Starting today, I’ll be posting on a regular basis a series of interviews with major influencers and key personalities of the translation and localization industry.

My very first guest is Renato Beninatto, Chief Executive Officer of Milengo, a worldwide provider of localization, engineering and testing services to the IT, communications and e-learning industries, and Vice President of the European Language Industry Association – ELIA.

Renato Beninatto is a corporate strategist and market research evangelist with nearly 30 years of executive-level expertise in the localization industry. Renato has forged a reputation for visionary leadership, most recently as the cofounder and former chief connector of Common Sense Advisory, the industry’s foremost market research firm. His signature straight-talking approach has made him a sought-after speaker on industry trends. A native of Brazil, he serves on the Advisory Board of Localization World and is an active member of several similar groups worldwide.

As he described himself, Renato’s personal brand features his controversial approach to current issues in the industry. His personal brand has been built on aligning himself with something relevant in his career in the translation and localization industry as well as voicing his opinion, in particular at industry events. He is expected to be the first one to ask questions at conferences where he participates. He creates empathy by paying attention to what others say. “Everybody has something to teach, and I really enjoy meeting and talking with people.”

Among the methods he uses to communicate his personal brand are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, with Twitter being the central tool that feeds the other ones. Renato strives to be active and stay abreast of what’s going on in the industry despite his busy schedule running Milengo.

As to translation quality, Renato thinks that, from a selling point of view, quality doesn’t matter. Quality “is like talking about sex. You don’t talk about it; you do it. And translation is the same thing.” Quality is expected and, as such, translators must deliver it all the time. “That’s your job.” Quality is not a differentiating factor because everybody claims to offer quality. Translators can differentiate themselves by providing service beyond expectations. On-time delivery, courtesy, availability, providing additional information, going the extra mile and making your client look good – THAT’s how you can differentiate yourself.

Renato offers translators three top suggestions to becoming more marketable: 1) Become an expert; 2) Help others in your community; and 3) Maintain visibilityDeveloping a niche market, collaborating with your peers, and establishing yourself as an expert by being “out there” are key elements in positioning yourself in the market. Becoming “a hero in your own circuit” helps to build a compelling brand in the translation industry.

Renato warns that, in their selling conversation, translators must stop talking about quality and concentrate more on things that are of interest to other human beings, like football, American Idol, children, travel, anything you might have in common, even shoes. Find the connection that can make you remembered.

As to machine translation and crowdsourcing translation, Renato’s take on this is that “they are here to stay” and we need to stop fighting against this reality. It is important to understand that there is a part of the market for free translation. Every day there is more content being published than can be translated just by human translators. When our clients use this technology and do not get the expected results, “they become loyal clients of professional translators.” These automatic translation tools can save you a lot of time. We should all be playing with them. However, Renato goes on to say that we should not make the same mistake we made with translation memory, and that is telling our clients about them. These technologies are to be used to our advantage, and we should not see them as our enemy.

As to Web 2.0 and how translators and small translation agencies can leverage from it, Renato thinks we need to embrace it – “just be there.” Translators need to be connected, informed, “constantly helping and being helped.” Be active, stay active, and collaborate. Social media “helps you to create and maintain a reputation.” While it takes time, “doing nothing will take longer.” The key is to achieve a high level of visibility.

For the past five years Renato has been working on a book that he hopes to publish by the end of 2010. He’ll be sharing his experience and insights on selling services in the United States for the last 10 years. I’m really looking forward to getting it. Until next time, Renato.

Below is the full transcription of the interview. If you would like to listen to the recording, simply click here.

MJ: “Hello, Renato. Thank you very much for accepting my invitation to interview you.”

RB: “My pleasure, Marcela. This is actually an honor. I was very touched by your invitation.”

MJ: “ Thank you. Okay, I know you’re a busy person so let’s get started. Renato, you’re without a doubt the most famous person in the entire translation localization industry. To what do you attribute your immense popularity?”

