What’s in a Brand? Marie Brotnov from Calliope Translations

Today, we’re now on our regular schedule with a new What’s in a Brand? interview. I am happy to invite Marie Brotnov, a Dutch-English translator who specializes in medical and legal translation. Marie was born and raised in the Netherlands, but moved to the USA more than 25 years ago. She also runs a successful blog on her life as a freelancer. You can find her on her website and Twitter.

Hello, Marie! First of all, can I just say that I’m very excited to have you here? I instantly fell in love with your branding and I’m so glad you’re taking part in my series. Let’s get started! Can you tell us a little about yourself and what services you offer? 

Hi Emeline, thank you! I love this series and I’m honored to be featured in it. I grew up in the Netherlands and I moved to the United States in 1987. Although strictly speaking Dutch is my native tongue, I have lived in the US for so long I now translate into English only. I specialize in medical and legal documents.

You have more than 20 years experience as a translator – did you get into medical translation right away or was it a gradual process?

It was definitely a gradual process. I was well into my second year of Translation Studies at the University of Amsterdam when my father, a naval officer, got stationed at the NATO base in Norfolk, Virginia. I happened to be dating an American at the time, so this was a fantastic opportunity to move to the US. Unfortunately there were very few colleges that offered a translation major at all, let alone a Dutch-English program, so I got an MA in English Literature instead.

I could never let go of my first love, though. I took off one semester to translate a book for a Dutch publisher, which paid for another semester of out-of-state-tuition, and for fun one summer vacation I translated Ovid’s Ars Amatoria from Latin into English in the original meter.

After I graduated I had children, and while they were young I only took on occasional projects, mostly academic and business-related, via word of mouth. By the time they were older and I decided to get serious about my business, the internet had transformed the profession. So I put together a resume, a profile on Proz.com, and started landing jobs. I still had a lot to learn about the industry in general and rates in particular, but it was a great way for me to gain experience. Many of these agencies sent me medical documents, and I discovered not only that I loved it but that I was good at it as well (all that Latin finally came in handy). So I just kept building my resume, was gradually able to move on to more lucrative clients, and never looked back.

Greek plays a huge role in medical terminology – so much so that studying some basics before engaging in medical translation can be very useful. Calliope is the Greek muse of eloquence. Why did you choose to have your business named after her?

I am intentionally trying to appeal to professionals in the legal and medical fields. Much of the terminology in those fields is based on Greek and Latin, so what I am trying to convey with the Calliope name and logo is that I have the educational background to understand and translate these types of documents. At the same time, what I offer is a language service; I’m not pretending to be a doctor or lawyer myself. I think Calliope (“Science Meets Eloquence”) perfectly expresses both thoughts: I understand the science and I provide the eloquence.

One element that struck me was your logo – it’s very elegant in my opinion and it just works! Is it based on an existing statue of the muse or is it totally original? How did you come up with it?

Thank you! I hired a local graphic designer to come up with a logo for the name. It’s actually completely different than what I originally had in mind. I was thinking something along the lines of leaves, green, connotations of life, growth, science, etc.  He came up with a few designs based on my ideas, and they were all very nice. Then I turn the last page, and there is this silhouette which completely pops off the page. It was one of his own ideas he had been playing with, and this was the result. I was sold immediately, because to me this one had a “wow” factor that makes it memorable. And branding is all about being remembered when the time is right.

Continuing with visuals, I noticed that blue was very much present on your website. Was that out of choice?

It’s intentional, yes, but again I have to credit my designer. Like I said, I love green so that’s what I asked for, but he suggested blue with red and white as secondary colors, and once again he was right. I looked at the same design in a lot of different color combinations, but the greens I thought I wanted weren’t nearly as effective as the clarity and freshness of this color scheme. Blue is associated with honesty and loyalty (“true blue”), and with water and sky, which evokes feelings of clarity, freedom, and cleanness. All these are effective connotations in a business which relies heavily on trust and confidentiality and the ability to think clearly and provide accuracy. And when you combine the blue with red and white you have the colors of both the American and Dutch flags, which is perfect for my language pair.

We all know that branding is more than a name and a logo. If you had to choose three words to represent your brand, which ones would they be?

Excellence, expertise, professionalism

Finally, how do you manage to convey these aspects to your customers?

I think the professionalism is expressed in the photograph on the home page, which shows me discussing a document with an actual physician. On a side note: after I posted the picture I noticed that my profile with my hair up mirrors the silhouette in the logo. No one else will probably ever notice, but I get a kick out of it every time I see it, and I figure it can’t hurt as a subconscious suggestion that Marie = Calliope.

I describe my experience, education and accreditation on the home page and “about me” page, so I hope that conveys my expertise.

As far as excellence, that’s a great question because it has made me realize there isn’t much on my website that would reassure potential clients in that regard. So after thinking about it, here are two things I think I can do: add testimonials from satisfied clients, and include a portfolio of past work (redacted for confidentiality, of course).

Thanks again for this interview, Marie!

My pleasure!

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