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Marketing for translators - a hunter or a catcher - aus dem Blog eines russischen Übersetzers

Berkutchi, an eagle-hunter in Kazakhstan

Pitied the limits and the lack…

Having touched upon the subject of marketing for translators, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to address some basic concepts. In a practical sense, marketing for translators is dealt within the context of looking for new clients and attracting more business. There has been quite a plethora of tips and tricks, mostly from bloggers, trainers and authors of how-to books and articles, but, strangely, a lack of underlying concepts which can help to become more aware of a marketing strategy which fits you best.

Like many other notions, they often come in contrasting pairs. This time, I am not going to allude to the idea of red and blue oceans as a metaphor for two different market spaces. The pair of definitions which I have in mind seems rather trivial, but, strangely, it hasn’t found its way into marketing speak. In fact, this word usage is so rare that I remember exactly where I first picked it up.


Our hunting fathers told the story…


Nastassja Kinski in “Maria’s Lovers” by Andrei Konchalovsky

In one of his interviews, the Russian film director Andrei Konchalovsky (“Maria’s Lovers” with Nastassja Kinski, above, has nothing much to do with the subject, but neither have other pictures and poetry quotations, to tell the truth) mentioned his conversation with a Chinese entrepreneur on a visit to the US, who, speaking about Chinese supremacy versus a typical western mindset, slyly added: “You hunt, we catch”.

Hunters vs. catchers. It sounds trivial indeed, but only if treated like a simple active-passive comparison. However, these two contrasting pairs are not fully congruent. Perhaps, the fact that the statement was made by a smart Chinese businessperson evokes some Eastern wisdom, a certain Zen-like quality for me. It makes me read something more subtle, a wabi-sabi ambivalence of sorts into it.

It is this martial arts principle of mirroring the movements of your counterpart, blending with the motion of the attacker, absorbing the energy and diverting the momentum, that the boundaries between active and passive blur. For me, “you hunt, we catch” from the lips of a smart Chinese businessman reads more like “We catch you, hunters”.


No thought but ours…

I can remember only one instance of coming across a seemingly similar unorthodox terminology used to describe the distinction between the two marketing approaches. Andreas Schiemenz, who occasionally works for BDÜ (German translators association) as a business consultant and trainer (“Machen Sie sich zur Marke!” in the latest issue of BDÜ’s magazine), once used the terms hunters and farmers as a similar pair of opposites. In his article called “Value and self-value: what translators’ fees show” (Honorarspiegel für Übersetzungs- und Dolmetschleistungen, 2011) he compares the “hunting” and “farming” marketing approaches, stressing the benefits of “language hunters” when negotiating prices.

To be successful, marketing advice and mentoring need to relate to the type of person who receives the advice. What is compatible with the mentor’s personality, might not work for the trainee archetype, as Steve Vitek a.k.a. the Patent Translator recently wrote in his blog. Again, the two poles – hunters and catchers – provide a nice frame of reference, if you are best advised “to first identify who you really are and what it is that you can and want to do with what you’ve got“ (Steve Vitek).


To hunger, work illegally,
And be anonymous?

Berlin, East Side gallery (to be demolished soon?), 29.04.2013

Berlin, East Side gallery (to be demolished soon?), 29.04.2013

For sure, the dichotomy of extroversion and introversion relates best to the polarity of hunters vs. catchers. Catching engages more with the nature of a shy, reclusive wallflower translator. (But what about interpreters? And isn’t translation about communication and social interactions among humans?) If we agree that freelance translators tend to be introverts, this may explain their being all too pliable and all too willing to give up the hunting privileges and warfare to translation agencies, which are perceived as natural born hunters. In so doing, many freelancers in fact become an easy prey for unscrupulous ones. Many agencies know how to exercise their hunting skills rather along their supply chain, that is freelance translators and editors, than towards clients. (The difference between agencies and freelancers in our business is really not that big and not that important either, but it also has its psychological aspect which I want to make the subject of a separate article or a blog post.)

Extroverts and introverts add a psychological dimension to the duality of hunters and catchers. However, I think these terms don’t apply only to persons, but cultures on the whole and business practices in particular.


