, subtitling, interpreting, etc.) have a market value expressed in monetary terms.
  2. Your goodness as a person has no bearing on that market value or on your competitiveness in the marketplace.

Many of us know someone who sacrificed greatly to earn a university degree or who paid heavy dues to achieve a level of recognition in one country or continent only to discover that the marketplace tolerates only a modest fee for his translation services. As a human being, feeling undervalued is understandable but it still irrelevant to being competitive.

The reader will forgive this cliché, but many of us are passionate about our profession. This dedication or devotion should be uncoupled from our self esteem and feelings of self worth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Public Relations, Rates and fees for services, Reputation, Translation as value added

Mario Chávez, diplomate translator, at your service

I recently attended two conferences. One in Minneapolis, MN, on the design of medical devices, and a tradeshow in Cleveland, OH, for the 2016 Ceramics Expo. I enjoyed myself immensely on both and for a variety of reasons.

Having been absent from tradeshows or conferences since March 2015, I was a bit out of touch with that environment that I’d like to call outside: what kind of clothes to wear? Should I wear black or brown shoes? Shall I pack my netbook or just my iPad Mini 2? Should I design and order new business cards? And what about my elevator speech?

I grew up going to tradeshows when they were part of our school field trips in Córdoba, Argentina, so moving across a sea of strange faces and collecting free pens was a given. Because I had chosen the Design of Medical Devices event mostly as a learning experience and not a marketing opportunity, I went there with a ready and curious mind. Because I’m the kind of professional who isn’t giving elevator speeches at, well, elevators, and I prefer the laissez-faire approach, I did design new business cards with the focus on my medical translation expertise, with colors to match:

Wordsmeet Medical business card

I hedged my bets on a typewriter typeface to reflect many of the medical reports I transcribe and translate and settled on red tones resembling blood. I kept my contact information to a minimum to invite use and not contemplation. The reverse added to my call to action on the recipient:

Wordsmeet Medical business card2

Notice that I didn’t use the words freelance or translator anywhere on the card. My short introduction would go like this:

-Hello, I see that your company is designing cardiac stents (or valves or a measuring device). What can you tell me about it?

-Hello, I’m here attending the DMD to learn about 3D printing of organs. I see your company does something with 3D. Tell me about it.

When my interlocutor, after explaining what he does, turns to me and asked what I do, I would reply:

-I translate medical documentation, reports, medical devices… (handing him my business card to complete my own description). I’ve learned how laser sintering makes it possible to build these tracheas!

I would also use these conversations to delve into my other areas of expertise, as when a vendor and I were discussing the capabilities of a medical pump (used to regulate medicine drip on a patient in a hospital). I would ask what protections against hacking that pump device would have. The point was not to market myself but to start a conversation, contribute what I knew, ask about things I didn’t know, show sincere interest in what they did as a company. Most of these conversations would end pleasantly, sometimes without exchanging business cards.

Two weeks later, the Ceramics Expo was taking place at the I-X Expo Center close to the Cleveland Airport. I had a 3-day free pass to attend the tracks and visit the tradeshow floor. My only expense worth mentioning was the $10 day parking (and there is plenty of parking!) I have been to tradeshows on many occasions, as when visiting the New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, but seldom have I seen such an organized expo as last week’s Ceramics Expo. Dozens of booths orderly set up, many German and Chinese companies being represented and brief yet useful presentations given (such as the one on transparent ceramics).

Showa Denko booth

Chinese company Showa Denko booth. Chinese reps were easy to spot for their dark business suits, white shirts and dark neckties, all very courteous to the visitor.

I remember debating on that Wednesday morning whether to bring 20, 40 or more business cards. I decided to bring to card carriers (those metal boxes with a capacity for 25-30 business cards) in my pocket. I almost regretted not carrying more cards with me because I had dozens of opportunities to speak with company representatives.

Of all the people I spoke to, only one or two were a bit surprised at my business card (see top of this post) because here I was, a medical translator in a non-medical tradeshow. I was able to explain away that discrepancy by introducing myself as:

-Hello, my name is Mario Chávez. I’m a technical communicator visiting this expo to learn more about the ceramics and glass industry.

