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John Freivalds photoMary Jones is a program manager at a global telecommunications firm that spends over (US) $10 million annually on localization. Her company has some additional localization needs, and Mary has been asked to get quotes from a number of localization vendors. To each vendor, Mary will send a letter and several documents that reflect a typical eight-language project for her company. The vendors will be asked to reply with cost and schedule estimates.

Which localization vendors should she contact?

Mary arbitrarily decides to contact 13 vendors. She has no travel budget, and she hasn’t attended a trade show in years, so she relies on her memory and a quick Internet search.

The lucky 13 are simply the ones that Mary has heard of or read about and that she feels have the capacity to handle the work. (Two thirds of the world’s economy works by word of mouth advertising.) Some of the vendors are public firms. Some are private. Some are in Europe and some in Asia, but most are in the US.

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So, from Mary’s point of view, the unique selling proposition for each of the lucky vendors appears to be the capability to handle large projects.

Yet, when you read through these vendors’ websites or when you do a Google search on such firms, you see them all touting the same selling propositions: quality, many offices, specialized software, years in business, and ISO certification.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Jones is the documentation manager at a global chemical company. He handles very specific translation needs and has a modest localization budget of (US) $2 million. He prefers vendors that respect the small size of his jobs. He chooses localization firms by their attention to detail.

Yet, in talking to John, all of the 13 firms that Mary Jones has contacted—with her much larger budget and capacity demands—have also solicited John for his business. And he heard the same selling propositions: quality, many offices, specialized software, years in business, and ISO certification.

How can these same 13 firms solicit such different localization accounts, yet use the same selling propositions on both accounts (and miss the point of what each company really needs)? This is not a problem unique to this industry.

DEFINITION OF A UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION

A unique selling proposition (USP) is an old advertising formula that was made famous by Ted Bates. It is advertising that focuses on those elements of your product or service that make it unique. This focus helps marketers communicate effectively in an overcrowded marketplace.

Localization firms spend a lot of time on their technologies and workflows—and they seem to forget that their competitors have been doing the same thing. Indeed, it is to a point where clients look at localization as a commodity business, and they are just interested in the lowest price.

And vendor firms in this industry don’t spend a lot of time countering this client perception, as the people that head the vendor firms usually come from production or project management backgrounds rather than marketing.

I once worked for a company speculating in machine translation software. I tried to talk to the marketing manager about the mixed messages he was sending to the market, but he didn’t want to hear about it. Instead, he wanted to hear when the exhibits would be ready for a trade show, as that was something real.

HOW TO DEVELOP A USP

There are three requirements:

1. Make a proposition: “If you buy this product or service, you will get this benefit.”

2. The proposition must be unique. It must be one that your competitors are not using. (Incidentally, some firms actually practice the opposite approach to this second requirement. In their marketing, they use the same artwork they find in their competitors’ marketing and websites, knowing that it’s hard for clients to distinguish one firm from another if the firms use the same marketing formats.)

3. The proposition must be compelling, so that people will act.

The USP does not have to be a verbal message. It can be communicated both verbally and visually.

Bates also warned against forming a USP based on “deceptive differential,” which is a distinction that is too small or technical for customers to observe the difference in actual practice. I, for one, can’t gauge the claims of this or that workflow software, which many firms advertise as their USP.

Also, the USP should convey relevant value. For example, this isn’t about localization, but I can’t help but wonder about the latest Saab ad, which states, “An SUV with altitude.” It’s basically saying that you should buy a Saab because the company was founded by aircraft engineers. But with high fuel prices and frequent traffic gridlock, I wonder about the value of that heritage.

Few people reading this will recall where USP got its start. One of the first introductions was from Anacin®, the American headache remedy (“contains the pain reliever doctors recommend most”). Another early adopter was M&M candies (“melts in your mouth not in your hand”).

