Enterprise translation buyers scrutinizing their annual spend should feel confident that the potential return on investment for translation and localization has expanded rapidly, and is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Figure 1 demonstrates how the long tail of languages plays out online in order to reach worldwide customers. However, the global information revolution goes way beyond that, and by extension it is clear that printed word translations also show an expanding commercial value due to the global explosion of information consumers.
While in Western Europe and North America, the so-called middle class appears to be in crisis, everywhere else in the world it is growing quickly. Middle-class households in Africa will double by 2020. The middle class in India will rise from 150 to 600 million by 2030. Goldman Sachs predicts that two billion people will join the middle class by 2030.
Joining the ranks of the middle class means gaining access to computers and mobile devices with internet access. In turn, access to the internet changes our engagement with content. Becoming an information consumer changes how we learn about products and services. As consumers and employees, we begin to access services online, in private networks, or on mobile phones. We engage with products and services, with companies and brands via digital content, and by joining social networks we enter into broader circles of influence with other information consumers. Participating in online social networks alters how we share what we know with others. Our exposure to products, services, brands and economic exchanges radically increases.
In the past two years, the economic potential addressable through online communication has risen from $36.5 trillion to $44.6 trillion, a staggering sum. Only a third of that total is addressable in English as a native tongue. As more of the world’s people adopt the ways of the information consumer, the value of translation will continue to grow. The number of “big languages” on the web has grown from an initial few; now product and service companies require at least 12 languages to reach 80% of the online population. It takes 13 languages to address 90% of the world’s online spending power. The long tail of languages is starting to assert its power.
Social media marketing, with its significantly more effective and cost-efficient means of influencing both consumer and business purchasing behaviors, will soon require coordinated activities in 30, 40 and eventually 50+ languages. While the task of managing product and information releases across so many languages is daunting, market planners must recognize that the greater effort is already being offset by increased benefits derived from the expanding e-GDP values for each translation done.
It’s high time for enterprise planners and marketers to get serious about language assets and managing the translation business process. For language service providers and other localization practitioners it’s a good time to be in the language business.