Transcreation Questions and Answers
As one of the four speakers at the Women in Localization UK’s Transcreation Atelier on 10 March 2023, I got many great questions that were asked in the chat. A collection of the most frequently asked issues was later forwarded to me and I have reposted these questions here, together with my answers.
Q1: Do you think a transcreator must be a native speaker or could it be someone really proficient or living abroad for decades?
A transcreator (that is, a professional trained in both translation and copywriting) should ideally be a native expert who lives and works in the target market. Being locally immersed in what’s going on in terms of local competition, (rapidly) changing consumer trends, pain points, perceptions, etc. is important, as is the native grasp of tone-of-voice nuances. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course — I have seen work done by near-natives that absolutely nailed it, and work by native speakers that didn’t.
Still, as a rule: The ideal profile is a qualified transcreator who is a native speaker and lives in-market, or a team where at least one team member is native in-market.
Q2: How can I explain to a client how transcreating their texts would be an advantage over a “simple” translation? What are the main points to convince them, especially if the price is higher for this service?
Transcreation, if done right, ensures better brand engagement and growth.
More specifically, transcreation …
- makes readers feel the texts were written specifically for them and their world and mindsets
- is clear, natural, and authentic
- ensures readers connect better (“click”) with brand messages
- gives companies a stronger brand identity in a crowded marketplace
- makes readers want to explore the offerings/get in touch to learn more
- drives lead generation and conversion, thus sales
- results in higher trust and loyalty (return purchases, referrals, …)
A straightforward translation will hardly ever do that, since every language and culture works differently, and because local-market mindsets, perceptions, pain points, competition etc. differ.
So the question to clients wishing to enter and conquer new markets is rather:
Can you afford to not invest in transcreation?
Q3: Is there any particular copywriting training course you would recommend?
There are many courses out there, and I recommend asking copywriter colleagues in your target language for recommendations. Here are some additional tips:
A useful site, not just for courses, but for copywriting resources and information more generally, is the American Writers and Artists Institute.
The UAL (University of the Arts London) also lists several short copywriting courses in English that are taught online and could provide a good foundation.
Then there is also the Miami Ad School, with partner schools around the world.
The hubspot academy also has some courses you may want to look into.
I also recommend following well-established copywriters on social media. They can offer a wealth of insights. I don’t want to single any one out in particular, many work in specific niches, and some offer courses. Start by following one that you like, and you will soon find more.
For copywriting in other languages, you should additionally check with associations, colleges, and institutions in your target market.
If you are interested in training specifically for transcreation, there is also my transcreation course on ProZ (provided in English, but applicable to all language pairs).
Q4: Can you approach transcreation from scratch if you are a translator who has never practiced copywriting professionally before?
If you are a translator and have never practiced copywriting before, I definitely recommend that you learn how professional copywriting works and what kind of skills are needed. “Being good with words” isn’t enough, you also need to learn strategic marketing basics, as well as techniques and processes. I see these problems time and again in my workshops. You can either take copywriting trainings, or transcreation trainings, or work with professional copywriters to learn the ropes. (For training recommendations, see Q3)
Q5: I must admit that transcreation confuses me. I translate subtitles, but also medical and legal documents. Am I correct to think that when it comes to legal/medical documents you can’t really transcreate as you need to translate the exact meaning of the words? But when it comes to subtitles (in my case) you can be more creative as you need to capture the audience all the while keeping true to the source text?
There is this myth that transcreation is all about “creativity” and that “being creative” is what sets it apart from translation. But where would you draw the line? What does “creative” even mean? The concept of creativity itself is often misunderstood. And that’s why people tend to be so confused.
Here is an explanation that you can use in client conversations:
- Translation is about transferring source-text meanings and nuances accurately and completely. Readers want to know what the source text says.
- Transcreation is about understanding how to adapt the source text to make it cut through the noise, capture the attention of readers and motivate them to action.
The difference is primarily in the communication goal and the processes and skills you need for the job, not the degree of creativity.
For translation, you need a translator, often specialized in a particular subject domain.
For transcreation, you need a translator who is also trained in copywriting and sales.
In transcreation, the priority of your job is not to render source-text nuances as accurately as possible. The number-one priority is to achieve your client’s communication goal for the target market, whatever that takes in terms of adapting style, tone of voice, and even the focus of a campaign in view of local competition, habits, traditions, customer preferences and pain points.
TIP: I recommend that you don’t ask clients upfront whether they want a translation or a transcreation. That’s language-industry jargon. Use your skills and training to understand what your client needs and take it from there. Clients don’t care what you call your service, they just need the job done, and a transcreator is ideally positioned to help them with that.
I therefore generally refer to “projects” instead. For example: “Project: Create German website copy based on the English source texts provided and client briefing, as follows: …” and slip in “transcreation” at some later point in the conversation. I also include the term “transcreation” with a short explanation in my quote and in my invoice.