USP always re-enters the advertising lexicon when sales go down. Before that, companies are happy to run image ads. The modern version of USP is also called “positioning.” For example, are you an apple or an orange? Do you serve the auto industry or the medical field?

Terry Lawlor, VP of Marketing for SDL, told me that his firm is more like a fruit basket when it comes to USPs: “John , it would be good to know the angle (in this article) you are taking, as we have so many USPs.”

This approach is rather contradictory to the concept of a USP. The key to a USP, after all, is that you can be only one thing in the eyes of the consumer. For example, you can’t be a large firm that handles both large and small jobs or a small firm that can do the smallest job, yet also handle the biggest ones. One firm’s advertisement was “Uzbek and a whole lot more.”

SDL seems aware of this dilemma of trying to be too many things, and their solution, as evidenced on their website, is to put all the USPs under a big umbrella that people can identify with and understand. For example, on SDL’s website, visitors learn that SDL “enables global business.” It’s the common tag line across much of their marketing. This approach is more effective than “Uzbek and a whole lot more.”

But today, most every firm lists on its tool bar everything that is close to translation and localization. And frequently this is not what a potential client is looking for. It is naïve to think that all business is given out on technical merit alone.

SDL seems aware of this dilemma of trying to be too many things, and their solution, as evidenced on their website, is to put all the USPs under a big umbrella that people can identify with and understand. For example, on SDL’s website, visitors learn that SDL “enables global business.” It’s the common tag line across much of their marketing. This approach is more effective than “Uzbek and a whole lot more.”

But today, most every firm lists on its tool bar everything that is close to translation and localization. And frequently this is not what a potential client is looking for. It is naïve to think that all business is given out on technical merit alone.

KNOWING WHICH USP GETS YOU IN THE DOOR

Sometimes it works best to know which fruit in your fruit basket works best. For Lionbridge, it’s “focusing on the fact that clients cannot always forecast their demand from day to day or month to month,” according to Kevin Bolen, Lionbridge CMO. “Clients need a partner who can confidently respond as quickly as their needs change. Our USP, therefore, is built around the diversity and scale of talent we have and the technical infrastructure we use to engage them on demand. In an industry dominated by smaller owner operators, our response-based approach is unique, and clients are responding.”

A long-time documentation manager at UPS once told me that one of the key requirements for their chosen vendors was to have the ability to deliver hardcopy (in the days when that was necessary) within four hours to the UPS headquarters, which, at that time, was in Greenwich, Connecticut. (They are now in Atlanta, Georgia—where just getting to work can take that long.)

The documentation managers for two different companies, a California defense contractor and a Midwest telecommunications firm, once told me they wanted vendors near their personal hometowns, where they each had second homes. That way, they could travel to those second homes frequently and at their companies’ expense. In one case, I got the business. In the other, I didn’t; we didn’t have an office near his home town, and he didn’t want a second home in Pittsburgh.

Interest in languages goes in waves. For example, FIGS is constant, but languages like Russian, Arabic, or Chinese come and go in waves. And if you make an effective case that you have a USP in an up-and-coming language or region, it might get you in the door. For example, I once gained business from the Coca Cola Company involving only the languages for the former Soviet Union republics, because Coca Cola wanted to write contracts with those republics in their individual languages. And then once we finished that, we were able to gain work in other languages.

Sometimes it doesn’t need to be a language, but instead an area of expertise. American Airlines had a lot of translation work and sent bid requests to a number of companies. Pure translation firms called and emphasized their expertise in HTML, XML, workflow, and other tedious details of this business. The firm that won the job was one with expertise on tying all of those tedious details to multilingual advertising, something that many firms missed.

“The standard USP for the globalization business is quality,” notes Renato Beninatto of CommonSense Advisory. “But if everybody sells great quality, where is the differentiation? Quality is not a selling proposition; it is a condition for being in business. Like using a telephone or computers.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Freivalds is writing a handbook entitled How to Reach Your Marketplace, together with CommonSense Advisory.

 


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