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Lost in Translation

These past 12 days in Germany, we experienced a lot: castles, museums, towns that had not changed much since the 1500s, and visiting with friends. It was a great trip. However, one of the fun things we found were the translations.

In some restaurants, their menus included English translations. One of our favorites was “Snacks Against Small Hunger.” Of course, what they meant were smaller plates if you just wanted a snack, but it made us smile.

Other translations were a little trickier. At that same restaurant, I order a salad and “meatball with bread” from the snacks menu. What I expected was some meatballs with red sauce either on bread or with bread. What I got was basically a small meatloaf with pieces of bread on the side. It was tasty, but certainly not what I expected.

This is similar to the marketing messages for a lot of service businesses. Businesses think they are being clear with what they offer clients. The problem is that you are “translating” it from your language into what you think is your client’s language. However, in most cases it is not really in your client’s language.

For example, I have worked with a lot of clients who talked about providing good customer service in their marketing messages. This is what one IT firm I worked with talked about originally. However, in digging deeper with their existing clients, we put it into terms that made sense to prospects:

  • Help desk during extended business hours – 7am to 7pm

  • 2-hour response time for issues the client (not the IT company) defined as urgent

  • Cell phone number of the president of the company, if any issue was not resolved to your satisfaction

These were benefits that made a lot more sense to prospects than “good customer service.”

So, be sure to test any marketing messages or descriptions of your services with prospects. If they say things like “What does that mean?” or “What does that include?” you probably need to provide a better translation of what you do. Because even if your service is good, clients may be disappointed if it is not what they expect.

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