And that’s all the spiel I needed to make. No need to use fancy schmancy words, or say that I’m an ATA-certified translator. I made a point of using active verbs to introduce myself: I translate this, I write that, I performed that other thing. If you want your prospect to take some current or future action, use action verbs, not nouns.

The whole exercise let me thinking: Should I use the title “Technical communicator” instead of “Spanish-English translator” from now on? Or Should I call myself something else, like a BA or MA in Translation Studies. I kept pondering on these alternatives and seemingly ambivalent thoughts for days. Then I stumbled on an article about how nurses with a BA are more in demand in American hospitals than nurses with an associate’s degree. The article, published in The Wall Street Journal last October 14, 2015, made a larger point: the use of the adjective baccalaureate, which means a 4-year or bachelor’s university degree.

Baccalaureate nurses are more in demand than those with associate's degrees.

Baccalaureate nurses are more in demand than those with associate’s degrees.

That adjective took me to another one: diplomate. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of diplomate

So, I’ve decided to posit the question: wouldn’t it be better for a translator holding a university degree to call herself a diplomate translator instead of a freelance one? First, a freelance anything is simply someone who is working on her own, as a sole proprietor (or entrepreneur, if you must use that detestable word). A freelance translator’s only highlight is her ability to work for a variety of clients, beholden to no employer. But there are so many bilingual workers who call themselves translators that this distinction becomes not just blurry but useless and noxious.

Second, the beauty of the diplomate adjective attached to our chosen profession is that it highlights one of our largest investments: a university degree and/or diploma and a professional who has been vetted by a board of professionals (such as the American Translators Association).

So there you have it. From now on, I’ll be calling myself a diplomate translator because freelance translator just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baccalaureate degree, Diploma, Diplomate translator, Marketing, Professional development, Public image of translators, Qualified translators, Reputation, Technical writing, Translator qualifications

A reputational story

Introduction

Companies are concerned about their image, their brand, their standing. It’s nothing new. Old problems with new words. What was described as affecting the reputation and the good name of a company is not adjectivized as reputational.

If a company enjoys a place of high esteem among its peers and in the community, domestically and internationally, then that good name becomes valuable and acquires a monetary value. It is then used as currency to extend its influence, increase its market share and cement its reputation.

Translators and translation agencies have depended on name dropping (“IBM is one of our customers”) and certifications (“Member of ASETRAD” or “ATA-certified translator”) to preestablish their status and foster trust. Testimonials started to appear in the late 90s on company websites as well as on individual translator’s webpages. The problem I always saw with those testimonials was their anonymized nature. Here’s a current example:

Straker translations testimonials

First names, or initials, with no company affiliation. Hm, does that approach foster trust? Some fabricated reviews at websites such as Amazon created a bit of an uproar a few years back, what we would call escandalete in Spanish or furore in British English (or Italian). Compare this with an exemplary use of testimonials below:

Advanced language translations testimonials

The company Advanced Language Translations is using testimonials the way I think they should be used: who said what about your company. The downside? Testimonials may have a short shelf life because project managers, localization managers, purchasing staff and others in similar positions come and go. The main advantage of a testimonial is its focus when it is properly written. Keen eyes may have also noticed that none of the testimonials refer to competitive pricing or low rates but to “reasonable cost” and “on budget.” As a translator myself, I would love to work on one of their projects!

Reputation and references

Speaking of working for a company as a translator, I recently had a telephone interview with a headhunting agency for an 8-week project involving technical writing and Spanish translation (two of my specialty activities). I was required to provide two professional references, as the best practice in these interviews go. I keep a list of at least six, so I provided two of them within minutes. I was promised to get a call back that afternoon.

The phone rang as anticipated and the interviewer thanked me for the references, but made some comments about one of them, saying that they couldn’t use it because my reference wouldn’t divulge what kind of projects I had taken part in. Then, I offered other references, which I emailed immediately. Coincidentally, the person who turned out not to be an adequate reference for this job called me to tell me about his experience. This is a personal friend and a long-time client, mind you. His reason for not giving particulars to the interviewer? He considered the details of his projects to be confidential and he left the impression that he was a competitor of the interviewer’s company.

Although he gave the interviewer very positive comments on my professionalism and dependability, his earnest and strict approach to giving detailes as requested by the interviewer backfired. I did not get the job. The moral of the story for me: be selective about which references to offer for a particular job. Did my reputation suffer? I think not, since the headhunting agency was working for the actual customer and is contractually bound to find the most adept candidate for the project, not for themselves.

