The Importance of Translation in Branding

The Importance of Translation in Branding: An Interview with Matt Grotenstein

Category: International Business, Translation Services

Matt Grotenstein, Vice President of Client Development at Acclaro interviewed by James Eron, Partner, Kung Fu Data.

JE: How did you end up in the translation business?

MG: It was kind of by accident. I was an English literature major in college and always loved sales, and I think early on in my career I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with those two concepts … and in 2008, the phone rang. It was a recruiter from one of the major localization providers. The industry sounded very interesting. It was creative and had a lot to do with the English language as well as other languages… I heard what he had to say and met with the company, and I’ve been in the industry ever since.

JE: How many languages do you speak?

MG: There’s a joke in our industry… what do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American. So, I had studied French in high school and in college, and um, didn’t speak a lick of it until I spent some time in Paris, and then it comes back to me.

JE: How does translation affect brand, and how should translation fit into a brand’s strategy?

MG: You know, we really see two types of translation requests from our customers, and we will work across a number of industries. Typically we work with retail/eCommerce companies and software technology companies. We either see the driver as internal communication or external communication. It’s either companies communicating with their employees or communicating with external stakeholders or customers. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other categories, but for simplicity sake, I’m going to boil it down to these two. When it’s internal, it really is the way you communicate to your employees; the way you communicate in English and the thought you take to build your culture in English—you really want that to come through in other languages, and you don’t want your internal stakeholders in other countries to feel like second class citizens. A great example is we work with J.Crew, and when J.Crew opens up an international outpost, they have to train all of the store’s staff, and they take great care in training that team, as if they were working at one of the flagship stores in New York, in Soho.

If you walk into the store in Soho, or you walk into the store in Tokyo, they want you to have the same brand experience, and to do that, they really need to invest in making sure their staff are communicated with and trained and part of the same culture to do that. Same thing externally when brands are communicating with their customers. A great example is Netflix—they take great care to make sure that when they release content in English, in very short order, it’s released in all of the other languages that they support so that if you’re sitting in sitting in Germany and you want to consume a show, you’re not waiting days or weeks for the German version of that show to be available; it’s available in real time with the English equivalent. And that, to me, to our customers, you know… that concept of making sure that whether they’re internal or external stakeholders, non-English speaking stakeholders don’t feel like second class citizens is really core to what we see as a successful brand strategy.

JE: Which language do you see as the hardest language to translate?

MG: Oh, by far Japanese! Japanese is actually the language we translate most at Acclaro. And it’s not just the difficulty of translating that language to-and-from English, it’s that typically stakeholders in Japan who work at our customers’ companies, act as internal reviewers, and it’s very much a part of the Japanese culture to thoroughly analyze and debate the merits of specific words and phrases. It makes something that should be fairly objective much more subjective, and therefore harder to reach consensus. So, it’s very hard for us and for our translators to reach an agreement and a conclusion as to a way something should be translated when really both parties are correct.

JE: How does Acclaro fit into the picture?

MG: We are what is called a LSP, a language service provider, and companies outsource the management of all of their translation and localization related tasks to us. So, we manage that process for customers across a number of different disciplines, whether it’s their website, whether it’s their software, whether it’s their training material, whether it’s their legal and IP content. Companies come to us typically at an enterprise level to manage all of those moving pieces.

JE: How does technology help the process of translation?

MG: Tech is certainly a topic we deal with on a daily basis. I think about technology as it relates to our industry in three buckets. One, I think about how we get content back and forth. So if it’s web content, it typically sits in a CMS, a content management system. If it’s software content it sits in a content repository. If it’s training content that was authored, it’s in some sort of learning management system. We have different connectors and an API that allow us to get the content back and forth. Then once we have the content, we use internal teams and tools to translate that content. That doesn’t mean that the content is translated by machines, it just means that our human translators use technology to aid them in the process. They have an environment that they work in that’s just conducive to translation and is efficient for them. And then the third bucket is project management. How do we manage all of those moving pieces and communicate with our customers. We have our own portal called My Acclaro that allows us to do that. And within My Acclaro, our technology, the internal tools that we use, and the connectors to get the content back and forth, live.

JE: What are people doing right/wrong? What should companies try to avoid?

MG: A couple of things. The budget is always the budget, and I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that typically customers can’t just invent a budget when there isn’t one. And I think the biggest mistake, what we find is—especially because that joke I told earlier – because we sit in America—that people think that Google Translate is just good enough or they use non-professional translators or agencies. This really is the face of your brand, and we recommend that if you take the time, care, and costs you take to create that content in English, you really also need to take that time, care, and costs to translate that content into other languages. Otherwise, wait and don’t do it because you’re going to end up doing more damage to your brand than good by offending and alienating your customers, and those are relationships you never get back.

JE: What advice would you have then for eCommerce managers, brand managers on sort of treading these waters?

MG: Good question. To my previous comment, the budget typically is the budget, but an agency like Acclaro can help you figure out what options you have for the budget you have. We can help customers figure out how to get where they need to go on the budget that they have. We have a lot more tools at our disposal than just Google Translate, and we could help customers understand what approach they could apply to different content. Your web content might need a different approach than say your user generated help content on your website, and we really can sit down and be collaborative with customers and help them apply the right approach to the right content. And I would say even if it’s not us, that the advice that I could give is that there are a number of LSPs out there. Typically they don’t charge for that advice and will sit down with you and go over all the different content you have and give you some recommendations for how to approach it. Take that advice. It’s good advice. It’s typically free advice, and it could save you a lot of money in the long-term.

About Matt Grotenstein

Matt has over 15 years of experience building and coaching international sales and account development teams that achieve amazing results in fast paced venture backed startups and rapidly scaling organizations. He has a proven track record of driving revenue and creating value with deep industry experience in SaaS, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and language technology. Matt is currently Vice President of Sales & Client Development at Acclaro, a leader in enterprise software and web localization.

About the Author

James Eron has over 20 years of consulting and industry experience in China, Japan, and the US. As a Partner at Kung Fu Data, James is a China market entry expert bringing quality brands into China and executing strategic turnarounds for brands struggling in the world’s most competitive eCommerce market. His work makes extensive use of China eCommerce data to identify and capture market opportunities. Clients include a wide range of B2C brands from apparel, cosmetics, and luxury to pet food and consumables.

James is a frequent writer on China eCommerce topics and is regularly invited to speak at events surrounding China’s e-commerce sector. He is also global ambassador for the Global Retail Insights Network (GRIN), a community of creative, inspired retail minds helping shape the future of global commerce.

About Kung Fu Data

With offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and San Francisco, Kung Fu Data is an independent data firm and market maker possessing a rare combination of authentic understanding of the West and China in-depth local know-how. Since 2010, we have used proprietary data and optimization technology to help foreign brands enter and thrive in China’s largest e-marketplaces. Our sole mission is to bring brand owners a level of strategy and data transparency they never thought possible.