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Translation Industry Entering Divergence

Arvydas Okas
2018 01 16

Artificial Intelligence-powered automated translation is pushing the translation and localisation industry into a major divergence.

Revolutionising it, perhaps?

Not quite.

Because what is emerging is not a new or better revolutionised industry, but two rapidly diverging branches of it.

On the one hand we see fast but sub-standard translation taking hold as a new tech-driven standard; on the other, multilingual on-brand copywriting and transcreation is emerging as a separate spin-off industry, which is human, professional, creative, and, yes, not-so-tech.

The latter does not need formal standards any longer, but is based on trust and professionalism as befits any genuine consultancy service.

Lowering The Bar, Technically Speaking...

This division comes down to the much-prized notion of translation quality.

Until recently, quality had been the formal raison d'être for the entire industry.

In the course of more than a decade, most agencies pinned their marketing efforts on various combinations of quality standards.

Finally, in 2015, industry leaders produced the ultimate standard, ISO 17100 Translation Services

translation standard
But its reception was muted.

Related Article: Who Needs Translation Standards After All?

Because, during that same decade, it had become clear to everyone that the industry’s real focus had been on efficiencies and productivity, dictated by the available technology.

It kept producing mediocre translation quality at minimum cost:
  • Text segmentation to maximise value from matches and repetitions
  • Use of Translation Memory to ensure consistency (consistency of mistranslations on the downside, too)
  • Frequent lack of context resulting in mistranslations
  • Splitting jobs among multiple resources for speed, resulting in inconsistencies
  • Recently, use of machine translation + questionable post-editing
  • Not conducting revisions and reviews because clients do not want to pay for them
Related: Engagement On Facebook Does Not Always End In Marriage

The prevailing business environment was in no way conducive to high quality aspirations, either:
  • The industry is unregulated (with very few exceptions)
  • There are practically no barriers to entry
  • Hence, cutthroat competition among agencies and freelancers
So, the emergence of automated translation is only making the efficiency game faster, cheaper and even more cutthroat.

A true Red Ocean, as defined Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

translation prices low
... Entering The Content Paradigm

But there is a Blue Ocean emerging alongside the red one, too.

Demand seems to be growing for on-brand multilingual content and/or copy; even demand for well-written internal documents.

In other words, a need for authentic audience engagement across languages.

Audiences include not only customers, but entire corporate cultures: brand followers, partners and employees.

The key driving force in this market segment is the measurability of engagement:
  • Engagement has become measurable for everyone (as opposed to just large corporations with market research budgets in the past)
  • Google gives preference to engaging brands in rankings
  • Audiences expect to be engaged; or else they move on.
Clearly, authentic multilingual copy is turning into lifeblood for brands that want to survive and thrive, globally and locally. 

content translation
Implications for Agencies:

The potential Blue Ocean strategy for agencies:
  • Networking with top talent among linguists
  • Ad-hoc multilingual teams 
  • Focus on transcreation and copywriting
  • Focus on generating marketing/engagement value and charging for it
  • Adding content creation and management into the mix
Implications for Linguists:

In the age of brands, creating one’s own is becoming a top priority for competent linguists:
  • Less hanging out on freelance marketplaces
  • More profile-building on LinkedIn
  • Blogging on one’s specialisms
  • Turning into a bilingual/trilingual copywriter
  • Direct networking with big agencies and clients