This is not a news blog or an advice blog or any sort of company blog. It's more of an opinion blog.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Lesson from Zegna

First look at Zegna's Su Misura website. Su misura means 'to measure', which is another expression for bespoke suits. Any associations already? 'Bespoke' is not a word unknown in the translation sector, but we've probably all heard 'tailored' one million times too many. So this is a tailor's website. Tailored to the tailor. And it's also a (brilliant) showcase of modern web design.

The entire design looks more like an exclusive magazine than a website. This is in line with the modern trend, now that real design professionals have taken the job and the bandwidth allows for large pictures with huge file sizes.

The guiding thought seems to be show, don't tell, but words, of course, are used. Just sparingly. And they write on the picture instead of under it. (Make no mistake, the words are important, what they are not is many.)

The home page is not cluttered. There is a fair deal of text, possibly a bit too much and a bit too pitchy, but with plenty of breathing space for the reader.

And there is no freaking action button. No huge red button with GET YOUR FREE QUOTE written on top of it. There is only a small icon, in the same white colour as the rest of the text, and it says request an appointment. Right? Request. Not get. Or demand. You can request it. You'll probably get it, but you too need to be polite and realise that even though you're the paying customer who's going to be catered to on a very personal level (down to making your lapels reflect your personality), you can't be throwing your weight around, thumping your fist on the table and dictating terms. You request. And what you request is an appointment.

In short, there is no in-your-face sales-guided actioning.

Also, the guy sitting on the sofa is a customer. Or a potential customer — someone who needs a suit or, more probably, wants a Zegna suit. Got it? Let's say your name is John Smith, Spanish translator. And someone on the Internet wants a Smith translation. Do you jump at it and say, 'Hi, that's great, let me give you a discount for signing up and another one for volume (...),' or would you rather convince the client that he's in good hands and will get a good translation just as the name (or brand) seems to be promising?

In short, your client wants a tailored translation. A tailor (no -ed) translation even, as there's not even necessarily going to be much tailoring in a good number of cases. So will you get out of your skin to make it look like a rack one? Will you price it like a rack one? While working your hands off to provide tailored and tailor-level service? As opposed to Machine Tailoring?

The other thing is that the shot makes the client look like the star and the main hero of the copy. So it's all about the client — but please notice how Zegna managed to do this without falling flat on its face before the customer.

Let's move on now to Personalization, which is the second tab.

You may have heard that clients don't want to hear about translation, that they don't care, nor should they. What rubbish. It only works for goods which are not supposed to be appreciated or cherished.

Details of the work are not forced on the visitor. No more than one new picture and several lines of text appear each time the visitor, interested, himself presses the small and unintrusive arrow button. Personalisation. Fabrics. Buttons. Cufflinks. All the information about the details is there, available to you, if you want it. If you keep pressing the arrow button, there will always be something new. But it isn't forced on you. Well, almost always. There are about eight slides.

(And they mention exclusive cashmere sweaters after gaining your attention with designer suits. Cross-selling and complementary offer.)

And I really want you to notice the unabashed references to the production process. Or, in more humane language, pictures straight from the work. Don't listen to people who say it's bad to include those, they're wrong. Unless they want you to sell easy translation solutions at discount prices. Making your work look easy sounds like just the right branding solution for that! (Because it's not even marketing, it's branding, it's more intimate to your brand, which basically means your reputation and image.)

The you can move on to The Suit. Yes, simply The Suit. How about The Translation?

Surprisingly, The Suit shows the suit. What does this mean? It does exactly what it says on the tinDoes exactly what it says on the tin is not a failure to come up with sophisticated advertising. It actually is a real, 'sophisticated' advertising slogan. It also relates to another principle: KISS. Keep it Simple, Stupid. According to Wiki, the KISS principle was noted by the U.S. Navy, favouring operable simplicity to overcomplicated gadgetry.

Below the text — and I assure you the incredibly posh typography is very simple to do on a technical level; plain text and no PhotoShop — you can see two icons now. And the incredibly elegant white icons are also simple. If you're a Windows user, go Start > Run > charmap.exe (this link may work) and select Webdings or Windings. See?

Also, like I said, the icons are two: apart from requesting an appointment you can discover the gallery. The gallery has a grand total of five suits in it, which is a very concise portfolio. To wit, a short, concise portfolio the prospective client can take a look at just before requesting his appointment, i.e. contacting you. (Because you aren't pushing for a sale, you're enabling contact with you.)

