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Are we communicating clearly the value of what we (can) deliver? Or do we concentrate too much on what we do and how we do it, thus downplaying the why, the ultimate benefit – which is the value of enabling organizations to reach and service new regions of the world?
This is an issue for all of us (clients, service and tools providers, consultants, academics, etc.) because all of us have internal and external customers and stakeholders who depend on our expertise to enable them to do business and/or to communicate cross-border.
The discipline of Branding can help. LISA Member Q. Malandrino, Chairman and CEO of BrandLink Corporation, suggests that Branding is a lot like …. translation. In the following article, he presents Branding as a discipline and explains why it is important to the Language Services Industry.

Q. Malandrino “Branding” and “Brand”

In my interactions with LISA, with both the organization itself as well as with several of its Members, I have come to understand and appreciate our many challenges – which were front and center on people’s minds in response to my presentation and during the Roundtable that I moderated at the LISA Forum Europe in Paris last October. On both occasions, my perspective was the overarching context of all of them: what our audiences think of us.

Editor’s Note: The panel discussion following Malandrino’s presentation at the recent LISA Forum Europe in Paris was extremely lively and valuable, involving many people in the audience. LISA Members are invited to review his presentation and to read the summary of the entire session (begins on page 63).

To start with, let me offer my formal definition of Branding as a discipline:

Branding is a layer that an organization places between itself and its marketplace, one that intends to “translate” the worth of its business strategy into terms that will be valued by its intended audiences.

Influencing perception is the reason d’être of the discipline of Branding, a discipline that can yield a positive, value-added halo that surrounds everything that you offer concretely. The more value your audiences perceive, the more they’ll respect your proposition, and the more they’ll be willing to pay for it. By and large, it’s that simple.

That’s the underpinning of Branding, and it’s one that is rooted in human nature: nobody cares about what you do – they only care about what it does for them. Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, put it best many, many years ago:

“We don’t make lipstick; we make you beautiful.”

And this philosophy is valid in any industry – from b2b (business to business) to consumer, from products to services, and across geographies.

You don’t own your brand – it only resides in the minds of others.

Now that we have defined Branding, what then is brand? You do what you do, you say what you say, you behave the way you behave. Out of all of this, your audiences form a perception of you. Brand is this perception, and it resides in the minds of others. You don’t own it. You can only plan what this perception should be, align your words, pictures and actions with it, and once you have achieved that perception … work hard to ensure that it remains that way.

Competence will sell what you do; Branding will help sell it at a higher price.

Importantly, however, Iet me emphasize that Branding is no substitute for professional competence. Without it, the halo of Branding will dissipate quickly – as it will be based on an empty promise. Competence will sell what you do; Branding will help sell it at a higher price.

The discipline of Branding is composed of six integrated and sequential components:

Go to market with what people buy (e.g., protection for their intellectual property investment), not with what you make (e.g., TMX).

  • Brand Positioning defines how you wish to be perceived, as an intangible dimension added to the intrinsic and factual worth of your business proposition
  • Messaging dimensionalizes that concept according to audiences, segmenting what you should say to whom
  • Brand Culture aligns your behavior with Brand Positioning – the way you behave obviously contributes in generating the perception
  • Brand Architecture organizes your products and services in such a way as to let you go to market with what people buy, not with what you make
  • Verbal and Visual Identity provides the visible components of the proposition: entity and product names, slogans, logos, brochures, signs, etc.

On this basis then, a variety of communications professionals, from ad agencies to PR firms and more, will work their magic in spreading the word.

Ultimately, Branding has the ability to present an organization’s proposition as…. “Here’s how I will fulfill your needs.” Unfortunately, countless organizations focus all their energies on communicating … “Here’s what we do.”

It’s Not “Translation”– It’s Substantial, Valuable Market Knowledge That Others Covet

Why don’t your audiences seem to readily perceive the value you provide? Because you may not be articulating it properly and clearly. If you are able to do so, you will establish value – not as it relates to your ability to translate, but based on your substantial and unique market knowledge that others can leverage to save time and money to be more effective.

All players and stakeholders in our industry are required to produce the same (or more) with the same (or less) budgets. The danger is that if you fail to establish a higher degree of value, the current slippery path of commoditization may become a downward spiral from which it will be difficult to exit.

The starting point to fight commoditization must be a defined context.

The starting point to fight commoditization must be a defined context, the definition of the overarching desired perception (Brand Positioning). And the overarching objective is not necessarily for your audiences to intimately understand GILT, internationalization, localization, etc., but to understand and appreciate what all of that does for them. That is key for the Language Services Industry because your audiences tend to see you in terms of price per word, testing services, outsourcing, etc.

