Email in Any Language

Every morning, I get a few emails in my inbox that irritate me to no end. Are these emails spam? Probably. The problem is, I can’t tell. I’ve never learned to speak or read Chinese, so I’ll never really know.

When I open up Outlook in the morning, it’s the same routine, whether I’m at home or at work. There are two or three emails in my inbox that come across as complete gibberish. When I highlight the messages to delete them, my hard drive whirs for a couple of seconds, and then Windows asks me if I want to install a 3.9 MB file for Chinese-language support. I always deny the installation, so I never even get to see the email in the proper display format. These emails go right in the trash, and they never get opened. It’s a shame that someone out there thinks I’m a marketing target who speaks Chinese. I don’t know where these folks get their information.

Addressing the Language Issue

Now that the deletion of Chinese-language email has become a once-daily routine, I’ve been thinking about how email marketing might address the language issue. We’ve all seen the Accenture ads that claim Chinese will be the number-one Web language by 2007, and I’m sure a lot of email marketers have questions about how to address language preferences online.

Simply addressing U.S.-based consumers in the appropriate language can be a challenge. The Hispanic market is growing very quickly online, with PC penetration reaching 47 percent of U.S. Hispanic households at the end of 4Q 2000, according to Cheskin Research. The U.S. is a melting pot of cultures and languages, and there are likely large populations of Internet users who would prefer to see Web pages and email in languages other than English.

Why then do I rarely see emails that link to alternative-language versions? It would be as simple as placing “Espaqol,” “Frangais,” or other text links on the tops of pages, linking to the appropriate translation.

Language Detection Scripts

Or, maybe we could make it simpler. Many rich media email providers and outsourced email-deployment companies run detection scripts in order to segment email lists. These detection scripts are often looking for a Flash plug-in or something similar, in order to deliver the best possible email experience to consumers who can receive rich media. Would it be difficult to write a similar script to detect the language preferences set up by the recipient’s operating system? In this way, we could further segment email lists by language preference and avoid worthless spam sent in the incorrect language.

Of course, consumer feedback is the best way to tailor an email campaign, so perhaps it will be appropriate soon to ask email recipients to set language preferences when they opt in to receive commercial messages from a marketer.

Forrester Research predicts that 50 percent of all online sales will be sold outside the U.S. by 2004, making this a pressing issue for companies that want to sell internationally. While English speakers have enjoyed the fact that English is the dominant language on the Web, it is time that we all take a look at our customers and address them how they prefer to be addressed.

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