Spartan Italia is an ecommerce venture I started beginning of 2018, focusing on the medium-high income male population and offering them premium, handmade, full-grain leather accessories, such as cellphone holders, cardholders, wallets, etc.
The products are made in a small artisanal shop in Serbia, so the language challenge was immediately there. I needed to communicate the brand to the Italian audience, to the people of the country in which I live and work.
Instead of focusing my efforts on translation, transcreation or adaptation, I decided to do something that I normally don’t do, but would love to do – branding, with everything that it implies. I first had to understand the brand language and the image its founder has been striving to project, and then perpetuate it and write the entire Italian copy from scratch, as an Italian would.
There was only one problem. I am not native in Italian.
We’ll get back to that later.
So, I pulled out a very good book from the shelf, the one on the alchemy of brands, called Fascinate, by Sally Hogshead (she became the most award-winning copywriter in the United States by age twenty-four) and analyzed the Spartan brand through the lenses of the book.
It turned out that Spartan is a Passion and Prestige brand. Sally dissected brand fascination into seven categories: Innovation, Passion, Power, Prestige, Trust, Mystique, Alert. Each has its own characteristics and the tone of voice, each has its own tactics and strategies, so once I identified the ones that work best for the brand I was about to launch in Italy, I immediately knew what my copy should sound like.
Sally defines Passion brands as expressive, optimistic, sensory, warm, and social. She then moves on to provide you with the words to use – vivid words, colors and images; she says that these are the “life is good” brands, that bring out the best by showing us how good things can be.
Then you have the Prestige feel to it: Ambitious, Results-oriented, Respected, Aspirational, Elite.
I had to evoke those images in the mind of my ideal Italian customer. So, this is my first draft, and there were many attempts (the Italian is a bit wrong, but this is just step one):
Portafoglio in pelle pregiata per cellulare, documenti e carte è frutto del nostro design team, che ha cercato di coniugare comodità, eleganza e praticità in un solo prodotto / offrire una soluzione comoda, elegante e pratica per ogni giorno.
Ogni prodotto è unico, lavorato dalle mani esperte dei migliori artigiani, con la massima cura dei dettagli e un infallibile controllo della qualità che garantisce una lunga durata. Anzi, con il passar del tempo ogni prodotto acquisisce ancor più valore, bellezza e fascino.
As you may see, there is a lot of information that I tried to cram into little space, which is somewhat characteristic of my style. I want to say a lot but without making it too obvious, or too heavy. It has to be smooth. The above phrases were a step in that direction, now that I knew what information I wanted to pass.
You will also notice the choice of words (bolded): fine leather, convenience, elegance, practicality, unique, expert hands, best artisans, attention to detail, infallible, long lasting, more value, beauty, fascination.
Let’s not forget about SEO
Of course, it’s not just about using nice words. Before I even started writing things down, I had to think about SEO, and the impact these nice words will have on people finding my store online. It is amazing how little people know about SEO and how important it actually is! I was made aware of all the things I’d been missing by taking a LinkedIn course Become an SEO Expert. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
So, going back to that first phrase you will see that it starts with “Portafoglio… per cellulare, documenti e carte…” (cellphone holder, documents holder, card holder, or literally wallet for cellphones, documents and cards).
Once I have finished writing the technical specs and some more of the marketing texts (not too much, though), I tested it in a way I knew I would regret – by asking my wife, who is Italian, to take a look at the text and tell me what she thought. Big mistake. Since she’s not a professional wordsmith (being native in a language does not qualify one automatically for this kind of job) she told me that my phrases sounded too awkward, unnecessarily long, incomprehensible… Man! Was it a blow!
Hiring the Italian copywriter
In my career as translation agency owner, I’ve had a chance to meet many language experts. One of them is Antonella Barbieri. She even lives close to where I live, but we still haven’t met. Once we do, I’ll make the necessary correction to this text.
Anyway, I felt at ease talking to Antonella, because she is a colleague linguist, she speaks perfect English and I could explain some of the concepts that I tried to deliver in Italian and that may have been influenced by my English or my native Serbian. In short, I sent her what marketing agencies refer to as a brief.
She took the time to go through around 1,500 words of text and polished the text so well, sometimes offering me more than one solution to choose from. In the above example, the text now read:
Portafoglio in pelle pregiata per cellulare, documenti e carte, frutto del nostro design team, che coniuga comodità, eleganza e praticità in un solo prodotto / in grado di offrire una soluzione comoda, elegante e pratica per ogni giorno.
Portafoglio in pelle pregiata per cellulare, documenti e carte. L’eccellenza del nostro design team, che racchiude comodità, eleganza e praticità in un solo prodotto.
I opted for the first version, leaving out the underlined part (which was another option for the same phrase). The second phrase was perfectly good in Italian the way I had written it, so it was a big win for me! Yeah!
To see the Italian version of the website in all its glory, please go to www.spartanitalia.com.
The important lesson, actually, is that it is a big win for the Spartan brand. It got an excellent copy, perfectly adapted to its Italian clientele.
To sum up, bear these in mind when creating/adapting/localizing your/your client’s website copy:
- Brand values, tone, communication, age group, social group (everything else will depend on this)
- SEO (Search engine optimization – be found on the internet)
- Writing the actual copy (copywriting)
- Copyediting (someone who polishes your copy, provides useful suggestions and makes the message relevant to your target group)
- Try, adjust, try, and so on until you have found the winning formula
- If you are entering a new market with your products or services and you would like me to help you, please get in touch.
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