Thursday, June 24, 2010

Going Beyond Transcreation and Finding High Value Translation Work

As I have recently been considering the downward price pressures and increasing commoditization of traditional professional translation work, I thought that it would be useful to consider what high value translation work looks like. The key question in determining value, I think is, is it related to how you translate or what you translate?

It is currently becoming popular to say that something called  “transcreation” is what value-added translation is and many LSPs are seeking to position themselves as transcreation firms rather than translation firms. (I would have chosen “culturally sensitive translation”).
Common Sense Advisory defines “transcreation” as a process by which new content is developed or adapted for a given target audience instead of merely translating existing material. It may include copywriting, image selection, font changes, and other transformations that tailor the message to the recipient.
Sounds suspiciously like localization doesn’t it?

I think the word is unfortunate, as it conveys nothing about what is involved and even people who have spent many years in professional translation, often have no idea what is meant by this word. Even worse, most potential customers for this type of service will have no idea what the word means. It is like calling a laptop a chipboard input/output mechanism. (As if “localization” was not bad enough.) Quite honestly, I can’t see very much difference from what this word suggests and what most people understand and mean when they use the word localization. You can see some banter about this in the MT meets Transcreation blog entry if you read the comments between Gordon and me. Generally, when real people, customers and friends (not industry insiders) have to ask what it means, I think you marginalize yourself and most would agree that obfuscation is not a great sales and marketing strategy. (Why are so many people who are involved with professional translation so averse to using the word translation in describing what they do? Could it be related to how they treat translators?)

LSPs involved with transcreation are generally focused on advertising and marketing communications messages which often have a higher profile than the SDL (software and documentation localization) that most in professional translation are involved with. Since marketing often has higher status than documentation/packaging/localization within most companies, it is often felt that this is higher value work. But is it really?

We see that the world of marketing is undergoing a transformation and what used to be considered critical corporate messaging is increasingly viewed as “corporate-speak” and is not trusted by the end-customers who matter the most. Jeremiah Owyang wrote a prescient blog entry three years ago where he predicted this shift. Several of his readers felt that the essay was important enough to translate, and it is now available in 11 languages. (Fan translation!)

Many others have added to these initial observations and Simon Mainwaring also has an interesting article on The death of corporate websites. The basic thesis of his essay is:
In the not too distant future static corporate websites will be replaced by their social equivalents.
This will happen because more and more consumers are engaged in daily conversations, often involving brands, across multiple applications, platforms and networks, wholly independent of these sites.
As these conversations become increasingly independent of these sites, falling traffic will render them ineffective in their current form. Instead, the online presence of each brand will necessarily expand out into the social space to stay in touch with their audience.
As a result, the online presence of a brand will increasingly become the sum of its social exchanges across the web and not the website that many currently call home.
Of course not everybody agrees, and some say this is more true for B2C than for B2B, but the need for changing the website approach is clear to most. Corporations still need websites and they still need advertising but they also need to understand what information has the greatest value, is trusted and learn how to create it or connect to it. They need to understand what is necessary to keep these websites relevant. Owyang points out that evolution from the website of yesteryear to one that is seamlessly integrated to relevant social networks is an evolutionary process and provides a path and road map.

This issue of the relevance of corporate websites matters, because increasingly, customers are making decisions about products long before they get to the corporate website. It makes more and more sense to follow these conversations in social networks as often this is where the highest value content will be. Valuable content is linked to influencers and dynamic conversations that naturally evolve in online social spaces. This content influences purchasing behavior and helps to form brand impressions and build brand loyalty. It is unwise to ignore it, as this is where brands, market dominance and leadership positions are increasingly being built. Remember that the whole point of localization or transcreation is to enhance and drive international business initiatives.

So while one definition of higher value is the extent of transformation during the translation process, I think the more important driver is the value of the content per se. My view of some of  the emerging high value content:
  • Conversations that are trusted by potential customers at various stages of the purchase process (e.g. Amazon, C-Net, Orbitz, Travelocity etc.)
  • Conversations and content that help build customer loyalty (this could include support and reseller community content as well)
  • Articulate and unfiltered opinions and reviews on the customer experience (Amazon, Orbitz, Expedia etc..)
  • Leading Bloggers who influence and help form brand impressions
  • Content that is co-created with customers that often facilitates comparison with competitors
  • Content that encourages collaboration with customers and key partners (e.g. Dell IdeaStorm)
So what is necessary to be a translation partner to an enterprise who is focused on this higher value content? These are new and still emerging customer requirements and to some extent really quite undefined, but here is a list that could provide some initial definition and possibly leverage:
  • Understanding of social network platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc..)
  • An understanding of the linguistic characteristics of the new “high-value” content
  • An understanding of MT and other automation tools to enable rapid low-cost solutions to be delivered to meet changing needs
  • Strong MT customization and post-editing skills so that high-value content can be quickly translated and good translation solutions developed 
  • The ability to rapidly turnaround the translation of high value content to impact active ongoing conversations
  • Rapid linguistic quality assessment skills to drive automated tools
  • Growing foundation of linguistic assets that go beyond traditional localization content TM and glossaries
I see that leading edge practitioners in professional translation will increasingly help customers solve linguistic problems around making high-value content multilingual as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. The skills needed, go beyond what most localization projects require, as we head into a world where the amount of content/traffic on the web is expected to double every 2 years.