RB: “That’s – the right answer is, I don’t know. Popularity is something that you don’t control; either you have it or you don’t. I would say that, more than popular, I think I’ve been controversial, and because I say controversial things, my name gets repeated over and over. And people talk about the things that I say, and that comes out as being popular. I think that very often I’m unpopular with the things that I say, but they still talk about me. It’s a little bit like that old story – say anything you want about me; just spell my name right.” (Laughs)

MJ: (Laughs) “Okay, very good.”

RB: “They have been spelling my name right lately. So…”

MJ: “Yeah. That’s good. (Laughs) Okay, so how have you built your personal brand over time?”

RB: “Well, I – I have had the chance to work in every single element of the translation business – from translating theatre plays to software, financial software, and complex technology translations. So, very early on I had the chance to touch almost every aspect of the translation business. So, when I have an opinion about something, I think that I speak with the voice of experience. And I think that, if people see that you know what you’re talking about, they respect you even if they might not agree with what you’re saying.

“So, I would say that the elements of my personal brand were first, I think, to align myself with something relevant. I was the first Brazilian to be out in the international conference circuit, and I associated myself always with my country and my language. So, when people thought about Portuguese and when they thought about Brazil, they would associate my name to it. And that worked very well in the early days. Second, I always voice my opinion. In certain conferences people expect me to ask the first question, and I always take that as an opportunity to say my name and the name of my company and brand myself.

“So, part of that brand was making sure that people remembered the name. But I didn’t do this necessarily as a strategy. It’s something that I thought about, but the issue about asking questions, well, it was more like I felt bad and I thought it was a lack of respect for people to make a presentation, get to the end, ask people to ask questions. And everybody is sitting there looking at each other and not asking any questions, like nobody paid attention. So, I always made a point of paying attention to the presentations that I attended and always asking a question. And that became like a little joke to me. I thought it was very funny at Localization World Conference. There was a keynote presentation by a person from Google, and after he finished the presentation, he opened it to questions. I stood up and the guy pointed at me – I had never seen him before – and he said, you must be RB. And I said, well – this is – this is the branding working here.”

MJ: (Laughs) “Okay, very good. So, you’re a good listener, you could say…”

RB: “I think that being interested in other people and what they are saying is important. Everybody has something to teach you, and I really enjoy meeting and talking with people. And people like to be remembered, and if you remember them, they remember you. And that’s – that’s pretty much just being natural. That’s the way I am. And I think that the brand comes – that becomes part of the brand.”

MJ: “Yeah, being authentic.”

RB: “Yeah. It’s being authentic. That’s the right word – genuine and authentic.”

MJ: “Very good. So, what tools are you using to communicate your personal brand – besides, you know, asking questions in presentations?”

RB: “Yes. Well, the – today it’s so much easier than it was 20-30 years ago to communicate with the world, to be out there. So, I again – I’m a little bit of a geek, I like technology, so I started with a blog at Commonsense Advisory, then my personal blog, then Facebook, then LinkedIn, then Twitter, then Plaxo. All of these tools I participate in and enjoy them. I’m active as much as I can. I don’t have a lot of time. Today I run a company with employees all over the world. We’re in 19 countries. So, I need to do a job. (Laughs) But I always find a way to figure out what is going on and I use all the tools, I interconnect them. So, my main channel today is Twitter because I think it’s – it’s practical, it’s short. I have it on my phone, I’m – I don’t know – sitting in a lounge at the airport and I see what is going on. It’s very fast. And what I notice, for example, is that I will tweet something and it will go into Facebook and it will go into LinkedIn. It will go into Plaxo, the same tweet. And I’ll get different responses from different people. On Twitter it’s immediate. So five minutes later that story has died and you’re moving on to another subject. But on Facebook somebody will respond to your posting five hours later and have comments, and they will have a space to write more information. And then it goes into LinkedIn, and then it becomes a week-long conversation. So, knowing the channels and the characteristics of the channels is as important as using them. So, I use everything.”

MJ: “Okay. You claim that quality doesn’t matter in the translation industry. If quality is not a differentiating factor, what can translators do to differentiate themselves?”

