History is written by the victors. I pondered this much debated quote when studying the latest language services market report. The winners – in this case the Top 100 ranking companies – have the power to shape the narrative about the global language services industry through their press releases, public speaking opportunities, media interviews and the data they share with market research organisations. The highest-ranking companies get to tell our story.
Market research is usually understood to mean customer intelligence — that is, the collection and analysis of customer data. However, in broader terms, market research comprises gathering, analysing and interpreting information about a market, product or service for sale in that market, a group of competitors, or an industry as a whole. The results, summarised in a report, help executives make informed decisions about where their business chooses to focus its efforts and resources. This is the value of market research.
When I started in the translation industry in the 90s, there were no market research companies that focused exclusively on the language services market. Today there are three, each offering analysis on the localisation news, trends, drivers and funding. These independent research firms, CSA Research, Slator and Nimdzi, publish content that is freely available to the public, as well as reports that are only accessible to their partners and clients.
Not unlike Fortune Global 500, Forbes 500 and FT 1000, all three organisations issue an annual ranking list of the world’s largest language service providers. The purpose of these indices is to monitor the performance of the top companies as a collective group and individually, thus gauging the growth and trends of a whole sector, or the entire industry.
The 2019 ranking lists for the world’s largest language service providers
|Name||World’s Largest 100 LSPs||Language Service Provider Index||2019 Ranking of the Largest Language Service Providers in the World|
|Release date||May 2019||February 2019||March 2019|
|Interesting LSP information||
|Estimated global market size||USD 49.6 billion||–||USD 53.5 billion|
The 2019 annual reports on the global language services market
|Name||The Language Services Market 2019||Language Industry Market Report
|2019 Ranking of the Largest Language Service Providers in the World|
|Release date||June 2019||May 2019||March 2019|
|Price||For members only||USD 385||Free|
|Interesting market information||Not yet known||examines the market size and trends by end-buyer industry verticals
provides market size information and revenue growth potential prediction for each vertical
|number of language technologies available: 531
highlights the difficulty of measuring market size and growth rate in USD because the volumes are converted from other currencies and depend heavily on exchange rates of national currencies versus the US dollar
|Estimated global market size||USD 49.6 billion||USD 23.2 billion||USD 53.5 billion|
How do these two annual market reports serve their intended target audience? They are written for the benefit of the buyers of global content management services, the private equity firms looking for investment potential, the translators working in the LSPs’ supply chains and the LSPs themselves, allowing them to keep an eye on the competition.
1. Market research helps evaluate success against benchmarks
Nimdzi believes that “many of the challenges we face in the language services industry are due to unequal access to the high-quality information”. In their view, “language service providers, translators, enterprise buyers, and investors often don’t see eye to eye because they are each operating with different levels of information”. Making benchmark information affordable and accessible to all parties increases informed decision-making and helps the stakeholders manage unrealistic expectations at talks across all levels of business.
This year’s figures demonstrate that estimating the global market size is a complex exercise. Research methodologies behind the three reports vary: one organisation may have started by analysing the national markets and building the figures up from there, another may have begun with the client spend in the most established industry verticals. It should also be noted that the volumes outsourced to commercial language service providers versus the volumes translated through other means must fluctuate annually, making the addressable market size only a portion of the whole.
2. Market research helps identify opportunities in the marketplace
How big is the market? How big is the addressable opportunity? How can you partake of this addressable opportunity? You want to focus on the market that is best for you, and this is not necessarily the largest one, or the one with the highest growth, but the one that best matches your company profile.
Slator states it as their mission to “make business sense out of our rapidly changing, highly fragmented sector where companies merge, acquire competitors, and develop new technologies” – almost monthly. This is a valuable service at a time when just keeping track of the industry news can feel like a full-time job.
3. Market research helps establish trends
When market research is done periodically, it provides data that helps to establish trends – and industry trends of course go straight into the Opportunities and Threats section of every executive’s SWOT analysis. A trend is usually an assumed development in the future that will have a long-term and lasting effect on our business. At the end of May 2019, CSA Research predicted that, fuelled by AI and machine learning, “content will continue to morph as it becomes more conversation-centric to support more and more speech-enabled products and services”. In other words, there is money to be made from the multilingual audio content game.
The human brain likes simple straight lines. We draw parallels between expertise, greatness and the numbers in a ranking table, thinking that a top position on a revenue-based list equals business acumen and should thus set the benchmarks. However, the business world, let alone the physical one, is far from this linear. In the shifting and changing language services industry, success is bound to have many faces.
Truth be told, the winners don’t always get to tell the story. Look at what happened to the Vikings. Their history was written, not by themselves, but by the Christians they raided, pillaged and conquered. Not the best policy if you want a stellar reputation. It’s not the most effective way of communicating astonishing accomplishments either. After all, who remembers the Vikings for their complex rune script, unparalleled naval engineering or a surprising degree of equality between men and women?
Industry-wide market reports serve a great purpose. But the story based on the experiences of the Top 100 companies is not the whole story. Neither is the story told by the market research experts. Don’t leave it to someone else to tell your story. Make sure you get to tell it – and sell it – yourself.