Translator, transcreator or German copywriter: Who does what? And who should you hire (if you want to rock the German-speaking market)?

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Why should you hire a German copywriter and not a translator?

Many companies that advance into new regions make an (understandable) mistake: They hire a translator to transfer their website and marketing content into the target language. After all, a translation is what you need, right? WRONG! What you actually need is text that tickles your target audience’s fancy. Text that intrigues and informs and forms connections on a human level. In short: Text that sells! And that text looks different for every marketing segment, for every niche, each country and culture.

If a translator attacks the copy on your website, he or she will turn it into words that are as close to the original as possible. Which – if you had a good copywriter in the first place – works well for your initial audience. But not necessarily for the audience in the new location. Quite often the original copy is outstandingly snappy or fun. But translate it word for word to German, and you’ll get a bunch of random phrases that don’t sound quite right.

What you actually need is text that tickles your target audience’s fancy. Text that intrigues and informs and forms connections on a human level. This goes far beyond basic translation!

A copywriter approaches the translation in a freer way. Based on the existing content, he or she will form new phrases and sentences. And what distinguishes the good copywriters from the bad ones? Your word hero will create lines that convey the original meaning in the best way possible. A word slug might give you convincing stuff too – just not for the things you want to convince your readers about. (No offence to slugs)

A brief overview

When do you need a translator?

If you have text that should be translated as close to the original as possible

For contracts and technical manuals

What is transcreation?

It is text that is translated in a way that it stays close to the original, but still resonates with the target audience

For slogans, marketing emails, instructions

When is copywriting the best choice?

If you want to keep the core message, but would like it to be delivered in a fresh and engaging way

For websites and blog posts

But there's more! *Insert gasp here*

Writing compelling website copy is actually quite hard to do. Unlike what many people will try to tell you, NOT everyone is born a web copy expert. Web copy needs to be catchy. It needs to be short. It needs to sum up every bit of important information without sounding like a textbook. It will have to contain some keywords to please the google gods – but not in a dull or obstructive way. Website copy also needs a call to action, and if a copywriter knows about SEO, she will create metadata (title tag & description) while working on the page copy.

What a German copywriter will do (and a translator probably won't)

  • Assess the target audience and write in a language they can relate to
  • Think multi-dimensionally about the copy: Is every vital bit of information included?
  • Look at every page: Does it make sense in an isolated way? (Few visitors will land on the home page.) Do visitors know what action they should take? And can they do so in an organic flow?
  • Consider cultural quirks and use them to make jokes that are understandable and funny, but not strange or offensive
  • Evaluate the layout of the page: Is every paragraph placed in the right position for the reader to see and understand?
  • Review the reader journey. Is it smooth and logical?
  • Adjust to mobile-friendly writing as most visitors might access the site via smartphone or tablet. That means short, straightforward sentences.
  • Optionally suggest where links can be usefully included (this is great for SEO)

German transcreation: The middle thing

… between copywriting and content writing

If you really like the way your copy is, or if you feel that sums up the essence of your business perfectly, transcreation might be the right thing for you. It’s a little more creative than translation, and a little less inventive than copywriting.

An excellent transcreation Example

comes from the candy brand Haribo. Its german slogan is Haribo macht Kinder froh. Und Erwachsene ebenso. This translates to Haribo makes kids happy. And adults too. Which is ok. But doesn’t rhyme (like the german version does). So it has been transcreated into Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!

The Transcreation Hype

In the marketing world, transcreation has become a bit of a buzz word over the last years. It has been used for everything from merely adjusting website copy to matching a video ad (Coca Cola) or product design (Red Bull) to a new region.

Who can do german transcreation?

You can employ specific transcreators. But because of the newness of this profession, your selection might be limited. Generally speaking, many skilled German copywriters with an intercultural understanding and high-level English will be able to work with you – and maybe deliver better results than someone from an international agency who has never created unique content in German.

Skilled German copywriters with an intercultural understanding and high-level English will be able to work with you – and maybe achieve better results as someone from an international agency who has never created unique content in German.

When does it makes sense to hire a German copywriter (Texter)?

Whether you are looking for transcreation or German copy or content writing: If you’re new to the German-speaking market, it will probably be the smartest (and most economical) choice to cooperate with a skilled German writer from the beginning. You can discuss tone of voice and brand image right away. That way, you’ll enter the new market armed with copy that is already targeted to your future visitors. Your copywriter can also create marketing materials that further match the language of your brand. And if you need fresh content for blog posts or promotional purposes, you’ll already know who to turn to.

Pro-Tip

Tip: Make sure that your copywriter is available for long term cooperation – this will save you a lot of the trouble down the line

From the SEO perspective ...

a copywriter will be able to help you better too. He or she will

Be smart

What applies to so many cases is also valid for copy: Do it right the first time. That saves you time, money and effort in the long run.

How to find the right German copywriter to work with

If you’re branching out into a new language and market, chances are that you and your copywriter won’t be located in the same place. Possibly you yourself don’t understand the target language and therefore can’t evaluate the quality of your candidates writing. And maybe you’ll be sitting in different time zones.

Even in times when we all basically live on the internet, even post-pandemic when Zoom meetings became standard, this can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be! Here’s how to make sure your princess will not turn into a frog as soon as you … hm … kiss her with a prepayment??? (That took a wrong turn somewhere!)

Ask for recommendations

1Maybe the perfect person is already a LinkedIn connection. Or someone on Facebook knows a great copywriter.

Study the website

2Read carefully through the copywriter’s website. He or she should have at least some content in English that proves their understanding of the language. Is the website professionally made, modern and user-friendly? Design flaws are not red flags – but a good website demonstrates that someone knows their online marking stuff …

Look through work samples

3Even if they are in German, you’ll see what kind of clients this candidate has. Is it name brands, individuals or small to medium-sized companies? Are they in the same industry as you (big, big advantage)? Is the text well-placed on those websites/projects? A good copywriter will strongly advise against layouts that are not reader-friendly. 

Exchange a couple of emails and a call

4This is obviously really important. First, you want to know if you click on a human level. And second, you’ll get an idea of how well the candidate communicates in written English (extremely important going forward). Can they express thoughts in a clear, structured and straightforward way or do they prefer a verbal conversation? If so, does it work for you if you have to have a chat every time something is unclear?

Discuss the conditions of the cooperation

5Talk in detail about project and tasks. Quite often, the original job will snowball into other jobs around localization and marketing (like Social Media, printed materials, email communication and so on). What is in your copywriter’s expertise, and what isn’t? Also, speak about methods of contact and reachability. It’s a big bonus if you find someone who is used to remote work, communication across different time zones and international teams.

Checklist – your ideal German copywriter

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