RB: “Well, quality doesn’t matter in selling translation. The analogy that I make is that talking about quality is like talking about sex. You don’t talk about it; you do it. And translation is the same thing. Quality is something that you have to deliver all the time. You are expected as a translator to deliver excellent quality all the time. That’s your job. If you don’t deliver good quality, the market will take care of eliminating you. The competition will take care of eliminating you from the marketplace.

“So, quality is not a differentiating factor because you have – if you have 200 people in a room – 200 translators as I’ve had and have done in the past – and you ask them who sells excellent quality, everybody raises their hand. So, if everybody sells excellent quality, by definition it’s not a differentiator.”

MJ: Mm-hmm.

RB: “So, the way translators can differentiate themselves is by providing outstanding service. I think that if you understand that translation is a service – if you deliver always on time, if you are courteous to your client, you’re available, you’re helping, you provide additional information, you go the extra mile, helping your client – if you’re working for a translation agency – look good to their client, or, if you’re working with a final client, making your client look good to their boss, you are differentiating yourself. I like to compare translators to hairdressers. Think of how hairdressers can differentiate themselves. It’s by offering coffee when you come in, by being nice, by remembering your name. Everything that is related to customer service is something that is very relevant. Think about how you like to be treated when you go to a service provider and do the same thing to your clients. That’s how you’re going to achieve differentiation.”

MJ: “What are your top three suggestions that translators can do to be more marketable?”

RB: “The individual translator has – is in a very competitive market. So, the first thing that I would suggest is to become an expert on something that you like, not only something that you’ve studied but something that you enjoy, that you enjoy reading about, that you love to do. So if you’re a translator of engineering stuff, make sure that you understand all the nitty-gritty and all the fun stuff about the engineering world. There are some people that love doing chemical translations, and they really enjoy understanding the intricacies of chemistry. When you talk to a client and you know what you’re talking about, the client sees you as an expert, and that’s what makes – that’s something that makes you very marketable.

“Also, helping other people. The second suggestion would be to help others in your community, other translators. So, let’s use the chemistry example. You’re a good chemical translator and you’re participating in forums and groups, and you want to be – to get a better reputation, help people who ask questions about those topics. Your peers are going to see you as an expert and are going to recommend you to their clients when a translation in their – in your area of expertise comes about and these other people that you have helped cannot do it. I participate in many translators’ forums and groups, and I see this happen all the time. There are some people who are always helping other translators with terminology, with solutions and advice, and these people get referred for business.

“And finally, you need to get out there. In person or virtually, you need to be speaking, writing, sharing your knowledge. I heard the other day in a presentation somebody was talking about a doctor who makes presentations – Sanjay Gupta, the CNN medical expert. The guy is a brain surgeon, and he gets a lot of clients because he is on CNN all the time. I’m sure that there are brain surgeons that are fantastic and perhaps even better than Sanjay Gupta, but they don’t have as much visibility. Nobody knows them. These people don’t have websites. They don’t write in popular newspapers. So, they are not associated with their expertise. There is no point in being an expert and being at home doing nothing. You need to get out. Unless other people know that you’re an expert, there is no value.”

MJ: “Okay. So you will say, number one would be expertise…”

RB: “Yes.”

MJ: “ …number two would be collaboration…”

RB: “Yes.”

MJ: “…and number three would be visibility.”

RB: “Visibility – very good.”

MJ: “Okay.”

RB: “Good summary!” (Laughs)

MJ: (Laughs) “Okay, so what is the best way to build a compelling brand in the translation industry?”

RB: “Well, we go back to the topics that we just talked about, but I think that achieving visibility is the biggest challenge – getting out there so that people know that you are available, that you are in the market. And since today you have many channels, I would say, be controversial. Say things that people don’t expect you to say, write a blog, be on Twitter, the traditional channels that are there. If you are able to get a full picture, a view, on TIME Magazine, that works too. And actually sometimes, you see, there are very simple things like writing a letter to a newspaper when they talk about translation. I remember a story about this – I think it was Iverson Language, a company in Minneapolis. There was a story on TIME Magazine about translations and they wrote a letter…”

MJ: Mm-hmm.

