From advertising campaigns to social media, poetry to literature, every piece of writing is forged out of the need to share an understanding. But to share an understanding, we must first exchange meaning.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, readers abandon ‘bad’ websites in the first 10 seconds, yet tend to explore ‘good’ websites for an average of two minutes or more. The definition of what makes a website good or bad is highly subjective, but one pattern is emerging: the window of opportunity to exchange meaning is getting smaller.
In the internet era, we have learned to adapt to the vast amount of stimulus we are exposed to. As multi-platform readers, we evolve, developing new ways to filter what we don’t need and what’s of interest. Platforms such as Twitter reflect this desire for ‘information only please’. Say it in less than 140 characters or don’t say it at all.
This is a global cultural phenomenon which demands a new discipline from copywriters, who must pare down their content to its essential meaning, to an almost haiku form, while still retaining some character and appeal. Copy must be concise, relevant and easy-to-read if it is to stand a chance of being read at all. This is true in any language.
For companies promoting their products or services globally, communicating well and keeping users interested is as crucial as it is challenging. So what are the rules copywriters need to follow in order to be able to communicate effectively? And what happens when you take that message to the world? The first rule of writing is that there are no rules, or templates, or pre-defined ways to write engaging copy. The minute you follow a formula, you sound like everyone else. There are, however, some guiding principles.
Know your audience
Copywriters need to know their audience and define a clear profile. Are their readers looking for specific information? Where else would they get this information? Are they likely to prefer audio or visual content rather than written text? Successful profiling is essential – the more a copywriter knows about their audience and about how they want to interact with content, the more precise and on-topic their copy will be, and thus, the more likely it is that it will be appreciated by readers.
Context is everything
Copywriters must also consider the context in which the copy will be read. According to ComScore, more people consume internet content on their mobile now than on their desktop. When writing for the small screen writers must think in terms of bite-size copy. Split long paragraphs into shorter units of meaning, punctuate more aggressively, avoid the clichés, use direct and effective language… And above all, keep the appeal.
Readers are looking for information, and fast. They want to know what the content is about before they even start to read it. When writing digital content, less is always more.
Look out of the window
Another healthy principle is to ‘look out of the window’ – metaphorically speaking. Copywriters must explore what else is going on with their target audience. By providing cultural insight and being aware of events, current debates or issues of interest to their audience, their copy will have a cultural relevance which will add value.
When it comes to global audiences, each market has its own cultural sensibilities and preferences, and the above principles apply to all languages, especially when publishing on the small screen.
Wordplay and humour are a good way to showcase brand character and can make all the difference to the way a brand is received. When there is limited space they are also an effective way to make an impression quickly. But you have to get it right!
From a cultural perspective we have to be sure the message is right for the target audience.
The challenges of adapting a brand’s character have more in common with copywriting than translation in the traditional sense. So before choosing a translation partner, it’s worth asking, how creative are they?
Nowadays brands understand that the ROI of creatively-adapted, brand-focused, culturally-aware language far outweighs its cost.
When compared to the return that literal translations present, creatively adapting copy is not only a better way forward, it’s the only way forward.
If a brand wants to communicate with character globally, creativity, experience and local insight are an essential part of keeping audiences with different cultures engaged.
But creative translation is not just about being ‘creative’, the process must be backed up with solid research. If keywords are essential in the source copy, they are also essential in the target text and in-market research is needed to identify the most frequently used terms locally. If idioms and localisms are used, equivalents need to be found and again, discovering the perfect idiomatic phrase or cultural reference can be the jewel in the crown of a translation. It’s a highly creative process. It can make all the difference in the way people feel about a brand and ultimately engage with it.
If you love language, then working with translation creatively is probably the best job in the world.
*This article was originally published on Creative Review‘s website, 28th September 2015. You can download the full article in PDF by clicking on the link below.