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

Monday, 17 November 2014

Becoming More Persuasive?

The essence of persuation is brevity.
 (Some guy somewhere. I forgot.)

Persuasion is a tricky sort of thing. So much hinges on your specific targets but also on your own personality, the way you talk, the way you move, the way you think, the way you are. It's not that something can't be persuasive in general, far from it, but whether it works or not in a specific case is always largely an individual matter.

If you want to appeal to a specific audience, you need to dissect it a bit, get the parameters, then proceed accordingly. Marta Stelmaszak loves to talk about this, but she also brings up the part that's about you, not about them.

Anyway, this lengthy introduction aside (the point of it being that you can't make it more persuasive without doing some persuading), I put my hands today on a short infomercial-style piece of advice intended for lawyers, titled Make Your Marketing More Persuasive (over at Attorney at Work), which made me think about something.

Before me move on, another boring introduction. I believe that translation marketing is mostly ugly, unbecoming and — often — unpersuasive, but persuasion is the least of its problems, actually. A great problem in that area is whom it persuades and what to, what of. (And it certainly doesn't lack pitch.)

In short, translation copywriting brings tears to my eyes. It's all gaudy and empty, the same old stale line about 'our 2000 linguists around the globe' from every single mum-and-pup sole-proprietary translation broker, where 'our network' in client correspondence = 'our database' in translator correspondence. The same plaintive eyes and manifestations of submissiveness from translators ('pick me! pick me!' and pyjama photo). The same 'cutting edge technology' that requires Visual Basic runtimes to work from everybody. And carpet-selling pitch and often errors. We clearly need external sources of inspiration. We need discipline and we need purpose. But I'm rambling.

The main theme of their advice is teams. Translators aren't pack animals (they are packing animals, beasts of burden), but every now and then something like that happens. It is sometimes proffered as an alternative to agencies, or rather to working with them or through them. In this context — yeah, it makes perfect sense to present a team bio, so to say, to offer some sort of team presentation.

Translation agencies should also do that — in lieu of the more common pretence that translators don't exist, which is backfiring, and which was a shot in the foot to begin with. If you don't have translators, you have MT — 'nuff said (anyway, this means that if you don't have highly qualified professionals doing the work for you, or if they are totally replaceable and individually meaningless gears in your machine, then perhaps you should charge cents, not dollars, for your factory output).

Translation agencies already pretend that there are teams. This is because clients like teams. As far as I know, sometimes translators co-ordinate terminology, double-check one another and divide work on the fly in a joint assignment, but 'joining our team' generally means the same as having your e-mail added to their database. I guess teams sell.

Next, show not tell is a marketing/advertising tradition that goes back to the old adage that a picture says more than a thousand words. Translators generally shy away from this because they are led to believe — who by, I wonder, or cui bono? — that their work is uninteresting. That the clients had better not be exposed to it lest their be offended by the smell. Yeah, right. Hogwash.

(It's uninteresting to zombie factory line operators and their clients, and even in their case possibly because nobody has shown them yet. The problem is obviously that the more unremarkable translators are, the less you can get away with paying them. Figure out the rest.)

It shouldn't be taken too literally: you can show something by telling about something else. And in the act of telling you sometimes show your expertise, such as when you tell your client about aspects of your work. You leave the mental connections for the client to figure out.

(This goes against the silly modern notion of spoonfeeding conclusions to your clients and telling them what to think, turning them into brainless but content little consumers. The ideal spenders for... never mind. I gotta watch my rambling today.)

Describe your work. But do it with a picture. Paint that picture with words.

(Probably the fewer the better, but let's not be too literal about this. Verbosity and precision have their uses, and it all has to do with your style. I remember reading about an old famous copywriter who'd describe everything in painful detail... wait, I was gonna watch it. On second thought: it ties in with explaining the process, another idea mentioned later on in the article. People who know what the process will look like and feel like are less scared when the process is taking place.)

Or, well, just use pictures. Many websites do that, and with modern design styles and modern server bandwidth this is not as much of a problem as it used to be.

Marta does a bit of that on her pricing page. She is quite sparing about it and for good reason — if you keep itemizing defining beyond reason and using factory-line sort of jargon, you'll just come out funny or arrogant or both. In any case, it will likely drive your rates into the ground. (Again, the exact outcome depends also on your audience.)

For a larger project you could prepare a more detail and verbose write-up, detailing any hours you're going to spend on something else than actually translating, any analytical steps you're going to take before you actually start, any checks during, anything else like that, any things you do before signoff.

(While at it, knowing translators and LSPs, you're probably going to mention 'client feedback' like a good ISO fanboy or fangirl should. Keep that in check. Clients are important, and what they have to say also is, but for once remember that they aren't experts on your work. They are not your proofreaders or editors. Unless they are. But do you really want a dentist to edit your legalese? Be somewhat mindful of what words you use or you'll end up achieving the standard impression that translators are office gophers who need to have their work supervised and reviewed by more senior professionals from more senior job lines.)

Do be careful with 'affordable', 'responsive' and stuff like that. It all has its legitimate applications, but if you don't do it in somewhat right (where somewhat leads to average results), you'll end up sounding plaintive and half-professional, about the sort of thing that a half-professional translation done by a multilingual may look like to you. This is the danger inherent in DIY marketing. If you don't know what exactly to do, you probably want to keep it simple. Either by making it short and concise or by just making it natural.

But when you're making it natural — which is very difficult to be when you're writing, especially in this type of context — you still need to watch it, to keep it professional. This mostly means no threadbare buzzwords like 'responsive' or 'affordable' unless you really mean them, or unless you just need them for a header under which you're telling things how they are (in a reasonably formal register, not too much and not too little).

Finally, don't think that asking very pretty — pretty please — to be hired is going to work. There are clients who like to be asked to allow you to work for them, but I'm not sure you want that type of clients unless they have some good reason to act like that. Personally, I believe that translators need to stop or reduce the 'pick me, pick me!' behaviour because it harms the prestige of the profession.

Not begging for the jobs is not inconsistent with taking proper care of your clients and appreciating them and their business. And clients — reasonable clients, at least — look for different qualities than obedience, pliability, submissiveness and a general willingness to run errands. Translators who enter into that mode and fail to get out of it will forever be treated like everybody's junior assistants. Translators are probably a cross between professional advisors and designers/writers, but in any case this is not a concierge job*.

(* A professional concierge is different from a submissive guy who's eager to run errands for fear of not getting whatever is his proper work, acting like a cheap and expendable non-professional personal assistant. I'm pretty sure professional concierges actually make more than professional translators, on average, and they have a knack for combining self-denial with personal dignity. Something I don't really see in a qualified and credential translator hiring himself out for oddoffice jobs on a very entry level. This is also the message some translators' online presentation sends right away without need to read into actual business correspondence and negotiation.)

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