Best Practices

Translation vs. Transcreation Services: A Comparison Guide

Transcreation is a buzzword businesses like using because it makes them feel like an industry insider
Gabriel Fairman
2 min
Table of Contents

Transcreation is a buzzword businesses like using because it makes them feel like an industry insider—but most experts know the term is one of the biggest lies in the localization industry.Transcreation services combine creativity with the translation process by ensuring content adaptation for a particular market. However, that’s pretty much the baseline requirement for a good translation. Transcreation is an attempt to rebrand that process and make it sound like it’s capable of accomplishing more than it does.

The Origin of Transcreation Services

For a long time, when global organizations decided to enter new markets, they would establish separate marketing teams in the region. They’d translate the product itself at a central location and then use those boots on the ground to market it. However, as these operations grew, they realized it was unsustainable and inefficient. Local marketing teams were establishing programs that didn’t work with the overall brand, and it was also costly and hard to manage. As a result, they moved back to a centralized process where their in-house teams managed a group of translators.Unfortunately, that process created messages that weren’t resonating in the new markets because the localization strategy didn’t account for cultural differences. Consider something like Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan—it’s steeped in American culture. It means something to the people in that market because they’ve been told to “give 110%” and focus on constant achievement all their lives. The marketing agency understood American culture enough to encompass it in only three words. However, in a new market where there isn’t a similar culture, that slogan won’t strike the same chord. Agencies then came up with a concept they thought was the ideal solution to that problem: transcreation.Transcreation is a portmanteau of translation and creation. The idea is that the content is adapted for the market using more creative freedom and risk. The translation teams consider how to approach that market with the content they have and then change it. While this sounds like a great idea, there are more than a few problems with it:

  • It’s not realistic: The level of creativity needed to update a brand for a new market goes far beyond translation. It requires both a cultural familiarity and linguistic expertise you’d find in a team of individuals with varying skill sets.
  • It’s unfair to translators: If you don’t expect a copywriter to translate, you shouldn’t expect a translator to write copy; they’re two very different skill sets. Assigning all of that responsibility to a single translator is going to overwork and frustrate them.
  • It cheapens copywriting: If you pay a copywriter to develop a good tagline in English, chances are that it’s not translatable, like the “Just Do it” tagline. It only works because it’s embedded within the culture it’s used in. To adapt that to another culture, you’d have to rethink what the brand means to the local market. That is not translation; that’s copywriting.
  • It lowers the baseline: Transcreation is an add-on service. Since people are willing to pay more for it, firms aren’t ready to offer the same level of adaptation in their translation. Something that used to be a basic service in translation now requires an additional fee.

Transcreation services may sound appealing, but really, it’s just a way of redefining—and charging more—for a good translation. Rather than paying for these services, you should make sure you’re getting the most out of your translation.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Translation

If you’re not getting the results you want from translation, transcreation isn’t the solution. Instead, you need a better approach. Specifically, there are three steps to improving your results:

  1. Prioritize your content: A common localization mistake firms make is treating all their content the same. Sometimes, literal translation works perfectly fine. Consider a sentence like “step on the brake;” there’s no way to get creative with that. Meanwhile, a tagline like “take a break with us” would require some creative approach to make that fit into a new market. An expert translator will know when to adjust their approach accordingly; they will be literal when they need to be and creative when the situation demands. You can aid in this by prioritizing your content in a way that breaks down what requires literal translation and what will demand a bit more creativity.
  2. Choose brand enthusiasts: Ideally, you should work with a translator who already knows your brand and product. That way, they’ll understand your marketing and the approach you want to take. If you don’t have brand enthusiasts at your disposal, then you’ll want to cultivate them. Be willing to pay for the time it takes for translators to get familiar with your product so they can provide better translations.
  3. Cultivate a team: A good team of brand enthusiasts doesn’t happen overnight; it’s an ongoing effort. Take the time to build and cultivate this team rather than using one-off translators for every project. Once you work with the right people, you can get those creative translation services you need to establish a following.

Transcreation services are a marketing gimmick. If you cultivate a team of brand enthusiasts, you’ll garner the same results from your translation without paying for add-on services. Build processes and frameworks that will produce better results, and you’ll never need to worry about transcreation.Bureau Workshelps you cultivate the team you need for better translation results without the need for transcreation services. To leverage our platform and our pool of exceptional talent,contact our team.

Gabriel Fairman
Founder and CEO of Bureau Works, Gabriel Fairman is the father of three and a technologist at heart. Raised in a family that spoke three languages and having picked up another three over the course of his life, he's fascinated by the role of language in shaping identity. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Gabriel was honored with the 2023 Innovator of the Year Award at LocWorld Silicon Valley. He enjoys cooking, playing the guitar, and leading teams toward innovation.
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