The text itself is quite inspirational. I won't quote it. Read it where it is to see hands on how it works. (I want you to see the result.)

When you move on to The Jacket, you can read about sartorial tradition that has been elevated to a fine art by our craftsmen. The opposite is currently happening in translation — because it's in the interest of huge 'language service providers', often technological companies, to make it look like we don't exist, like translators are replaceable, machine translation is the new big thing and so on. On the other hand, translation has traditionally been regarded as at least somewhat creative or even if not properly creative than at least associated with that. And there is also an analytical and even scientific flavour to some types of it.

What does it say on your diploma? In most cases it probably is: Master of Arts. You're a master, and your trade is an art. Even if it's Bachelor, bachelor still means teacher. Someone who may not be an official master yet but is qualified to teach others. Professional Translator isn't that bad. But how about Master Translator?

Additionally, [a]s a final detail, an exclusive personalized label that bears the customer’s name is sewn on each sleeeve unit. A text being translated naturally bears the author's name — or the name of the client, who is the author's employer or client. (And this is something largely lost when going through a chain of multiple agencies.) Perhaps the tag is not there, but it's obvious someone wrote the thing and gave it its individual character.

Let's take a look at Platinum & Premium Collection now. Only request an appointment, no huge rate sheet or service plan.

I'd like you to take a look at one thing in the text, though:

Symbol of prestige and very exclusive in facts, the Platinum Collection expresses an unconditional pursuit of sartorial excellence.

What's the unconditional pursuit of translation excellence — or even writing excellence, when you 'transcreate' poor source copy into perfect target copy under the excuse of converting into a different language — doing in your gives-us-your-best-rates budget service plan? Or even your run-of-the-mill work for run-of-the-mill prices?

Finally, the request an appointment page. There is actually an action button at this time, but note how it's beige, not red or even orange or even yellow. It comes in the same colour as parts of the text (asterisks, links, 'required fields', borders), not different.

The text says that the appointment will enable you to choose (not design and brand*, the client is not Zegna!) your very personal Su Misura suit, starting from the selection of the fabric right down to defining all the details that will make it truly unique. Yes, defining the details. And while they sell sweaters too and will probably give you a coffee, there isn't really a lunch with that or a car ride or logging into the client's online system, or invoicing on the client's template. And the client surely doesn't get to define the price tag. The designer tag is Zegna's, and the price tag is also Zegna's. A client who owns a shop with suits off the rack or manages a network of small-time tailor workshops will not get to slap the name of his network on the suit and even define the price to boot. (And if the client resells the suit, it will be sold as a Zegna-made suit.)

* The client does actually get to brand the suit, but it's an owner's brand not designer's brand. An owner's brand is perhaps as intimate as the designer's or maker's, but different. The owner, if the suit was tailored for him, owns the measure and specs, but does not ultimately own the design and making of the suit. Again, the client — or owner — does not replace Zegna.

For the record, however, Zegna could be compared to an agency (or so called translation company), not a freelancer, despite its origins. If you're a tailor working for Zegna, it won't be your name and surname on the tag. Who owns the sale, the process, the transaction, owns the tag, the brand. If you take your place in the shadows, the agency is Zegna, not you. This is fine if you don't want the spotlight and if you execute instructions, processes and routines designed by someone else, whose design makes it so unique and good.

... But no matter how agencies would like to think that's the case with them, it's not. The agency production and QA process is pretty much the same everywhere, and client service is either better or worse but still generic. The motors of uniqueness are mostly two: the client and you. Good, high-quality agencies have editors and choose the translator mix and the client mix, but even that can't compare to the uniqueness of clients and their needs and translators and their profiles, biographies, skills, personalities.

So try to work on your tag.

One more thing. The entire site has fewer than 1200 words. Possibly even fewer 'effective words'. What would it feel like to think about translating it for €120 if you got a good deal — and then finding it in Google, watching it like this? Are you sure the translation agency would charge in the hundreds? Or the ad agency?

Or would a major global brand for high-quality personalised products (works of art, as it rightly sees them) be thrilled to hear that the job took 1-3 hours of time from an anonymous low bidder? Food for thought.

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