RB: “…pointing out inaccuracies in the story, and the letter was chosen as the letter of the month, and it was in – gave Iverson a picture and all of that in the Letter Section of TIME Magazine. So, this works. I remember also a case of a translator in Brazil who wrote to a local newspaper that said that every time that the newspaper wrote about a movie, they would always mention the name of the director or when they talked about the dubbing, they would mention that so and so dubs such and such actor. And they said, why don’t you – no, no. I am sorry. Let me correct the story. What they said is that every time they published a picture in a magazine, they put the credit for the photographer on the margin of the picture. And this translator wrote to the magazine complaining, ‘why do you put the credit for every single picture that you put – every single photo that you put in your magazine, but when you write about translated books, you never give credit to the translator.’ And the response of the magazine was ’touché!’, and they started always mentioning the name of the translator as a policy when they talked about translated books in the magazine. So, there are little things that you can do to achieve visibility. You can become a hero in your own circuit by creating that kind of visibility and breadth.”

MJ: “Okay. So, you recommend translators move away from price and start talking about value. What elements should translators use in their selling conversation to attract more clients?”

RB: “Well, first of all, don’t talk about quality. We established that. I would say talk about football, talk about American Idol, your children, their children, travel. Find something in common. I have a lot of friends who are Sagittarians. Well, I found that I have that in common with them and use it in our conversations.”

MJ: “Like shoes – I have been reading about shoes in your Twitter.” (Laughs)

RB: “Exactly. We started this joke with shoes on Twitter with Rina Neeman and that’s her brand there. I don’t know anything that will create a connection between you and the client that is much stronger than talking about what you do. People buy from people and people buy from people that they like and people that they remember. So, if you are willing to have interesting conversations with people, they will remember you, they will remember what you do, and, when they need you, they will remember: oh, who’s that person that I talked to that is from, I don’t know, Uganda? And they must know somebody that does translations into African languages, and that’s how you get the connection…”

MJ: Hmm.

RB: “…right. One of the things that I like to – it works for me – it comes naturally – it’s not something that I make an effort at. It’s like I – I like to remember people’s birthdays. I send them birthday wishes whenever I can. It’s been harder now that I don’t have a lot of time, but it’s an easy way to stay in touch and not forget – and to get people to remember you. Don’t talk about, oh, translation memory and all that boring stuff. This is what they say: ‘What’s so special about talking shop?’ Talking shop with clients is boring. Talk about interesting stuff.’ Your birthday is in September, isn’t it? ”

MJ: “Yeah. Very good.” (Laughs)

RB: “I remember, you see.”

MJ: “27th .” (Laughs)

RB: “Yeah.” (Laughs)

MJ: “I’m trying to remember yours…”

RB: “Ah…”

MJ: “It was – when was that? Not too long ago. (Laughs) I will find out.”

RB: “Okay.”

MJ: “So, what do you think about machine translation and crowdsourcing translation, and how they’re going to affect the future of the industry?”

RB: “Machine translation and crowdsourcing are here to stay. I mean, crowdsourcing is something that is – I see translators trying to fight against it, and it’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of stuff… We, as translators, take pictures all the time with our cameras. We put them on Flickr. We could sell them on Flickr, and we don’t have any moral qualms about that, but photographers hate us when we do this. There are professional photographers who hate crowdsourcing more than translators do.

“So, there is a part of the market…we need to understand that there is a part of the market for free translations. There is a part of the market for machine translations. There is a part of the market for professional translations. And the more translations are made – free crowdsourced, machine translated – the more people will be aware of translation and the more business there will be for us. There is an explosion of content. There is no way that professional translators can translate everything, and, if we understand that there is a market for each one of the segments, we should have no problem with these things. Machine translation and crowdsourcing are here to stay. There is no reason to fight against it. They replace translations that were not done before. Okay, so I say that machine translation or MT is an alternative to ZT. ZT is zero translation or NT, no translation, and this is the room that there is for that. If people use machine translation and get bad results and get embarrassed, they become loyal clients of professional translators. So it’s good. I don’t see it as an enemy. I see it as a tool, and I think that every single translator in the marketplace should be testing and playing with Google Translate every day because the improvements are daily, and, you know, when it works, it’s wonderful. It saves you a lot of time. What if you could do 500 words in seconds instead of hours?