Branding the profession

Translators and translation agencies earn and lose customers by word of mouth, directly and indirectly, all the time. This does not necessarily mean that a particular translator or agency is incompetent or a poor provider, but that their fees or rates are outside the budgetary boundaries of a customer, or that the customer used other economic or social criteria to choose a different vendor (“Our new translator is easier to work with”). Due to the globalizing nature of the Internet and its tools, market encroachment, client poaching and the downward pressure on services fees have given reputation a sometimes undesirable fluidity.

This impermanent state of affairs has taken some old hands by surprise: accustomed to decent pre-Internet translation rates, they complain and lament the way clients come and go looking for the most competitive rates. And this is happening regardless of the translation provider’s solid reputation. What a translation company or a translator has invested decades in developing, their good name and good professional standing no longer seems to hold the same reputational value. Seasoned translators in developed countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States have groaned in hushed whispers, then in loud complaints, about the influx of so-called cheap providers from developing countries, as if there is some conspiracy behind them to undercut their market share and, of course, their reputation. If a customer prefers a Spanish translator living in China over another living in Spain, what’s the point in cultivating your good name?

Among the answers given to this dilemma by translation associations and so-called language consultants, I have seen an increase in presentations, webinars, brochures and similar vehicles to help translators and similar providers with marketing their services better and, lately in the first years of the 21st century, with branding their services. As an example, the American Translators Association’s conferences have held an increasing number of marketing sessions. Based on a visual assessment of ATA’s past conferences, we have the following:

ATA sessions for indep contractors over 14 years

In the span of 14 years, we see a dramatic increase in sessions targeting independent contractors (individual translators and interpreters) to educate them on the use of sales, marketing, branding and business techniques and tools. This development shows two things in my mind: a) an increased preoccupation on better ways to sell translation services and b) the transformation of ATA conferences from an educational event to a marketing one.

Of course, I agree that translators should cultivate a good professional name in order to optimize their word-of-mouth approach to finding and retaining customers. In my experience, customers worth retaining prefer a reliable service, a personal touch and negotiation skills to find a reasonable price worth paying. In the field of professional reliability, I’ve been intrigued by other online tools that might be of service to a translator or translation company.

The branding aspect works best with companies than with individuals. A brand is usually tied to a logo, a slogan and a single word to convey a positive image. Take IBM’s Think, for example. An individual translator or interpreter (or similar professional) would do better in creating and maintaining a good name or good reputation, however, as the branding approach is kind of silly and oversized. A translator who is too concerned about her brand risks projecting an unfocused view, a pretentiously sized corporate image that isn’t really there, just as the “We” statements in individual websites.

Separate but successful business endeavors

During the summer of 2015, when work volume was low, I started to sell items on eBay: electronics, audio equipment and other second-hand items, such as vinyl records. Selling successfully on eBay is mostly a matter of personal image: how fast you ship and how accurate is your description of the item being offered for auction or sale; in short, what good your word of honor is. Consequently, good eBay sellers take very good care of their reputation by fostering a climate of trust that will engender good reviews and addressing any problems with the customer as they arise.

I started to think about the reputational and economic value of my eBay reviews when I read the following from a recent buyer:eBay positive review

This positive feedback surely feeds one’s ego, but there are many potential buyers who read these reviews in order to guide their purchasing decisions. Would then it be appropriate to route potential translation customers to my eBay feedback page? From a business standpoint, I don’t see why not.

Conclusion

For individual translators, professional and personal references are still being used, along with a CV or resumé and sometimes a cover letter, to assess a candidate for a job or project. Although websites and directories are being consulted to find competent translators, they are just a couple of several components in an effective business strategy to find and retain customers by word of mouth and good reputation. Branding and marketing listicles are gimmicks that only benefit the consultant who offers them. Not all social media are amenable to foster trust or a good name, but try them you must in order to find for yourself —not by others’ opinions— whether these are tools worth using. In my long experience as a translator, a good reputation is built every time a project is delivered to specs or beyond expectations, every time I exchange polite and on-point communications, every single time I telephone a customer who is frustrated or who needs to discuss a delicate aspect of a project. No fancy website and no extensive blog nor Facebook posting can do that.

