Speaking the Language of E-Internationalization

Over 230 countries, 6,700 languages, 147 currencies, 24 time zones… And you were worried about the catchiness of your email subject line?

The digital economy is unavoidably global in nature. Yet launching international email marketing campaigns is still uncommon. Part of the reason is that it is not a simple undertaking. Countries show various levels of email marketing readiness, consumer acceptance, and business sophistication. The most frequent question I get from U.S. companies is this: Where should I take my email marketing campaigns next? Well, let’s find out.

The Democratization of the Global Economy

The growth of e-commerce has brought a substantial reduction in the cost of entry to global markets. For the first time, small and large businesses alike are able to extend their e-commerce operations overseas. Suddenly, companies must decide whether and how to use email marketing in international markets.

Companies that market aggressively to prospects and customers by email are anxious to spread their activities outside North America for undeniable reasons. According to United Messaging, “there are more electronic mailboxes outside the U.S. than within it for the first time in the history of the electronic messaging market.”

Overview of the Globalization Process

If you are a multinational company with offices around the world and are being asked to develop a global email marketing strategy or think about new markets where your company should be competing, take a step back and think about how to best approach this globalization process.

The keys to an overall globalization strategy are flexibility and adaptability. Planning for today’s market reality is not enough; an effective international strategy must be able to react to and accommodate the shifts and bumps that are inevitable when competing on the global stage. Let’s take a look at market selection and e-internationalization, two steps you’ll need to follow.

Step 1: Market Selection

Choosing and prioritizing new markets is the first, critical step in the globalization strategy. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which countries are strategically important to my growth plans?
  • Which countries show the highest Internet-access growth rate?
  • Which countries should I rule out, and why?

Some countries may have insufficient e-commerce adoption to justify an email strategy. So where should you go first?

Scale and growth are important parameters. Internet growth has been strong primarily in Europe, Asia Pacific, and some other developing regions, but not quite as much in the most populous areas, such as Africa and India. Obstacles are mostly economic.

The cost of connecting to the Internet remains the most predicable variable to email usage. As many countries deregulate their telecommunication sectors, costs are beginning to decline. Look at PC and Internet access, and you will discover that Western Europe is rightfully attractive to email marketers, followed by Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific. According to eMarketer’s recent eGlobal Report, Western and Eastern Europe users combined should outnumber adult Internet users in North America as early as 2002.

U.S. companies should consider pursuing the following markets based on their number of active adult Internet users: Japan (17.7 million), the U.K. (16.1), Germany (15.1), Canada (9.7), China (8.3), Korea (6.8), France (6), Italy (5.4), and Australia (4.1). Taiwan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Brazil also have sizeable Internet markets (all above 3 million users). Geography, demographics, email readiness (usage, access, speed), operational costs, and economic potential are all important selection criteria.

Although these considerations are only the beginning of your international strategy, you will soon discover that they have important implications when we begin to talk about e-internationalization.

Do your homework, and pick the countries with the highest return on investment (ROI) potential.

Step 2: E-internationalization

Let’s assume you have identified a few countries and are ready to define your strategy. E-internationalization is the process of developing an email marketing strategy for multiple countries. To optimize such a strategy, you must find a balance between time to market and operational excellence. Your business objectives (short term or long term) should drive that decision. Consider the following parameters that will provide a strategic framework for your email marketing campaigns:

  • Legal and privacy obstacles. Despite the growth of Internet access throughout the world, many legal obstacles are slowing down the expansion of e-commerce and, therefore, the use of email marketing to drive business. Let’s look at Europe. Ensuring compliance with the relevant national laws and regulations of countries there (such as laws on comparative advertising in Germany) makes it difficult for companies to enter these markets.

    In addition, according to a recent report from the Application Service Provider Industry Consortium, European countries are far from achieving cross-border data compliance standards, a fact which increases prosecution and leaves consumer privacy at risk. So define your data and communication strategy based on a solid understanding of legal issues within each country.

  • Consumer behavior and email usage. How people use the Web differs drastically from one country to another. E-commerce adoption will also vary significantly by country. Based on the level of e-commerce acceptance, decide if your call to action leads to an online order or to coupons for redemption at retail locations.

    There is a much lower level of credit card use outside the U.S. Whether low credit card penetration is due to security, online privacy, or cultural barriers, check carefully what payment methods are available, and assess possible taxation and currency issues.

    Business-to-business (B2B) marketers should know that some countries have a large percentage of users accessing the Internet from home due to the low penetration rates of Internet access in the workplace. One of the consequences of a higher cost of Internet connection is shorter email time for these users. Internet users in Europe and Asia are online significantly less than those in the U.S. Do not send limited-time offers that may expire too quickly for people to respond.

  • Network and telephone infrastructure. A solid understanding of a country’s network infrastructure will be paramount to your success. Some countries have high-speed services, such as cable modem and DSL; others rely on low-bandwidth connections. Consider the infrastructure’s capacity to support multimedia and rich Internet content.

    Another vital factor is telephone density and the growth of mobile communication. In Europe and Asia, short messaging is a popular wireless Internet activity. Countries such as Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are prime candidates for e-marketing campaigns delivered to wireless devices.

  • Language and culture. Your selection of foreign markets will provide a set of cultural expectations that must be met; they, in turn, will determine the degree to which your campaigns must be localized. Although English is an important second language throughout the world, a well-localized campaign will maintain the integrity of your brand and message across cultural boundaries. To maximize the effectiveness of your local efforts, you must deliver a user experience that is culturally appropriate.

You have the ability to reach customers all over the world. But between your business and its global destiny lie challenges that go beyond simple translation. It’s time to speak the language of e-internationalization.

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