June 05, 2007
Case Study

Does Translating Your Email Campaign for Global Business Execs Really Improve Response Rates?

SUMMARY: Doing email in one language is hard enough, but how tough would two be? Well, just try to find marketers out there who do regular campaigns in both English and Spanish.

That’s why you have to see how a trade association used their first-ever five-language email blast to lift attendance by 30% for their big annual global convention. The effort by this small-but-resourceful team is nothing short of inspiring.

Includes practical tips to working with translators, plus creative samples in multiple languages:
2006 attendance at the International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA) annual World Congress was depressingly flat. Members from around the world bought about the same number of tickets as they had in 2005.

How could the marketing team boost ticket sales for a 77-year old event in an industry that's coping with budget cuts, as well as being notoriously tight-fisted about executive travel? Event Manager, Megan DeLeon, and Marketing Manager, Ginni Mercer, had to find a way.

Even though global businesspeople, especially highly literate publishing execs, increasingly speak and read English, DeLeon and Mercer wondered what sort of impact translating marketing copy into native languages would have.

“We wanted to see if more personalization, in the form of adding little [cultural-lingual] spins to the effort, would go a long way in improving response with our worldwide audience,” said Megan DeLeon, Event Manager, “We were looking to address them in a way that closely reflects how they are used to being communicated to.”

But, translating your campaign into multiple efforts takes a lot more work and budget. Would it be worth the cost?


First - pick how many languages you'll campaign in. After DeLeon and Mercer carefully reviewed past World Congress attendees lists by nationality, they decided to split the email promos into five language sends: Spanish, French, German, Italian, and, of course, English. Next, they used five steps to get the campaigns launched successfully:

Step #1. Name by name language selection

The publishing industry is notoriously nomadic (for example, many British nationals live on the continent), so the team reviewed each name in their database to make sure that person received promotions in an appropriate language based on their name and organization.

To ensure using the right language for Canadian recipients, the team went through the street addresses from Quebec that were inputted in French (“30 Boulevard Saint-Joseph Est,” as an example) and placed those people into their folder for that language.

Step #2. Translation & Quality Control

DeLeon made sure the initial English-version copy was written without slang, idioms or puns. That way, it could be easily translated without producing syntactically confusing phrases. (Having bilingual staffers in-house to bounce words off of definitely helped her.)

Luckily, the team already had four dependable, professional translators at their disposal who were located in Argentina, France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. (The closer to your prospect's country of origin, the better. Most global marketers advise against relying entirely on US-based translators.)

Instead of translating word for word, each translator was given the leeway to tweak verbiage for smoothness, accuracy and culture-appropriateness in their own language. For example, the German translation to “Hello,” for instance, might not be the right greeting *for marketing literature* in the same way it’s used in the US.

Finally, native-speaking volunteer members of the INMA did a quality control check on the syntax.

The team's top two tips for working with translators:

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

o If your copy tends to change up until the last minute, you'll need tight, regular communication lines. DeLeon warned that an international effort only intensifies 11th-hour adjustments. “Not only do you have to get the copy together, but you have to get it to these five different translators. And sometimes, turnaround time was next day.”

Her advice: 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.

Step #3. Timing global email

Emailing to so many time zones can be tricky. To avoid showing up at the bottom of inboxes – based on past campaign results, the team emailed only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

“Even if a person didn’t see the email in Europe until Friday morning, it was still sitting unopened near the top of his or her Thursday’s messages,” DeLeon explains. “And, there’s the whole day to read it before the weekend.”

To build anticipation during the three months before the April show, they emailed at least every two weeks to nearly 20 title-related segments. The text-only messages emphasized ideas, such as approaching deadlines on early-bird discounts.

Step #4. Direct (Printed) Mail Support

In addition to the email series to the entire list of past attendees and association members, the marketing team decided to invest in a high impact direct mail campaign to very top prospects -- executives most likely to attend and to bring multiple staff as an entourage.

So, as soon as event programming was finalized in January, the team FedEx’ed a language-specific package to around 200 high-level newspaper executives to give the most critical industry players an early heads-up. The effort included:

o A one-page letter from INMA Executive Director Earl Wilkinson.
o A four-sided, one-fold, full-color brochure about the benefits of attending the event.
o A follow-up postcard dropped later that month.

INMA has an in-house printing operation; so, DeLeon and Mercer had the luxury of monitoring the five-language print production job from close range.

Step #5. Include personal contacts on everything & staff up to handle responses

Europeans often want a person-to-person chat to learn more about what exactly you are offering. The team made sure every single communication -- especially email -- was from a real human being who was actively standing by to reply. Each letter had that person's name and full contact information.

Email "replies" went directly to that person. Key -- prior to sending a campaign of this nature, set up a “High-Priority” folder in your email receiving system for replies. Also, be sure that your team is ready to oblige with a timely phone call, especially in European time zones.


The five-language campaign helped boost attendance. “As far as the ROI is concerned, while data is still coming in, the preliminary numbers show that it’s the best we’ve seen and we’ve already met our major goals,” Mercer says.

Indeed, more than 500 executives roamed the event halls at the Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel & Conference in Paris. That’s a 30% hike compared to the prior two years, when each hovered around 350 attendees. The response rates per language, as in those who received the campaigns and then registered, ranged from astonishing to good:

English – 21.6% purchased
Spanish – 24.5% purchased
French – 187.5% purchased
German – 22% purchased
Italian – 33% purchased

DeLeon attributes off-the-chart French language purchase rates to an unanticipated viral effect when recipients fowarded emails to many collegues.

With the help of their in-house printers, the total cost of the Fedex package production came in under budget at around $6,000.

Was all the extra work and cost worthwhile? Yes, DeLeon says that they would “most certainly” use multiple-language email and direct mail for next year’s World Congress.

Related useful links for this story:

Creative samples in multiple languages:

SpamLaws - Useful site featuring hotlinks to laws for countries around the globe


Related MarketingSherpa resources (Open Access for Members Only):

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

New Research: 1,939 Marketers Reveal Globalization Tactics - 39 Charts & Tables

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