TL; DR: Translation and interpretation agencies have evolved from a transactional model to a global brand partners that integrate with documents, websites, and applications. With over $850 million in revenue in 2020, TransPerfect is one of the major translation market players in localization and cultural advice for entering new markets with grace. For nearly 30 years, the company has focused on a customer-centric philosophy that governs its innovative product development cycle. TransPerfect continues to work on translation enhancements, including a focus on the media and gaming industries.
In 1992, Phil Shawe and his partner Liz Elting envisioned a language company that offered the service level of a high-end ad agency and the resources of a high-end investment bank. The pair, who lived in New York at the time, planned to help large businesses that needed translation services to enter new markets.
Businesses did everything on paper in those days, and most translation services focused on documents or printed catalogs. That’s why Phil and Liz launched TransPerfect, a company that leverages technology to meet the translational needs of global businesses.
“Today, a huge chunk of our business is still with those large enterprise clients, but now we’re touching every aspect of their operation. That includes training manuals and documents, but we’re also translating websites, software applications and web apps, really anything that customers or employees can interact with,” said Matt Hauser, Senior Vice President at TransPerfect.
Modern translation isn’t just about interpreting words from one language to another. Instead, the practice often speaks to different cultural sensitivities. It respects the underlying assumptions and worldviews of the source and destination languages and ties together linguistic frameworks in ways that are sensitive to how different people experience the world.
TransPerfect offers many related services, including translation, interpretation, multicultural marketing, website localization, document management, and AI solutions. It also provides expertise in many industries, including retail, travel, life sciences, manufacturing, gaming, legal, and financial services. TransPerfect works as more than a translation service, partnering with companies as a cultural ambassador to help them enter new markets.
Those clients can avoid communication mistakes and pursue informed strategies to help them sidestep embarrassing cultural errors.
“We’ve evolved to be more of a managed service that involves technology, consulting, and brand management,” Matt said. “If a customer wants to sell more products in Germany, we work backwards from that end goal. We look at all the different elements affected by what they’re trying to do. And then we recommend solutions or services that help them to achieve that goal.”
Translation is Now an Essential User Experience Function
Delivering high-quality translations is still of paramount importance. Modern translators transform words and modify concepts and marketing approaches to have a similar effect across cultures. What has changed is the complexity of the systems that drive an organization’s physical and digital footprints.
“Many different systems collaborate to create the consumer’s online experience,” Matt said. “You’ve got content management systems, ecommerce platforms, digital marketing platforms, and multiple other systems that are working behind the scenes. The customer journey from being curious to completing a transaction touches as many as 10 different systems. All of those include information in them that needs to be translated, so the experience appears seamless.”
That means translation is now a core part of user experience design, and it’s not as simple as developing a framework on a server for string-for-string translation. Many services support localization, but the next level of expertise lies in adapting a native-language marketing model and approximating the same emotional response from consumers in a different culture.
An unwillingness to consider alternative perspectives can adversely affect the viability of a product or service in a foreign market.
Localization includes subjects like taxonomy, site structure, and visual design. The goal is the transformation, not merely the translation, of content across language and culture. Taxonomy includes systems of organizing information; structure defines how the end user interacts with the content; and visual design addresses the color schemes, typography, and stock images that elicit a desired emotional effect.
“We have the expertise to talk to these organizations and say, ‘We understand that this approach has been successful for you in the domestic market, but these are the things that you’re going to need to change if you want to have a similar level of success in a different market,'” Matt said. “Different things are important to those customers versus what’s important to customers here in the United States.”
Customer Engagement Shapes the Platform’s Refinement
TransPerfect has always included customers in shaping its product road map. The company releases monthly platform updates, so its solutions always respond to the real-world challenges and the opportunities voiced by the company’s massive client base.
The company offers a significant opportunity for feedback at GlobalLink Next, an annual invitation-only conference for TransPerfect’s current and prospective clients. It’s not a sales event, but rather an opportunity for community conversation where clients can talk to TransPerfect architects and engineers and describe ideal use cases, and express frustrations they’ve experienced in new markets.
“We have a feedback loop where information is relayed directly to our product development teams in as close to real-time as possible,” Matt said.
That loop shortens development timelines and leads to more impactful iterations of the product cycle. It also means TransPerfect can ship more features to market in a shorter time that benefit their user base of over 5,000 global organizations.
Today’s work is deeply cultural, with not just the content but also the presentation adapting to a given market’s unique attitudes, metaphors, and motifs. The ROI is that clients can effectively communicate in any world market with the least amount of internal effort.
TransPerfect Helps Companies Communicate in a Global Market
Translation services have evolved significantly since the early days of paper-based, word-for-word document translations. Modern translation and interpretation include a cultural component that supports engagement in individual documents and in the structure and visual design of marketing material.
In such a rapidly shifting global marketplace, it’s essential for companies like TransPerfect to keep up with emerging dynamics. It receives much of its market intelligence through events like GlobalLink Next, where customers can speak directly to developers and architects to share trends, frustrations, and enhancement requests.
“Our clients are effectively making us their global brand custodian,” Matt said. “We’re taking their existing messaging that may originate in English and has a certain brand voice, look, and feel associated with it. They’re trusting us to bring the same message and feel to markets like China, Germany, or Brazil.”
TransPerfect makes an essential marketing partner for companies of any size because of its wide array of supported languages and commitment to client needs. These needs change every day, which is why TransPerfect is continuously forecasting and monitoring trends to grow and stay ahead of these needs.
The company’s next growth segment relates to video and gaming. Videos are complex to automate because, whether the end result is subtitled, dubbed, or recorded in a targeted language, each approach carries trade-offs and opportunities. Videos also bring a different ROI based on the culture. On the gaming side, there are significant technical challenges associated with localization.
“There is always something new that we’re trying to solve,” he said. “It makes it fun to look at something and say, ‘Let’s put our heads together and see how we can solve this problem for the client.’”