Tag Archives: reputation

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

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.

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Filed under Branding, Marketing, Reputation, Value added