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Smaller, More Frequent Transactions Will Drive Translation Market Growth
Posted by Donald A. DePalma, Hélène Pielmeier on April 29, 2014  in the following blogs: Technology, Translation and Localization, Market Data
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The need for translation comes in many forms. It may be a brochure, a user’s manual, a contract, or an e-mail. Some jobs are big, but most are small. They may be fully predictable, tied to formal marketing campaigns and product launches. Or they might be last-minute reactions to new market requirements. Demand varies greatly in terms of languages, content, frequency, and velocity. 

In our research, Common Sense Advisory has seen growing demand for jobs on the smaller side, ranging from just a sentence to a few thousand words. They often need fast turnaround times, with same or next-day delivery. Many such projects are relatively simple, consisting of “easy to process” file types that don’t require much – if any – preparation, publishing, or even testing. This demand for what we call “transactional translation” comes from some highly visible corporate functions and market sectors, including: 
  • High-volume communicators. Core business processes that provide multilingual information on a routine basis dominate this area. It may be the corporate communications or the human resources department of a large multinational corporation that needs to translate policy changes, announcements, newsletters, and other information for their global employee population. It could also be accounting, legal, marketing, or training departments that receive client or employee inquires and push out frequent updates or notices.
  • Service-centric global business. Enterprises with a global footprint that don’t deliver a tangible product require a lot of small jobs or short translations. For example, insurance companies, financial services, and legal firms need to translate documents such as plan updates, claims, and other vital records.
  • Retail and travel and leisure. Companies that use the web as their main sales channel need to reflect product updates on a daily or even hour-by-hour basis. While the original translation of the site is often a large project, subsequent updates and maintenance happens in small chunks. 
  • Agile development. Software developers and other companies that adopted the agile methodology drop smaller volumes of translation more frequently by design. 
We have also seen a lot of less structured demand, coming from first-time, one-time, or occasional buyers. These people purchase translation when they need it, and have limited loyalty to an e-commerce brand, simply turning to the highest ranked sites based on their latest search. Reflecting the shift to online purchasing, some buyers simply prefer the speed and ease of use of immediate pricing and delivery as opposed to waiting for a quote from a traditional LSP's sales representative.

How will this growing demand for transactional translation be satisfied? Translation providers have traditionally shied away from smaller jobs because their workflows require just as much work for a small job as a large one. For a few years now, online translation purchasing alternatives have been available as a substitute for the traditional customer intake process through a salesperson.They come from either start-ups offering web-based retail translation services or mainstream language service providers (LSPs) with self-service client portals

In both cases, the buying experience mimics either one-click e-commerce sites for simple jobs or sophisticated online configurators for more complex projects. Which type you choose depends on who you are. For many individual consumers or small businesses buying translation online, retail translation sites should work just like the online commerce sites after which they’re modeled. 

However, some corporate buyers – especially those with formal or centralized localization teams – may have problems when buying through many retail translation sites: 
  1. Payment. Their companies require them to pay with purchase orders (PO) or under a master service agreement, not with PayPal or credit card. They may need upfront quotes and other complicating paperwork. If they use a credit card without a PO, it will likely be labeled as a miscellaneous purchase or office supplies, thus not recognized as an expense that supports the global business. 
  2. File type support. Marketing, training, and engineering departments need InDesign files, mobile apps, or videos localized, not just Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These jobs may also bring in more complex language services such as internationalization and dubbing, services not yet offered by most retail sites.
  3. Consistency. They need to apply translation memories, glossaries, and style guides to their translations to ensure voice and brand consistency. From what we’ve observed in many companies, their in-house localization team may be swamped with other projects and won’t have the time or budget to help. Or they take a passive-aggressive approach and simply don’t provide the translation memory to support this purchasing outside sanctioned channels. 
If payment and file support aren’t issues for corporate buyers, the failure to get access to these linguistic assets won’t stop them from going to a retail site, using their credit card, and losing consistency. We expect to see an increasing number of such rogue buyers as localization departments struggle with doing more work with the same resources. 

Of course, the retail sites enhance their capabilities on a regular basis and, if a company uses them often enough, can deal with some of these issues. However, some LSP portals today stand a better chance of meeting the more complex needs of corporate buyers. The bottom line is that anyone needing translation will have to balance the relative importance of these factors when choosing their online service. Regardless of which works best for them, what both of these online options promise is increasing the availability of language services to a much broader population with business and personal needs for translation.

We’ve taken briefings from several retail translation sites and LSPs with self-service portals. If your company provides such services or you buy from one, we’d like to hear from you. E-mail us at research@commonsenseadvisory.com


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