4 Comments

Filed under Brand awareness, Branding, Customer relationship, Customers, Marketing, Negotiations, Reputation, Selection of language providers, The business of translation

Please be patient with us translators

Translators and translation agencies are an interesting bunch. Sometimes we act like second or third children too eager to please our elders. Every single website promoting translation services almost invariably offers the same thing: hundreds of languages and thousands of translators and interpreters at your disposal. No subject matter is too esoteric or insignificant, no document too small or too unimportant. We aim to please.

Some of this eagerness is wholly sincere: we do care about languages and about precision in writing the best translation copy for you. But this desire to meet your demands may also betray a deep insecurity: we swim in a sea of saturated language service providers, with many bilingual amateurs and self-aggrandizing entrepreneurs looking for the next success story and fighting for customers like you, attaching to your business like remoras. We are afraid to be undervalued, underappreciated and ignored by you.

This insecurity drives us to show a little resentment towards amateur translators and Johnny-come-latelies who will snatch clients from us. It’s like a Cold War movie or a poor man’s John Le Carré novel: we want to rescue you from them as James Bond, but we end up being a copy of Johnny English instead.

The translation industry is highly fragmented, with very large language service providers (LSPs in our jargon) gobbling up the large government and corporate contracts because they have the marketing muscle and the human resources for them. In America, as well as in many other industrialized nations, the bulk of the translation services providers consists of small businesses, 5 to 50 strong, some being general-purpose agencies and some boutique translation companies. The rest is individual practitioners. Unlike milk producers in California, our industry does not have a slogan like got milkand TV campaigns to bring awareness to the powerful resource we can be for your company.

In this sea of confusion, it’s commonplace to see providers overpromising, overreaching and sometimes underperforming, which hurts other, better prepared providers. So, if that has been your experience, your new, better qualified translation provider may have to start from scratch to rebuild your trust in our services. Hence my request to be patient with us multilingual folks.

I recently penned a comment to a colleague’s sincere plea to improve and unify our public relations efforts and remind others out there that human translation is far better than machine (or software-driven) translation. This is what I wrote:

Subscribing to the right trade and business magazines and newspapers also helps to be aware not just of what’s going on with translators and interpreters elsewhere, but also with sister professions, such as graphic designers, information designers, technical communicators and writers, and so on. Many of our struggles as a profession are not unique to us, and knowing what other trades and professions are doing in the public arena can be very informative, educational and helpful.

After reading an article by graphic designer Ilise Benun in the HOW magazine, regarding how to negotiate fees for freelancers, I contacted her for permission to use parts of her article in my blog (wordsmeet.wordpress.com). She graciously granted it, and she’s now one of my LinkedIn contacts.

We need outside speakers at our ATA chapters and annual ATA conferences to learn what others are doing to bring not just attention but honor and respectability to our profession. We are too isolated. Isolated people tend to believe too much in their own fears and paranoia. We become so hungry for solutions that anyone with a megaphone and charisma can sell us their agenda.

I don’t think we should approach PR from our fears of being undervalued or ignored as a storied profession, as any fear-based campaign can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and undo our best intentions and efforts.

So, next time a translation company or translator comes knocking, please be patient. They’re trying to be as helpful as they can in a competitive and fragmented world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Customer relationship, Public Relations, Public relations in translation, Reputation

The promise of speed

I am an avid reader of science for public consumption. I am also an observer of ads in different media. Let’s face it, most of us dislike commercial messages interrupting our favorite TV show, but it’s a love-hate relationship. We want to be entertained more than informed.

One particular area of advertorial entertainment is the slew of auto insurance ads on TV. Shticks abound, such as the Farmers Insurance University with talented J.K. Simmons as their instructor with characteristic dry humor. Then there’s Dennis Haysbert in the Allstate spots, but he’s too serious for my taste. However, Allstate has Dean Winters, the very funny “Mayhem like me” star. Let’s not forget two of my least admirable characters —Flo of the Progressive ads and that irritating reptile in the Geico commercials.

For the State Farm singing skits, I haven’t forgotten them. “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” I am sure many people find all of these entertaining and valuable in different degrees. They all promise one thing: comprehensive insurance that is easy on the wallet. And speed in taking care of your insurance claims.

