What would you do if you could understand any language?
From the universal translator of Star Trek to the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, sci-fi heads have always been captivated by the idea of rapid, seamless interpretation. But new tech has consumers seeing (and hearing) the future today, and it’s left content marketers with a number of important questions to consider.
Translating content was a natural first step in the pursuit of standardized translation. Videos, blogs, podcasts—all of these mediums give content creators space and time to create captions, voice dubs, or even entirely separate avenues of content for users based on language. The challenge for content marketers, however, has been a contrast between work and expectation: Creating effective translated (or transcreated, or even original) work required additional time and effort to meet a market demand outside of your existing geographic base. Was it worth it to translate work if it might only widen your audience a bit, and at great cost?
But it’s a new day, and it looks like new translation tech may be flipping this dynamic by making translation a more speedy and cost-effective practice for everyday content creators. The more accessible this tech becomes, the greater expectation brands will face for multilingual content.
The question is: Does this present an opportunity or an obstacle for brands?
Image attribution: Richard Revel
A good place to start for understanding our audiences’ changing expectations is the new tech they are using. How have people fundamentally changed in terms of how they interact with the web?
Natural language processing continues to sit at the forefront of this conversation, with marketers still working to optimize voice strategies that make their brand accessible for those using voice-activated gadgets and search. It’s responsible for the first language shift for marketers, encouraging writers to consider more conversational styles and some brands like Tide or Nestle to create voice exclusive experiences on platforms like Alexa.
These high-effort endeavors work great, so long as the brands building them are only targeting a single language market. Multilingual support in the voice space requires comparatively high effort to produce as opposed to more standard media, which means this tech primarily enables brands to “speak” to their current audience in a new, more conversational way, without actually expanding much.
Conversational translation may be the next wave of translation, however. Expanding on their previous cut-and-paste translation tool, Google has launched an audible version of their Translate product that can take voice input, translate it to a desired language, and then spit out a computerized interpretation through the user’s headphones. While a huge step forward in many ways, the tech isn’t quite the fully realized sci-fi ideal we’ve grown up with. Currently, the service is tied to the brand’s expensive new headphones and Pixel phone, the processing of input is a bit delayed and results in hitched conversation, and as with Google Translate, a lot of context and cultural relevance can still be lost in the process. It does meet a huge need, however, bringing people closer together as our globalized community becomes ever more reliant on efficient means of communication. And as additional competitors in the verbal space continue to launch their own solutions, marketers should expect to see a more rapidly translated, verbal world in the not-so-distant future.
For digital content creators, these new advancements herald quickly growing expectation from consumers, and we’ve already seen some solutions try to tackle this on the web. From browser plugins that translate pages to embedded page solutions that allow visitors to translate page content to their desired tongue, translating content can seem deceptively simple.
But this may be a rare case where simplicity is actually harmful for your brand.
Image attribution: Nigel Tadyanehondo
Automatic translation of content may make it easy to scale your content efforts for a global content marketing strategy, but is this actually what’s best for your brand?
Likely not, and here’s why.
Firstly, this presents an enormous monitoring and logistical problem for your brand. Making your content readily available in any language without the capacity to optimize or monitor how the content is treated by audiences in that language could leave your brand open to PR issues that you aren’t equipped to address.
This logistical problem is only compounded by the age-old issue with translation: cultural context. Most fast translation tools work on a near word-for-word basis, where words and phrases from one language are changed into the closest programmed counterpart of the output language. Languages, however, are far more complex than this, and this word-for-word approach has resulted in some hilarious advertising fails for brands throughout history. If brands can’t even get this issue right with a product name or a couple of lines of copy, how are content marketers supposed to protect longer-form digital content?
The answer is simple. Don’t take the simple way out.
Image attribution: Florian Wedhe
New translation tech sadly isn’t at a place where it can help marketers much, but it has reached a stage where people are more ready to expect content in their native language. The solution to this isn’t for brands to translate everything but rather to transcreate for a very specific population.
Transcreation is similar to translation, but is far more rigorous. Rather than slapping your copy into a one-to-one translation software, transcreation happens when your content team specifically engages a content creator to adapt your content for a new language, including an act of interpreting and translating cultural context and imagery. While slower and more costly, this process forces your brand to be thoughtful about how your brand expands and serves a global content marketing strategy, rather than just jumping from a national to international scale with the addition of a site widget.
But perhaps most importantly, where tech-based translation only addresses one issue with the delivery of your content, effective transcreation affects each stage of your content’s conceptualization, creation, and distribution. Here are a few particulars to get your brand off on the right footing when considering a transcreation scheme.
Transcreation will only produce good ROI for your brand if you’re using it to speak directly to a new audience instead of assuming that their needs mirror that of your original audience exactly. Start with country-specific market research, then examine content, site, social, and email analytics to figure out how people in the new geographic area differ in their brand expectations and digital habits.
The clunkiness of word for word translation doesn’t just affect how your content reads, it affects how searchable your content actually is. Once you’ve identified the two or more languages you want to create content in, make sure to develop separate keywording strategies for each that take into account the most popular search engines for each population.
Your team has finally transcreated their first set of articles into Spanish, and they are super excited to launch your Spanish-language blog. One problem: No one on your social media or email team speaks Spanish. One of the limiting factors for brands onboarding new target languages is that you need to ensure that you have ongoing monitoring and analytical support that can operate in that language. While it may be costly or time-consuming to build up a staff pool to support international audiences, it is vitally necessary to ensure that your brand is able to keep a pulse on the needs, interests, and issues that arise from new target audiences.
Is the future of translation happening today? Absolutely. But is it happening in a way that benefits content marketers? Yes and no.
Increased expectations for multilingual content means that brands may discover global audiences that are more excited to engage than ever before. Likewise, the prevalence and seeming convenience of current translation tech may mean you have competitors who try to take the easy way out—and fumble in the process. But for your brand to be in a position to take advantage of these dynamics will require a skilled and thoughtful content team that is able to transcreate linguistically and culturally relevant experiences rather than just trading out words. It’s hard work, but it instills a foundation for your content team that will always remain relevant, regardless of how advanced our translation tech ever becomes.
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Featured image attribution: Slava Bowman