March 11, 2008
How To

How to Target European Customers: 5 Tips on Subject Lines, Content, Translation, ISPs

SUMMARY: Are you just getting started with email marketing on the other side of the Atlantic? Or do your international email campaigns need to be tweaked to lift ROI?

An international hotelier has answers for email marketers setting their sights on customers abroad, including:
- Subject lines that work (and don't) in different countries
- How to mix global and local content for maximum impact
- Why text-only and HTML are needed
- International deliverability advice
The Web has been a boon for online travel businesses like Expedia and Orbitz -- to the chagrin of some hoteliers who put a great deal of value into customer relations. Some brands have had to spend more time and resources to keep in touch with customers.

Mathieu Staat, Director, Customer Relationships & Marketing, Accor Hotels, a Paris-based hotelier, and his team focused on kicking up their house list email campaigns early last year. Creating a one-to-one email program with their multilingual customer base received high priority.

“With the Expedia.coms of the world today and so forth, we wanted to take more control of our distribution,” he says. “To do that, we had to create better value and establish greater customer relationships.”

Fast-forward to a year later: Staat and his team have accomplished what they set out to do. They boosted annual online revenue by 34% last year compared to 2006. What’s more, 41% of booked rooms are now made by people who subscribe to their email newsletters. “Before we advanced our communications, the number was not even close to that figure.”

How did they do it? They boosted their commitment to personalizing their email and by identifying what works best in each of the countries they target. Staat offers 5 tips on how to get international recipients to respond to your email:

-> Tip #1. Personalize subject lines

60% of Staat’s website visitors are out-of-country tourists who often read and speak a different language. That’s why they now send email in eight languages:
o Dutch
o English
o French
o German
o Italian
o Portuguese
o Spanish
o Chinese

Through testing, they learned that including the first name of a recipient in the subject line works better in some countries than others:
- For English-speaking customers from the UK, Canada and the US, for instance, use the consumers’ first names.
- For Germans, don’t include their first names.

Open rates show that Brits respond at a much higher rate when you include their first names in the subject line. For Germans, “it is [too] familiar to them, and there is a risk they could consider the email to be spam,” Staat says.

-> Tip #2. Test global content vs. local content

Staat wanted to see how mixing global and local offers together in the same message worked compared to global-only or local-only offers.

They tested the following types of messages to a segment of their English-speaking list, mixing equal proportions of recent and not-so-recent customers:
o Global: assortment of international offers
o Local: offers that were locally based, as well as hot deals and last-minute offers
o Global-Local: global offers mixed with local, customer-specific offers

Since they were interested in response rather than open rates, they kept the subject line the same. The design templates remained the same, too.

To Staat’s surprise, the global-local offer beat both global-only and local-only, indicating that hospitality customers like a variety of options to go with their personalization.

-> Tip #3. Use proper translation services

MarketingSherpa has known for a while that international emailers must do a great deal of due diligence with translations. You should not only attend to your campaigns with translators, but with “content-proofers,” Staat says.

Don’t rely on a third-party translation service to get your message right in multiple languages. “We have local people in the country who read the global content. For instance, if you send email to a French audience in their language and do it the right way, you can see both opens and clickthroughs rise by as much as 50%-70%.”

-> Tip #4. Send email in HTML and text

Some rules are not different when it comes to what works best. Sending text-only and multipart MIME are advisable in Europe, too. Staat points to the idea of giving his recipients the text option -- in addition to HTML -- as partly responsible for his brand’s excellent clickthrough rates.

Staat’s customer surveys also show that keeping in touch with them in this way pays dividends. They learned that 35% of their subscribers were directly influenced by Accor’s email communications for future bookings. “What would have been the impact if we wouldn’t have done what we did? Our surveys and data show that we would have been significantly [worse off].”

-> Tip #5. Meet your European delivery firms

Last but not least: Europe’s stricter permission laws mean you should have a vigilant reputation specialist who can manage your deliverability overseas the same way they work with email service providers and Internet service providers in the US.

- Sign up for feedback loops with the numerous consumer email providers.
- Scrub hard bounces from your list routinely.
- Schedule regular deliverability teleconferences with your ESP.
- Quarantine data.
- Monitor complaint rates, spam trap hits, etc. regularly.

Finally, Staat says, there are five big ISPs per country in Europe on average. “It means you have to do a lot more testing.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Accor Hotels:

Neolane Inc. - helped with email targeting:

Accor Hotels:

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