Science shows that serve up facts with a side of personality are big business: Morgan Freeman in Through the Wormhole is one example. His voice lends credence to otherwise dry and dusty facts. I’ve been following Mr. Freeman’s career through several of his memorable and not-so-memorable roles, from The March of the Penguins to the forgettable Wanted. It’s the delivery, the cadence of voice that brings in a spectator, a reader, a buyer.

How do you want to capture your listener’s attention? You speak more slowly, with added emphasis in subtle ways. The opposite is true if you want to scare away listeners or viewers. Consider this: how many times have you understood the speech of the actor reciting the legal disclaimers in those TV commercials? Have you ever bothered to read the legal disclaimers in the same commercials? Why not? The font is too small, even in a big flat screen TV.

What does this say about the speed of delivery? Faster is not always better. In fact, faster may act as a repellent instead of an attractant to your ad, your service, your product, your reputation, your brand. You.

I remember an impromptu meeting of engineers, developers and translators at Intergraph in Huntsville, AL, in mid 1999. The manager in charge of software localization wanted to push the simultaneous release of the next version. In the past, he said, software localized (i.e., translated) in foreign languages waited for about 3 months to be released, which affected sales. The decision was then to shorten the localization time, making it a simultaneous delivery of software releases with all its attendant —and unintended— consequences.

Shortly after leaving the company, I still recalled that episode as an event where speed was more important than excellence. Faster deliveries seem to guarantee faster deals and shorter sales cycles. The cellphone industry is one prime example: Samsung brings to market a new model every 2-3 weeks by my calculation. In contrast, Apple debuts a new cellphone model once a year. Yet the iPhone’s market share is 15%. Not bad for a phone introduced in 2007. Nokia and RIM’s Blackberry, however, have been losing market share over the last few years. Yet the market pressures to come up with new models ever so often are too great to ignore, and the temptation to speed up products is very great.

Along with these faster products, documentation in multiple languages is rushed out the door. Unlike math calculations, that computer can perform increasingly fast, documents can’t be written in infinitely shorter times. Consider a short email of 10 words…you still need at least 30 seconds to write it. Maybe you type fast and can send out a 10-word message in 10 seconds. Good for you. Was that enough time to think about it? Maybe, maybe not. If all you needed to do was to acknowledge receipt of an important piece of information, all you had to do is type “Yes” and hit the Reply button. Nothing to think about. However, we can all agree that some of the most troublesome and dangerous emails contain a few words and were thoughtlessly sent out in the Internet ether. Once sent, you cannot easily undo it. So much for the benefits of speed.

Speaking of emails, I am reminded of a classical Apple ad published in 1985. Back then, modems were just a little faster than walking by today’s standards, but the capability of 1200 bits/second was a blazing speed at the time. Apple promises instant access in the ad published in the June 1985 issue of National Geographic:

Image

Apple promises instant access by using an Apple modem with the Apple II computer.

The concept of speed has become the concept of now. But this is nothing new. A proverb such as The early bird gets the worm accentuates the virtue of speed. But, is this really a virtue? Is it really advantageous to rise early always? I recently closed one of my most “productive” days last Friday by clocking in at 5 a.m. and clocking out at 40 minutes past midnight. I handled at least 4 projects in 4 different platforms, from SDL Trados to Adobe Illustrator. Was I feeling proud of myself? Sure. But nature charged me extra for the privilege by making me sleep in the next day: I woke up at 10:30 a.m.

That is not to say that promising speed does not have its place in business. Four days ago, one of my customers required a quick turnaround inside 21 hours for a 25,000-word project and offered me a portion of it. I ventured to offer up to 9,000 words in that timeframe, which was humanly possible and professionally feasible to me. Did I deliver on time? You bet. But that meant sleeping only 2 hours to meet the deadline without putting my mental abilities at risk.

We all know our strengths and weaknesses. We can be speed demons in some tasks and slow as a snail walkers in others, and that’s good. Our minds and bodies tell us, if we listen, when we can push ourselves to the limit and deliver in a speedy yet responsible fashion without abandoning excellence. Please notice that I haven’t used the word quality, not even once. I prefer excellence.