So what do you think? Does this make sense or would you also prefer to focus on the transcreation of “really honest advertising” like Gordon who gives you his view here?


  1. Kirti --

    I think you are on to something with your focus on value. In my opinion, the best way to think about value is to think about how the translated content is going to be used and how it contributed to value generation in that usage. Among other things, this moves the discussion completely away from things like "quality" or even "transcreation". For instance, I would like the Boeing maintenance manuals to be translated pretty carefully and literally without thew kind of loose equivalence implied by the "adapting" portion of the CSA definition of transcreation.

    I do see some real benefit in introducing a term like transcreation, however. People may not understand exactly what it is, but the connotation of "creative activity" is valuable. The real problem here is that many people think they know what "translation" means (in this context), but they are wrong(or at least incomplete) ... and that contributes to the commodity mentality surrounding the industry.

    Just my two cents.

  2. I think you know my opinion on 'transcreation' (has it been toppled as the word du jour by vuvuzela yet?)...

    Back on topic of high value content, I would not overlook the obvious - there is a huge market for legacy source content be it in desktop or enterprise applications, their customizations, websites, and so on, presenting an opportunity. A lot of this content cannot be externalized easily, but should be translated and maintained.

    And then, of course, there's the small scale, nice, or even long tail translation- or localization - opportunities, as I mentioned on Blogos. Some of these have huge potential:

    I don't disagree with what you say, but I think often we overlook the obvious...

  3. Stand by for a shock - I am going to agree with you - on the usage and ubiquity of the word translation! It is rare that a potential customer emails,calls or completes a webform asking for a spot of 'localization'. If you do some Google keyword research you quickly see that 'translation company', 'free-translation' and 'web translation' plus a million permutations of the above are what people search for. So yes, we have no choice but to associate ourselves with 'translation' if you want visibility with customers in that market.
    But that does not mean localization and transcreation and cultural customisation do not exist as distinct services. Consider this when you are thinking about buying a car (in the UK) - nobody searches for 'car buying' or 'I want to buy a car' they search for car sales. Does not mean that they do not want to buy a car, does it?
    Here is a last thought: consumers still buy big brands, big brands tend to be big customers of LSPs, big brands are big organisations ,big organisations are slow to change, go large on 'pigeon-holing' things and we dance to their tune big time.
    They dictate what is valuable to them and interpret 'translation' and its bedfellows in their own sweet way. Caveat vendor!

  4. I've come to the same conclusion about what is required of a translator these days. But as a freelancer who is busy making a living with what feels increasingly like an old model, the question I have is, how do you become one of these "leading edge practitioners in professional translation helping customers solve linguistic problems around making high-value content multilingual as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible", with "strong MT customization and post-editing skills so that high-value content can be quickly translated and good translation solutions developed".

    When I first became a freelancer, I bought Trados because it was the obvious thing to do. Are there any 'obvious' packages that a freelancer can buy now? Or are there any companies or associations that a freelancer can ally with so as to begin the transformation?

    Failing that, is it even plausible that a freelancer can build their own MT environment from freely available resources?

    Doing the 'donkey work' of post-editing would be far more interesting if one also got to play with the machine that makes the donkey fodder.

  5. The content that you describe is for a great deal not under control of the company that would pay for translation. Consequently it has not the right to have it translated. Unless the sites, on which bloggers write, own and sell the copyright.

    Blogger content is most of the time low quality. If one considers consumer product purchase, regarding published content, best is to rely on specialized magazines, although their criteria are most often too strong compared to every day usage. On the contrary, those amateur publications on the web are too weak. Also, they are often repeated on several sites, such that one wonders whether the blogs are teleguided by the producer.

    Recently I bought a used car. As you write, the brand was chosen already three years ago. I test drove two different model cars. The one which I bought had two clear problems. All amateur blogs were overwhelming positive. One reported a road keeping problem, but obviously by a silly driver. Only two professional magazines reported the "weak" accelerating, so I was confident that the engine was normal and bought the car. The other problem stem from the tires. Again the bloggers find that they are comfortable and silent, whilst in reality they are hard and noisy, compared to the winter tires mounted in between.

    A lot of high quality content to be translated?
    Posted by Walter Keutgen

  6. Walter,

    Yes there is a lot of crap in the blogs. It is important to tell what is higher quality. One of the keys to determining value (rather than quality) in social media commentary is to identify influencers and voices that are trusted and that produce high value content on a regular basis. These key voices can be convinced to let their content be translated.

    Look at Jeremiah's own blog entry on the irrelvant corporate website. Some companies are already courting influential bloggers for the right to share their content more extensively. Starting with high value content is the key and does not happen accidently - it requires careful listening and monitoring.

    This may not be true or available for every industry - in some industries you may need specialists to really examine product issues. I do not claim that in EVERY situation blogger will produce superior content but I do expect that there will be many and certainly already in IT and Consumer Electronics. Take a look at the reviews in C-NET, Amazon, Orbitz etc.. there are many that are quite useful and valid and help GUIDE PURCHASE BEHAVIOR by providing information on features that can drive purchase behavior and this is why they are so important. Like anything in life you have to use many opinions to get some sense of the truth.