Six International E-Mail Marketing Challenges

  |  March 20, 2008   |  Comments

Factors to consider when sending e-mail to multiple countries, each with its own language, culture, and social morays.

Last month I was part of a panel on international e-mail marketing at the Email Experience Council's Email Evolution Conference in San Diego. When marketers think about sending e-mail internationally, localization is obviously one of the first issues that come up. The discussion then often moves to the questions of translation and infrastructure support for "foreign" languages. In effect, localization is often equated with translation.

What struck me most during the panel was the consensus that translation isn't localization. The panelists all agreed that localization is vital to international campaigns' success, and they weren't talking about translation.

Localization, effectively, is a form of segmentation. When sending e-mail within a single country with a mostly common language and culture, we know there are significant differences between audiences. We also know that speaking to these audiences individually (segmenting) substantially lifts results. Clearly the same will hold true when sending to multiple countries, each with its own language, culture, and social mores.

Some localization issues that regularly present challenges internationally include:

  • Message form. The amount of content that works well in messages varies from country to country. In the United States, when we send newsletters, it's common to only include article overviews with links to the full articles online. However, in some countries the expectation is the full content will appear in the message.

  • Personalization and salutations. In some countries, use of personalization and salutations (e.g., Dear Derek) can improve results. In others, it's seen as hackneyed or even a privacy invasion.

  • Send time. When to send is also a regional and cultural question. Clearly, the local time zone must be taken into account. So should variations in when people work. Which days constitute the weekend vary across the globe. Holidays vary from country to country, as does when people commonly take vacations.

  • Local norms. There are many local norms that can be entirely unexpected if you don't have local knowledge. For example, in the U.S. it's quite common to post prices exclusive of tax. In some other countries, this is simply not done and may even be disallowed by local law. In France, it's common to ask recipients to print out a form and fax it back, whereas in many other countries this would be considered absurd.

  • Local laws. While anti-spam requirements are the most obvious laws that apply to international e-mail, some countries may have additional laws and requirements for doing business electronically, especially related to privacy and use of personal information.

  • Language. The language selected does matter for international communications. However, the choice of language isn't necessarily clear cut. Many countries use more than one language, and which languages you support can be very important. For some cultural groups, using their language may be essential; for others, it may have little effect. Some audiences may even prefer to receive communications in English rather than their native tongue. This is often the case for more technical audiences.

In a tightening economy, many organizations centralize and close satellite offices to manage costs. What my fellow panelists made clear is that while such centralization of e-mail management can reduce costs and improve messaging consistency, it's essential not to lose the understanding of the places to which you're mailing.

At the end of the day, there's really no substitute for local knowledge to ensure effective international communications.

Until next time,


Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.


Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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