“The thing that we need to avoid is, first of all, dashing machine translation because it’s bad, and second of all, talking to clients about it. We shouldn’t repeat the mistake that we made with translation memory – telling clients about it. That came back to bite us, because now clients don’t want to pay for 100% matches and so on. And they don’t realize that 100% matches sometimes in certain language pairs actually cause more work than if you had to do the translation from scratch. So, use it. If it is good, take advantage of it. If it is bad, throw it away. It’s free. It’s there, and fear is the biggest enemy that we have, I think.”

MJ: “What can translators from small translation agencies do to leverage from Web 2.0?”

RB: “Just be there. I mean, Web 2.0 is – it’s already becoming an old topic. We – everything is in the Cloud. Everything is the community, so the concept of Web 2.0 has to deal with working together, using the Cloud as a tool. So, I don’t know, if you are not using Google Documents, where you can have three, four, five people working on the same document at the same time in real time, that’s something that you could start playing with. You can have three translators work on the same document. One is reviewing the job of the author. Use this expanded community for collaboration.

“Twitter created a community of – follows people who are interesting and can help you on Twitter in discussion groups. So, this concept of the translator working at home by himself or by herself, sitting in front of the computer with the dictionaries and lonely, is an old concept. The new Web 2.0 translator is connected, is informed, is constantly helping and being helped by other people. So embrace it. That’s what I would say.”

MJ: “In what ways have you benefited from social media, Renato?”

RB: “In every way possible, Marcela. You know, my nephew, the other day, was telling me that he was very angry because every time he typed ‘Beninatto’ in Google or any search engine, my name would come up for the first five pages.”

MJ: “Good! ” (Laughs)

RB: (Laughs) “So, he has a long way to go to beat me there, he said. But social media is like, I say – I think it’s a loud speaker. It helps you create and maintain a reputation. It takes time. You need to invest time in participating, in doing the same things, but – and this is the common objection that I hear people say: ‘Well, I don’t have time to be on LinkedIn, I don’t have time to be on Facebook.’ Well, let me tell you something. Doing nothing will take longer. If you don’t start doing it, if you don’t participate, it’s going to take much, much longer for you to achieve the level of visibility that you want.”

MJ: “Last, but not least, what’s next for the brand called Renato Beninatto?”

RB: “Well, I just joined Milengo as the CEO. So, I am having a fantastic time building this organization that, as I said, is in 19 countries, is one of the top companies in the market but is not visible enough. So, I am trying to apply a lot of my experience to the Milengo brand. Personally, I will become the president of the European Language Industry Association in September.

“I want to be more involved with the LSP market issues. I think that’s elevating the common issues that organizations have and is a good way to make the job easier for everybody. We have a lot more in common than we have in contrast. And finally – I mean, hopefully, soon – I started writing a book five years ago, but it never ends. I hope to end this book by the end of the year and publish it somewhere.”

MJ: “All right. So I guess the next time I am going to interview you, it will be to talk about your book.”

RB: “Well, hopefully. It’s about selling services in the United States.”

MJ: “Wonderful.”

RB: “It’s a book that’s written for companies that want to sell services and not products. There is a lot of literature about products, but they want to sell services in the United States. That’s something that I learned moving here and living here for the last 10 years. So, I want to share my learning and my experience.”

MJ: “Kudos to you. Congratulations!”

RB: “Thank you.”

MJ: “Okay, Renato, so thank you very much for your time, for your insights. Great, great information. Is there anything you want to add to this interview?”

RB: “I want to thank you for inviting me and congratulate you for the initiative. Again, it’s an honor for me to be the first interviewee in your new project. And I wish you success and a lot of luck. I follow your blog. I think that you are doing a fantastic job and providing a great service to the industry. So, more success to you. That’s all.”

MJ: “Thank you, thank you very much. So, until next time.”

RB: “Until next time, Marcela. Thank you.”

MJ: “Thank you.”