I began my career in localization in 1999 when I took a job with a company called YAR communications, which was eventually purchased by Lionbridge. YAR communications started off as an offshoot of design agency EurAmerica. Because YAR Communications was born of an agency, it operated under an agency model. In fact, we had someone in “traffic” who would physically walk a piece of paper between the language group, the desktop publishing group, and the sales in order to get an estimate for one project. (My proudest day was when I automated that process through a simple excel sheet and email.)
We charged $500 to translate 1 tagline based on the argument that we ensured the translation has the same impact as the original English tagline.
It was about creating content impact
The keyword here is impact. Because as you all well know, not all translations are like father like son. Or, as you would say in Chinese: lions don’t breed dogs.
But how do you define “impact”? Impact is about influencing buying behavior. (In our case, we capitalized on a brand’s lack of knowledge, difficulty procuring qualified translators, and familiarity with the agency model to charge a premium for our services and influence their buying behavior.)
2 things led to the success of YAR Communications, at least for a time.
- People were used to working with design agencies who charged a premium for creativity and innovation
- There wasn’t a lot of content
More content, less impact
17 years later, the world has changed. While people will still pay a premium for innovation and design, creating impact is a lot more difficult to achieve when you realize just how much content is out there. Content has exploded and is cheap to create. The amount of data in the world today is the equivalent of:
With so much data the impact of individual pieces of content is usually minimal. Far more importantly, brands no longer dictate impact. In our information ecosystem, impact comes from the masses.
At first glance, this shift in consumer behavior may not appear to have much to do with language. In fact, some might feel that the content explosion just means more revenue for translators who can’t keep up with the content that needs to be translated. The amount of content that needs to be translated has far outstripped the number of professional linguists we have in the world.
Making an impact is significantly harder. One tagline is not going to overshadow the cacophony of voices saying that a brand is good or bad. $500 for one sentence? There’s a reason YAR Communications is no longer.
Cross-functional cooperation creates impact
Impact is about influencing buying behavior. For an organization faced with so much external and internal content, tracking and measuring content is vital to make better decisions about what content has an impact and what does not, but this involves cross-functional cooperation.
In a global organization, in which translations play a key role, this presents some problems:
- Content volume: How do you translate all of that content?
- Content velocity: How do you translate the content based on real-time need, delivering at a moment of impact?
- Content variety: How do you approach translations for formats you are not familiar with (e.g. subtitles, voice-over, user generated content, etc.)
- Content responsibility: Who is responsible for that impact?
Approaching problems as large and complex as these cannot be done in a silo, since the input and the outcome touch every part the entire organization. One of the biggest barriers to effective global content impact is a lack of management commitment to a unified content strategy that includes content creators from diverse departments, content technology, and cross-functional communication.
A lack of commitment affects investments in technology that can otherwise better manage both domestic source language content as well as translated content for foreign markets as well as the ways in which different content contributors work together.
For example, an ineffective web content management system can affect the quality of the customer experience in other markets because localizing pages may be inefficient or inaccurate. Not using DITA in your technical writing department may mean high desktop publishing charges when you localize your content.
By not understanding the cross-functional requirements and impacts of technology decisions like global content management and their relationship with translation technology and processes, duplication of both effort and technology solutions, inefficient processes and low-impact global content, and poor decision-making inevitably results.
Maybe traffic wasn’t such a bad thing
Looking back at a 17-year career in localization, what strikes me as most ironic is that maybe “traffic” (that manual approach to communicating between groups) wasn’t such a bad idea after all. . .
For all of the efficiency of sending emails and collaboration platforms and digital communication, maybe we’ve lost something vital by having someone walking around from department to department. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about content, it’s that cross-functionality is key to developing a truly optimized global information experience.