Today, where speed is king, let’s pause for a moment, smell the roses, take a cup of joe and consider that excellence is best achieved with calculated, measured pace. Suetonius’ invitation, Festina lente (more haste, less speed) could be more relevant today than we think.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Reputation, The business of translation

Branding vs. Reputation

Brands are as ubiquitous as human beings. But, does a brand have a code of conduct or values? Can it give you its word? Then, how can you trust a brand? A brand is nothing but a disembodied voice, seductive in delivery, aiming to burn value in your retinas.

One of the most important assets a company has is its brand. That brand is not just the typographical or graphical representation of a company’s identity. When a brand is unknown, it’s just another name, another logo, another pretty image. But once known beyond its initial boundaries, a brand has the potential to become an icon. People recognize the brand and ultimately identify with it.

Some brands have accomplished this by becoming omnipresent. Think Target, Sony, AT&T, Staples, Dell. We have become familiar with them by sheer repetition and repeat interaction with them. We develop a level of trust in those brands to the point that our purchasing decisions become fast and reactive.

However, there’s a movement out there that seems designed to confuse entrepreneurs and customers alike. It’s a the conflation of a personal trait with an umbrella symbol. I am referring to reputation. Having a good reputation is a trait of good character, of moral standing in society. But now branding is being touted as a synonym of, and ultimately a replacement for, reputation. We might want to take a step back and look at what’s going on.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Branding is important. It lends identity to a product line. According to marketers, branding is the idea that communicates value to potential customers about your product or service. In our highly competitive marketplace, however, brands point to a company, product or service in a spectrum of reliability with its attendant consequences. If a product is reliable, then you’ll likely buy it or use it again. Hence, a brand is as strong as the virtues of the product or service it represents.

But, can individuals be considered brands themselves? Why? Some celebrities may be considered “brands” in the sense that they are widely known to multiple audiences and that they offer a reliable product —their artistic performance. People like Beyoncé, Pink, Lady GaGa and Madonna can be considered brands because they stand beyond the universe of commodities. Movies, software applications and other objects of consumption can also become brands. For example, a Madonna song is unique; a Beyoncé album is distinct in quality and experience. That’s another concept of modern branding: experience, which I suspect is meant to mimic what we experience in human relationships.

But branding belongs to things, reputation to persons. After all, a product is made by someone, a service is provided by someone. A person is not a thing to be branded because an individual cannot be reduced to just the value his products or services can offer. Doing so exposes the individual to become a commodity, just like any other consumable.

If we go back to the concept of reputation, we may be surprised at the freshness of this old idea. We build relationships with other human beings based on trust and reputation. The old word-of-mouth concept is a good example of relying on a provider’s reputation to do business with them. On the other hand, designating a person as a brand is dehumanizing and reduces the individual to a dollar amount and a material experience.

Consider cell phone brands such as Apple, Samsung, Nokia and Blackberry. Are they good brands? Sure. Right now, however, two of these brands are undergoing radical changes (Nokia and Blackberry). Nokia and RIM, the Blackberry maker, have been losing market share to Android and Apple competitors. Are they still good brands? Sure, but here’s the difference: their brand and reputation are good, but it’s their experience that is undergoing tectonic shifts. Experience is dependent on reputation, not so much as on brand.

Another reason branding as a misnomer for reputation for individuals —especially small businesses or independent professionals— is problematic is this: branding promises to make you ubiquitous and famous. This may be true of performers such as actors, singers, musicians, etc. who succeed in representing the zeitgeist and having their voices heard and enjoyed by millions. But most small businesses will be happy to fetch a slice of their local or regional market. Some of these businesses will want to grow exponentially and organically, but branding alone will not take them there.

For independent contractors and small businesses, the old standard is true: build on word of mouth and a reputation for quality service and excellent product. How you call your business is your own decision, and you will definitely need marketing help to assert yourself as a reputable business with a solid brand, a recognizable name. But let’s not confuse business growth with ego growth.

In an increasingly competitive and sometimes litigious society, going back to the basics —build your reputation by keeping your promises, never go back on your word and keep a code of honor— is not just a nice idea but it makes good business sense. A solid brand may have quantifiable value, but a good reputation is priceless.

Leave a comment

Filed under Branding, Marketing, Reputation, Value added