Then, discrete messages can be crafted under the contextual umbrella. For example:

- (Globalization Director communicating with Executive VP, who sits on the Board of Directors)

“Our localization vendor has agreed to reduce its price per word for translation to XXX.”


“Our localization services provider is enabling us to get to market faster with our two main product lines. It will run a 2-hour, once-a-week program next month to educate all of our Engineering Program Managers on what it takes to create and execute Global Product Schedules.

- (Tools Provider communicating with potential customers)

“We develop and market translation memory software.”


“We safeguard your future by protecting your IP (intellectual property) investment in multilingual content.”

Outside-in vs. Inside-out

These quick examples do not constitute ‘branding’ per se, of course. They simply point to the need of turning the proposition around – to speak with an outside-in perspective that is benefit-driven, instead of with an inside-out, ‘pounding-our-own-chest’ attitude.

Commoditization Is Counter-intuitive and Contradictory – and Can Be Fought

Sell your expertise on the basis of what’s in it for your audiences.

The current commoditization trend seems to be counter-intuitive, even contradictory, because all organizations, regardless of size or type, virtually operate on a global basis now due to the internet. And for the expertise that supports going global, a wide variety of organizations increasingly seek out the type of professionals who make up an organization such as LISA because no one else is better at it. LISA Members know how to do it, and have done it successfully and consistently. But your services and expertise must be sold not only on the basis of professional excellence, but on the basis of what’s in it for them - and definitely, most definitely, not on a per-word dollar (or euro, or yen) basis.

Is “Branding” the Language Services Industry Even Possible?

You have a common purpose: allowing others to operate cross-border successfully.

Many of you may be thinking by now, “It all sounds good. But you’re talking about branding an entire industry, composed of many diverse constituencies, whose goals and business models are often dissimilar. Won’t a branding effort for such a group be a futile exercise in … herding cats?”

Well said – I couldn’t agree more. Whereas in branding an enterprise, all that’s required is the will of executive management, branding the Language Services Industry is simply impossible if all who constitute the industry itself are not committed to it – over time and with a fair degree of difficulty.

As to “herding cats” … even though you are indeed a community made of a wide range of different types of professionals – service providers, tools providers, governments, private enterprises, etc. – you have a common purpose: allowing an organization to operate cross-border successfully. Willingly or unwillingly, you are all in the same boat.

What Can You Do?

Harness the power of added-value perception to change the paradigm.

You want to be successful, and you want to be respected. In your case, the two go hand in hand. You get better every day in all that you do, while offering more and more to your customers. And yet, you face diminishing respect as professionals, coupled with an erosion in compensation levels.

How can you stop this unhealthy combination? So far, you have done it by increasing efficiency in how you operate – i.e., lowering the cost of service. However, by and large, you are now realizing that there are limits to this tactic, and you are reaching them.

Doing more with less – this is your paradigm today, and you are trying everything you can to be more efficient, and as such, optimize the relationship between those two components. You can continue doing so ... or you can harness the power of added-value perception to change the paradigm.

How Long Will It Take?

Successfully branding your industry – any industry – cannot and will not happen overnight. But working together as an industry, you have something that no single enterprise could ever hope to enjoy, i.e., the cumulative mass of messages that could be sent every day by thousands of professionals literally all over the world. LISA alone has more than 400 members in different countries and in different sectors. If we can craft all this extraordinary power into a cohesive whole through branding, we can change the paradigm.

There Is a Reward. Are You Ready?

All in all, a more accurate perception of the role of the Language Services Industry would help fight the slide toward commoditization by:






  • enabling your customers to re-classify what you do as value-added services; and more perceived value, as mentioned, almost always means more money;
  • allowing your front-line customers to communicate clearly and quickly to their upper management the value of working with language services industry professionals (as opposed to thinking of you, and presenting you as, ‘translators’). This, of course, applies to both the public and private sectors when it comes to funding.

If Branding can be made to work to your advantage, your reward will be the perception of you as partners in your customers’ strategic mission – not as providers of a low-value offering compensated by the lowest common, and most visible, denominator: the translated word.

Editor’s Note:

If you, our readers, are energized to consider the need for Branding, please send an email with your ideas to If there’s enough groundswell, we can move forward to develop an action plan.

Q Malandrino is Founder, Chairman and CEO of BrandLink Corp. and has held senior management positions in the leading brand consulting firms. He established and headed the Corporate Branding Division of Interbrand until 1994, when he founded BrandLink. Recently, he re-established a close affiliation with Interbrand – now the world’s largest brand consulting firm – where he will play a leadership role once again in the Corporate Branding Division. You can reach Malandrino at or at


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
February 2005

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider:, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2005

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