Who nurtured in that fine tradition...

I am not sure if the Chinese business culture is that of “catchers” rather than “hunters”. But in North Germany where I live, many extrovert tactics are doomed to a failure, even if they might function very successfully in a “pushier” cultural environment (remember WalMart’s fiasco in Germany?).

I came across the view that catching strategies are likely to be more effective with the generations born in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, the classical aggressive hunting approach seems to become ever more a thing of the past. “Marketing for introverts” is getting ever more popular as a term of its own. Mega-extroverts are said to be some of the worst salespeople. However, most marketing advice is still biased towards classic “hunting”. Catchers, these underdogs, certainly deserve more credit.

So what is all this hunting or catching about?


Of the sadness of the creatures…

The worst kind of “hunters”, I think, are all those pitiable creatures who never stop sending their “business proposals” or applications, all over the place.

On the other hand, the worst “catchers” are probably those who just set up their profiles everywhere where all the other catchers already are (like ProZ, LinkedIn, all the usual boards and forums).


Predicted the result…

Right or wrong, in practice it is not so clear cut. If negative examples have some teaching value (at least more complex ones), I’d like to refer to my earlier post on a marketing campaign by Germany’s translators and interpreters association BDÜ. It might be a very good idea to publish a directory of technical translators and distribute it among potential high value clients (“from experts to experts”, without middlemen). But to present the information about individual translators in such an outdated, repetitive and uninspired way as if they were merely applicants for a translation agency (e.g. listing CAT tools instead of describing personal skills, specialties and experience) creates a misleading overall impression and defeats the essence of an appropriate marketing approach. It is neither fish nor fowl, neither hunting nor catching. It fizzles out with no impact.

However, that negative example brings me to a very important point.


Reason’s gift

Writings on the wall: pairs of antonyms – right or wrong, important or unimportant, real or unreal, fair or unfair...  – on the house wall in a Berlin courtyard (Sophienstrasse, April 2013)

Writings on the wall: pairs of antonyms – right or wrong, important or unimportant, real or unreal, fair or unfair… – on the house wall in a Berlin courtyard (Sophienstrasse, April 2013)

Pairs of opposites are many, but mutually exclusive ones are few. It is not possible to be a little bit pregnant, but most situations in life are not binary, either IS or ISN’T.

Nobody is doomed to hunt, catch or die trying forever. There are so many shades in between.

Whether a hunter, fisher, farmer or catcher, an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, the success of a marketing strategy is primarily dependent on one’s target group. Without foregoing authenticity, we need to take our bearings from those who we want as our clients.

The pair of terms that I chose for this blog post sounds catchy, but might be not the best if I wrote a more serious, kinda scientific article. I’d certainly use the more sophisticated, albeit less fancy, terms of inbound and outbound marketing instead. Again, it all depends on the purpose and the target group.


In their finished features…

The cover of a first Russian edition (in English) of “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, this was one of my first books that I read in English.

The cover of the first Russian edition (in English) of “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, this was one of my first books that I read in English.

Having a natural sympathy for the underdogs, I would like to rectify the bias towards hunters and provide a few examples of an “advanced catching methodology“ (the motto like “Inbound Marketing: Bound for Success” does sound phony, as Holden Caulfield would’ve said, so I need to work out the title for a future blog post).

Hunting and catching, this union of opposites may help to find one’s bearings, define and follow one’s natural disposition.

It also relates nicely to market activities and, generally, the world outside (we too get hunted and caught).

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names, says the Chinese proverb. Right or wrong, hunting and catching would do for the moment.


“Our hunting fathers”
by W.H. Auden (1934)

Our hunting fathers told the story
Of the sadness of the creatures,
Pitied the limits and the lack
Set in their finished features;
Saw in the lion’s intolerant look,
Behind the quarry’s dying glare,
Love raging for the personal glory
That reason’s gift would add,
The liberal appetite and power,
The rightness of a god.

Who nurtured in that fine tradition
Predicted the result,
Guessed love by nature suited to
The intricate ways of guilt?
That human ligaments could so
His southern gestures modify,
And make it his mature ambition
To think no thought but ours,
To hunger, work illegally,
And be anonymous?


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