Category Archives: Brand awareness

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.

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

Cleveland could be a cosmopolitan city

I’m a Clevelander by adoption; I’m entering my 5th year as a resident in the area (west side of Cleveland proper) but I can’t yet feel the urban atmosphere as more than mere concrete bigness and hollowed-out glory that doesn’t seem to reach out and touch the world.

Cleveland and surrounding cities have many bright spots: worldclass museums and orchestras, as well as the famed Cleveland International Film Festival, now in its 39th anniversary. Several multinational companies, from Sherwin Williams to Lubrizol and Hyland Software, call the Greater Cleveland their home.

According to US Census 2010 figures, 12.1% of the population age 5 and older speaks a foreign language. Of that slice, 7.1% of adults 18 and older speak Spanish, 0.6% speak Arabic, 0.5% speak Chinese. Also, 0.9% speak a Slavic language (Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Ukranian and Russian). But Cleveland is not the only epicenter of foreign languages in Ohio. In recent years, the city of Dayton, OH, has become the home of 2,500 Aishka Turks, who speak Turkish.

ACS 2012 census reporter Cleveland OH (languages)

By most accounts, Cleveland is a multicultural hub, but you wouldn’t see it by reading the local newspapers or websites —unless you were specifically looking for a foreign-language website, that is. But Cleveland has a ways to go before being considered a truly dynamic cosmopolitan city.

Take exports, for example. Aside from some of the companies I just mentioned, I didn’t know about any local exporters until recently through an article published in Crain’s Cleveland Business (found here) in last June. The article, titled Companies have a world of options to enter export game, mentions several useful programs to help local companies export products, but fail to say anything about using foreign languages. Countries may have ports of call where you send your merchandise, and your company (if it is an exporter) may know all the forms to fill out to comply with the regulations of a foreign country, but a language is your portal to a foreign culture, which can come in handy to understand business transactions and practices in that faraway destination. Since you put so much stock on exporting and gaining new customers, thus improving your bottom line, shouldn’t you be paying attention to their language as a factor that can influence your earnings favorably?

Another area of potential robust growth is real estate. You would think that the saying “location, location, location” is only relevant to local clients or buyers, right? Not quite. In a July 18, 2014 article in the Mansion supplement of The Wall Street Journal, a foreign language can give real estate agents a competitive edge. For example, Nadia Rahmani, an agent with Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty in Chicago, is fluent in three foreign languages —French, Arabic and Spanish. In her estimate, 40% of her buyers in Chicago are international: “Even though they’re fluent in English, they’re more comfortable speaking in their native tongue.”

WSJ - Real-estate agents and different languages - 18 July 14

A similar circumstance is happening here, in the shadows: a real estate agent I know, Luba Kohut, speaks Ukranian. She told me that her Ukrainian has come in handy with some clients. But I wonder: where are the Ukrainian real estate brochures or websites? Are you listening, Howard Hanna? Imagine for a moment if real estate companies could market units in foreign languages, thus attracting the attention of foreign investors! Just look at what Dayton did.

Health care centers in America attract thousands of patients from all over the world. In our metro region, hospitals like Cleveland Clinic offer language assistance services by way of foreign language interpreters for international patients. However, how is a Brazilian patient supposed to know that she’s entitled to request a no-cost Portuguese interpreter? Even the otherwise informational page is —you guessed it— in English!

To recapitulate, Cleveland businesses, big and small, could learn a great deal about showing an international, cosmopolitan face to the world and to every visitor. A very good example is Lubrizol. If you go to the Lubrizol’s website, you are welcome by this splashscreen:

Lubrizol in 3 languages

Small businesses could do something similar, but COSE, the Council of Smaller Enterprises of which I was a member for close to 2 years, has no initiatives in that regard. Cleveland businesses need to adjust their attitude from a local mindset to a more worldwide one. Use foreign languages not just to network and find clients but also to show your sense of hospitality and humanism, which goes beyond language and cultural differences. And this attitude should not be an one-off event. I invite you to widen your vision to years, not just months, down the road. You don’t have to shed your unique city identity when you embrace a cosmopolitan attitude. If you agree, let your voice be heard at your local chamber of commerce or similar association.

But you could take direct action and put yourself on the map whenever there are international events in our city. Take the 2016 Republican National Convention that will attract thousands of press representatives from all over the world. If you play your language cards right, they might as well become your best brand ambassadors back to their home countries.

Cleveland and its metro area have some enviable advantages compared to other metro areas in the country, including reasonable property taxes, simplified ways to establish a corporation, low housing costs, lots of green spaces and the four seasons (even if we get snowed in once in a while). Don’t keep it to yourself, say it in a foreign language.

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Filed under Advertising, Brand awareness, Cleveland Metro, Cultural awareness, Public Relations