Greater than 6 minutes, my friend!
What is the most important deliverable in a localisation project? Is it the file format? Is it the CAT tool? Is it the timely delivery, the terminology glossary or a good price for your translation services? Although all these elements are vital in a localisation project, none of them seems to be a deliverable. In order to identify the single most important deliverable in your translation project, you have to think of the number one criteria by which your customer will rate your services: the quality of your delivered content in relation with the brand, tonality, target audience and your customer’s product.
Having spent over a decade working in multinational companies with their own in house localisation departments, I learned that what matters most when entering a new market, is the brand and the product and how they are presented to the new audience. Everything a company does is a means to reach this common goal of packaging the brand and the product in the right way for the right audience. So when it was my turn to lead a localisation department, my first task was to find a way to brief our freelance translators about the brand, product and audience they were writing for. I knew that there is a briefing for copywriting and graphic design services, but how come nobody ever thought about a localisation briefing. After a little online research, I decided to create a localisation kit to brief my translators. But my localisation kit had a little twist.
Just as an aid kit includes everything you need to solve your acute problems, the ones that hurt, I wanted my localisation kit to help me with the most painful localisation issues. Finding the big issues was not difficult, even before I got hired the company’s management told me that they were not happy with the quality of their localised content. So I wanted my localisation kit to include all the first aid help for fixing my content problems, such as brand and message, tonality, voice and language, target audience and the best way to address it, along side the product and it’s features.
Everything else that is traditionally part of a localisation kit went into my project plan: technical setup such as integration of the translation tool with the in house CMS tools, file format engineering, budget, timelines, source files, securing enough translators for the project, hiring new staff and creating glossaries and style guides. I’m using agile project management methods for dealing with all the mechanics of a localisation project. But for me, the essence in a localisation project is to understand the customer, his or her product and audience, and share that understanding with the translators so that we, together, can deliver the content that will meet our customer’s needs.
So here are the 6 essentials for my localisation kit:
1. Project goal
I want to know what the company would like to achieve with the project. Is it a website launch, is it a market entry, do they want to launch a new product line, do they want to offer a new service, do they want to change existing services or relaunch an existing platform? I want to know what they want to do, how they want to do it and why.
2. Brand identity
If this is a new customer with a new product or website, or rebranding an existing product or service, I want to have a definition of their brand identity. How do they define themselves? What makes them different? How do they want to present themselves and their product or service to their audience? The brand defines a company’s identity and it is essential in creating the framework for its communication approach and content strategy. The brand identity shapes the story that the company is telling its customers about its product or service, it is a recurring theme that will surface over and over again in all their content. By having the brand identity definition you can recognize that recurring theme in the content that shapes the user experience. For example, one company included in their brand definition “We are the modern gladiators”. How does that translate into content strategy? What recurring elements in their texts are referring back to the definition of their brand? How can they be identified in the source text?
3. Tonality or voice
Once a brand has defined its identity, it will go on creating a voice for the brand. Will they address their audience in a formal or informal tonality? Will they want to come across as serious, secure, business like, or will they want to be playful, easy going, inventive, creative, strong, glamorous, attractive and so on? In the case of the company that identified itself as “the modern gladiator”, the brand managers chose a formal tonality paired with a serious approach for the website or, in their own words, “it should sound like visiting the website of a bank” and a strong, bold and masculine voice for the marketing content, even though they also had a female audience. How will this information help interpret the source text? How will it influence the language choices the translator makes while translating the texts?
4. Target audience
It is very important to get a clear picture of the audience your customer is trying to reach. Nowadays attention is a valuable currency and you have to use the right language to get the attention of your audience and keep it, otherwise they will lose interest in a matter of seconds and go to a competitor that addresses them in a language that is more appealing. Make sure that your customer gives you a detailed description of their target group including personas. You want to know their age range, gender, socio-economic status, what their interests are and what they admire. A good profile of your audience will help you chose the right approach to your content localisation. Don’t accept target audience descriptions such as “Finnish users on our website”. The simple fact that your customer wants to translate content into Finnish already tells you that their aim is to reach out to Finnish customers. You want to have the target group profile as defined by the customer’s marketing team.
5. Target market
Ask your customer what their target markets and languages are. Ask for the reasons why they chose those markets and what their expectations are. Ask them to share any market specific information that might have an impact on the content creation. Are there any legal and compliance aspects that should be taken into account? Is it forbidden to use certain wording? Is the company obliged to include specific information about their products in specific markets? Don’t forget that the source content, more often than not, does not cover all the requirements for all the markets in which the company is operating.
6. Product / Service
This should be the most consistent part of your localisation kit in terms of volume. You want to have a product description with high level features, user workflows and exceptions and a lot of mock-ups or screenshots of the product. The same goes for a service. You need to understand the product very well before you start translating. Any company that developed a product or service has extensive documentation about the product features. Therefore it should be no problem to get a good overview without any added effort from the customer’s side.
Such a localisation kit establishes right from the start the framework for the translation work. It helps the language specialists understand and interpret the source text better and create the appropriate content for the target audience. Although much more than this localisation kit is needed in the process of content localisation and transcreation, a solid understanding of the brand, product and your audience is a huge step in the right direction. It will boost the quality of your content instantaneously, and it will give the language specialists the right context for their translations. Place the content at the centre of your localisation project and everything else will fall into place.
Ask the customer to deliver you a list with the SEO words used in the source text. If your customer is a large company with an SEO department, ask them to deliver you the SEO words list with translations in the target languages. Alternatively, you can translate the SEO list in the target languages with multiple versions and have the SEO team of your customer run a check on your list and let you know which SEO words they prefer for their content.