Q6: What’s stopping a company from hiring a copywriter in the target language to write the copy from scratch, rather than a translator to transcreate the copy from the original language? What influences either decision?
The great thing about transcreators is that by training, they are both translators and copywriters. They can change hats as needed. When crafting copy for a new target market, they can either work solely from a brief or they can work from a brief while taking into account a source text.
A target-language copywriter can’t cover this entire spectrum, they can “only” deliver copywriting from scratch, without heeding source texts or instructions in other languages. Sometimes a client will want exactly that. But if there are also source texts to be taken into account, the client definitely needs a transcreator on board.
For clients, a transcreator has the following advantages:
A transcreator understands when to translate, when to adapt, and when to write completely from scratch, and how to do that. This means that a company can rely on that professional for a wide range of projects, without having to explicitly specify “we need this translated”, or “we need this transcreated”.
In my case, for instance, my clients just send me a text, I analyze it, see what additional input I need, get back to them to discuss the approach, and prepare my quote and ultimately, my deliverables based on that.
The advantage for the client is that they don’t need to pick a particular service upfront – they can trust the transcreator to advise them and apply the best solution in each case: either a translation, a mix of translation and adaptation (transcreation), or copywriting from scratch.
This is valuable peace of mind for the client.
TIP: For a more detailed visualization on why transcreators can be such a valuable asset to a client’s business, check out the transcreation continuum that I developed.
Q7: Could you explain the difference between marketing translation and transcreation and in which cases one or another should be used?
A translation is defined as rendering source-text meanings and nuances accurately and completely. There is lots of material in marketing that needs to be translated accurately and completely. Examples: Brand manuals. Market analyses. Customer insights. Academic marketing textbooks. Strategic planning documents. Any kind of marketing texts for marketing people, whenever professional marketers need to get a full and accurate picture of what the source documents say.
Transcreation, on the other hand, goes beyond accurately rendering source-text meanings. It’s about engaging, inspiring, and motivating readers. It is about AIDA – capturing reader’s Attention in an overcrowded place, spark Interest in what we are saying and offering, leading to Desire to learn more, and ultimately, motivating to some kind of Action (subscribe to a newsletter, request more information, buy a product, participate in an event, etc.). That may often require substantial adaptation, since every market, culture and target group have their own specifics and peculiarities.
In a nutshell:
- Marketing translation applies to texts with the purpose to inform marketing professionals fully and accurately
- Transcreation applies to texts with the purpose to enhance a brand’s reputation and revenue, by inspiring, engaging, and motivating readers to action
TIP: The difference between “marketing translation” versus “transcreation” is a distinction we would use within the industry and among language professionals. Client-facing, you could use whatever term they understand best, as long as you make clear what the work involves. In fact, the best way is to refer to projects rather than a particular service, e.g. “Project: Create German copy for Website XXX, based on the English source texts provided and client briefing conversations, as follows: …” Slip in an explanation at some point during the conversation, and make sure to use the right terms in your invoice (possibly with a short explanation).
Q8: How do you persuade the client that the new text you are proposing is better than a literal translation?
For arguments, see answer to Q2. In addition, whenever you deliver a transcreation, include explanations of how your recommended target copy ties in with the client’s requirements, as set out in the briefing (see Q9).
Q9: I trained in advertising and translation but I find the transcreation market very difficult to get into. I recently did a text and the client said they thought my slogan was wonderful but the body of text didn’t have the tone of voice they were looking for. I find it so subjective and very difficult to grasp where I went wrong. What do you suggest in terms of practising this “tone of voice”?
If you trained in advertising then you know how subjective clients can be, and the same applies to transcreation. One thing that I always recommend is to include the desired tone of voice in the briefing, and to ask the client to give examples of what kind of voice they like and what they don’t like.
This kind of client input upfront will a) ensure that you’ll hit the right note better on first try, and b) help the client (and you) see how well your recommended copy aligns with the requested tone of voice. Upon delivery, I find it useful to include a short explanation like: “As set out in the brief, I opted for a light-hearted, informal tone of voice in line with the examples you gave.” This helps the client understand that you did take their instructions to heart and worked to their wishes.
Yet even so, the client may still not be entirely happy. That’s normal, and both transcreators and transcreation clients need to be aware that a couple of back and forth rounds is not a sign of poor work or criticism, it’s simply a normal process in marketing, especially if it’s a new work relationship.
The good thing is that, the longer you work with a client, the better you understand their preferences, even without much of a briefing upfront. I know that my clients appreciate that.
Which speaks to the value of long-term relationships!
The advantage of a transcreator is that they combine translation experience and copywriting experience. They can serve their clients over the entire Transcreation Continuum. That’s valuable peace of mind.