March 04, 2010
How To

Localize Your International Email Campaigns: 4 Proven Tactics

SUMMARY: Preparation for our Germany Email Summit next week got us thinking about the challenges of conducting international email campaigns. One of the most important issues is how to adapt email content for language and cultural differences in each country.

So we went back to this article from our archive, which collects proven advice on email localization from experienced global marketers. Includes tactics for:
o Hiring translators
o Using appropriate images
o Adjusting tone for cultural differences
The key to an effective multinational email campaign is sending messages in your subscribers' native languages. Even if English is widely spoken among your customer and prospect base, translating your emails for an international audience can lead to significant improvements in response -- sometimes double or even triple the clickthrough rate, according to marketers we’ve spoken to.

But translation alone isn’t enough to customize an email for international audiences. Localizing an email campaign often involves making adjustments to the campaign’s tone, imagery, offer and other elements to reflect cultural differences.

Perhaps that extra work explains why many marketers are still not localizing their email campaigns. According to MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide:
o 58% of SMBs are not localizing email content for international audiences
o 21% of large businesses are not localizing email content for international audiences

To help you get started with localization -- or to make the most of your localization efforts -- we’ve compiled tactics from experienced global marketers. Here are their four top lessons:

Lesson #1. Always use local translators

The first piece of advice you’re likely to hear from global marketers is: Use translators based in the countries you’re trying to reach.

Local translators have the intimate knowledge of idiomatic expressions and syntax needed to prevent your translated messages from seeming a little "off." This deep knowledge is especially important when emailing countries such as China, where subtle differences between Chinese dialects can trip up non-native translators.

Finding and working with overseas translation teams can be a little more difficult, but the results are worth the effort. Rok Hrastnik, International Internet Director, Studio Moderna, offers these tips for hiring a translator:

- Look for experience

Find a translator familiar with your company’s terminology. For example, if you sell golf equipment, your translator should be familiar with local and American golfing terms.

- Request sample translations

Ask a translator to translate a few paragraphs of text and have it checked by a third party. You’ll likely have to pay for the sample.

Megan DeLeon, Event Manager, International Newspaper Marketing Association, offers these two tips for working with translators once you’ve hired them:

- Set aside at least 3-5 labor hours a week working with translators while putting a multiple-language email campaign together.

- If your copy tends to change up until the last minute, you'll need tight, regular communication lines. You should know your translators' normal work-hours, keep a time zone sheet pinned near your desk, have their phone numbers in your mobile, make note about whether they text-message and if they can receive wireless email.

Lesson #2. Recognize country-specific differences within languages

It’s important to work with local translators in each country you’re targeting -- even if those countries use the same language. This is because you have to account for differences in local dialects, spelling and email format.

For example, Uwe-Michael Sinn, Managing Director, rabbit eMarketing, notes that even though German is spoken in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, each country uses different words and email salutations.

English language messages also need to be localized for countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia. That includes differences in phrasing, such as "ring me" instead of "call me" or "petrol" instead of "gas," as well as differences in spelling.

Lesson #3. Respect cultural differences

Good translations alone aren’t enough for a localized campaign. You may have to adapt the tone of messages or even the entire approach of a campaign to account for cultural differences.

Here are a few examples and tips from the experts:

- US and UK marketers tend to use a more aggressive, sales-oriented approach in their campaigns -- a style that doesn’t play well in other parts of Europe, says Uwe-Michael Sinn. Marketers should tone down their messaging for other European countries.

- Avoid using sexual imagery and language in countries with strong religious traditions, such as Turkey and Poland, notes Hrastnik.

- Patriotism, nationalism and flag imagery that are commonly used in US marketing campaigns aren’t effective in other countries. Germany and Canada are two such countries where flag imagery and nationalistic appeals aren’t a good approach.

- Look for marketing opportunities around different regional holidays. For example, Carnival is a popular holiday in certain parts of Germany that Sinn’s team used in a marketing campaign for printer-maker Epson.

Lesson #4. Don’t forget photos

Localizing your messages also means using appropriate photographs for each market. In many cases, the imagery you’ve chosen for your US campaigns will look out of place when an email is opened overseas.

For example:

- Ellen Evans, Marketing Director for US-based Jefferson Wells, learned that British customers could tell their advertising photos were of US employees, due to slight differences in clothing, such as the way a tie was knotted. She replaced those images with photos of British employees.

- US-style stock photos featuring multiracial groups often appear out-of-place in more racially and ethnically homogenous European nations, says Sinn.

- Also pay attention to images that don’t include people. Stock footage of US cities will be obvious to overseas recipients, due to differences in street signage and other cues.

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa's Germany Email Marketing Summit 2010

Special Report: Central & Eastern Europe - 19 Email Quirks, Tips & Tactics

Special Report: B-to-B Marketing in the UK - 3 Challenges & 5 Must-Know Strategies:

Special Report: How to Market to Canadians Online – Advice, Data, Legal Info and Useful Hotlinks

Sherpa Case Study: How SAP Took Local Approach to Global Level for SMB Lead Generation

Sherpa Case Study: Does Translating Your Email Campaign for Global Business Execs Really Improve Response Rates?

Sony Ericsson on What Works for Multinational Email Programs -- USA, Europe, China & Beyond

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