How to avoid *fatal* marketing fails on a foreign market? – tips for hiring copywriters and translators


Sometimes you want your ads to make your customers laugh, but the last thing you want them to laugh at is you. Lousy translation errors can tarnish your reputation on the market you are trying to enter, and ruin the otherwise *very expensive* localisation efforts. No, seriously – this really matters. Did you know that according to studies, 59% of British customers avoid doing business with a company that has spelling errors on their website? The point is simple: marketing fails are really, really expensive but can be easily avoided if you invest a little time (and money) into choosing the right person to do the job for you (please, I know everybody loves Google translate but leave it alone for once!). Have a look at the 8 ways how to avoid marketing fails on a foreign market when you don’t know better:

1. Hire a professional. The fact that you *can* do something yourself does not mean you should – look here for reference.
2. Choose the good guys. When looking for a marketing/ translation/ localisation agency, aim for the middle ground. Look for a medium agency whose website still speaks to you in a personal voice, and actually introduces the people who work in it, rather than a massive corporation or a freelancer from Fiverr. Why? The biggest players (I know, I have worked for a few myself once upon a time, BC) often hire freelancers on the basis of the lowest quote offered through an internal market place. This means they basically don’t choose the person for the job on the basis of the best match in terms of experience of your industry/ technical knowledge and qualifications. You want someone who knows what they are talking about, not just someone who offered the lowest price, don’t you? Some large agencies only review CVs in the hiring process, without asking the freelancers to complete any aptitude/ placement tests. I have learnt the hard way running my own agency that even the best qualifications do not guarantee high quality, let alone *talent*. And you need a talented and dedicated person to write/ translate your marketing copy. On the other hand, a freelancer you find on the Internet may not deliver work to the expected standard even if they claim high qualifications and lots of experience (how do you know?), or have an impressive portfolio (again, how do you know they completed the work themselves? I had some really bad experiences with freelance graphic designers who has *the most impressive* portfolios on their websites…)
3. Choose someone from the target market. The chance is, they will know the target culture 100 x better than a big and reputable international agency. The internet is rife with examples of fatal marketing fails of big companies that boil down to lack of cultural sensitivity, often very simple things like acknowledging that in some countries people read from right to left, or that the meaning of symbols and colours differs in different culture.
4. Ask questions. Literally ask who is going to work on your assignment and if they have any experience / interest in the industry they will be writing for. You can be extra diligent and ask why your point of contact thinks this will be the best person for this job – after all, it’s almost as if you were hiring them to do something *very, very* important in your business.
5. Give them enough information to let them do their job well. Of course, a good agency should ask you these questions themselves, and not doing so may be a red flag for you; in any case, these are the questions they *need to ask* to do the job well:

1. Who are you and what exactly are you doing here?
2. What is the product / service you are trying to sell?
3. Who is the target audience? Age, gender, interests?
(these questions will allow them to gauge the style, register and voice of the campaign – how serious and professional versus fun and lightweight they need to sound)
4. What are you going to use the text for? Printed marketing materials, website, social media, trade show presentations?
5. What is the purpose of this text? What do you want to achieve with this text? Persuade, inform, pique interest, market, sell, (amuse, annoy, frustrate…hopefully not, but it may happen if you don’t follow my advice from point 1.)?
6. Ask for evidence, portfolio and samples of previous work completed by the person who will be allocated to your project – if you can read the copy in the language you are looking for, you will see if you like the personal style/voice of the copywriter. And even if you can’t read the copy, you will be able to judge if the person has worked on projects for reputable clients.
7. Don’t haggle. Really, this isn’t the place to cut corners – if a translation costs 100 quid anyway, does it make sense to look for someone who can do it 20 quid cheaper? Is this a business expense that will make any difference to your bottom line whatsoever? Is it a good investment of your time? Choosing someone who offers quality (which comes with a higher price tag) will save you hundreds or even thousands in unsold products (due to ruined trust of your customers, which is much harder to rebuild).
8. Offer to pay extra for double checking or hire an external reviewer to do it – in most cases, this will cost you less than 50% of the original price, which as we already established is not a major expense for your business. Better safe than sorry.

To sum up, preventing marketing fails is easy, undoing the results can be challenging.