The prospect of sending email campaigns into international markets may seem daunting, especially if you’re not proficient in your subscribers’ native language.
In this guide, with the help of Jaina Mistry at Padawan Group, we want to encourage you to make the most of the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and provide you the tools to do so.
More than 70 percent of the world’s 2.3 billion Internet users are not native English speakers – and 85 percent of Internet users do not make important purchasing decisions unless product descriptions are in the language they speak.
Thankfully, there are both human and technical solutions for helping you send error-free campaigns. Drawing from experiences designing and sending email campaigns adapted for English, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese speakers (and more), we’ll be exploring both the benefits and challenges to sending localized email marketing campaigns, as well as tried-and-tested approaches to ensuring their success.
As an email marketer, the first thing on your mind is likely ROI. With retail case studies showing a distinct uptick in conversions and a study by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) reporting that $25 dollars was returned for every $1 invested in localization, the benefits of sending campaigns in your subscribers’ language are very clear.
However, while the statistics above may be incentive enough to launch a marketing campaign across multiple languages, it is worth considering other motivations, too. For starters, focusing on internationalization is well, not dissimilar from designing your campaigns for accessibility. If you value making your product or service available to people who communicate in say, Dutch, Swedish, Urdu or Mandarin, then making your marketing campaigns – amongst other resources – available in these languages should be a priority.
Thankfully, we’ve had some prior experience with translating email campaigns – and while each is unique in their own way, there are certainly similar challenges, techniques and considerations to keep in mind.
Before you start sending spreadsheets to a friend or translator, take note. One of the biggest challenges that comes with sending campaigns across multiple languages and cultures is having an understanding of your audience – and adjusting your content accordingly. It’s not just the wording or content; the tone and theme of your campaign will likely need to be adjusted from one region to the next. “Will they get it?” should be a common question, as you begin your planning and collaborate with language specialists.
For an example of a company that understands cultural differences well, you need only look at Coca-Cola’s regional marketing. With partnerships across 90 developing markets, they are masters at tailoring their messaging and visual style to feature local languages, people, clothing, events and themes, while pitching exactly the same product.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the other considerations that come with the territory.
If you have already segmented your email subscriber list by language, or have separate lists, well done. If not, you can survey your customers – even by simply using an subscriber preference center – to ensure you have accurate data before you send.
That said, if you know that your email list will reach an international audience but aren’t yet in a position to target subscribers by language, you can also display all your language versions in a single campaign. We’ll look at this in further detail in the “Managing the localization process” section of this guide.
Getting the subject line the right length is a basic necessity in email marketing. 50 characters or less is generally advised for the sake of displaying without truncation in most email clients – which in English, really isn’t a lot of characters, as it is. Internationalization increases the difficulty still, with literal translations from say, English to Italian requiring far more characters to express the very same concept.
The same can happen with preheaders, in which anything longer than about 22 characters is missed in the email preview pane or inbox.
As a result, you may want to consider using different subject lines – and preheaders – for campaigns sent different languages. A localization specialist will be able to help you choose a subject line that’s appropriate to your audience, while remaining short and sweet.
Also worth noting is that some countries require subject lines to be prefixed to abide by their anti-spam laws. We’ll cover this in more detail in the “Understanding the law and best practices” section of this guide.
We’ve already mentioned considering the themes and tone used in localized copy. From a design perspective, it’s also worth thinking about your call to action. If you use buttons or images especially, getting these right can pose a problem – with even the simplest, 3-word call to action in English blowing out fixed width elements when translated, or spanning multiple lines. Not only are there often more words required, but the words can be significantly longer.
As is the case with responsive email newsletters, often the most sensible approach is to use a one-column email layout, to best compensate for variable content widths.
Using culturally-appropriate images, icons and diagrams is important to getting your message across as desired. While a misunderstanding in this area may just generate mild confusion, it can also result in grave offense.
Different regions can have different interpretations on what’s appropriate when depicting people. While you may be comfortable with artwork featuring a mix of genders and races, it’s worth considering the cultural norms of your subscribers.
The safe option is to steer towards imagery that’s more symbol-based and less people-based, keeping in mind that metaphoric images or visual gags may not translate well. Being flexible and having a rigid sign-off process with localization experts and translators can help in choosing the correct type of imagery for your email campaigns.
A common question amongst email designers and coders is which character encoding to use for HTML email documents. Generally, we recommend using UTF-8 where possible, as this is what is used when sending from Campaign Monitor, not to mention, the default encoding for many email clients.
For text that includes special characters, you may want to consider a service like Email on Acid’s “Special Character Conversion” to convert these characters into HTML entities.
Much of the research around optimum time and day to send isn’t applicable worldwide. Just as the typical workday in Spain is different from other European countries or even Australia, so you may have to change your ideas around when is the best time to send. Your best bet is to get advice from someone in the region you’re sending into, to ensure you’re not sending during Friday drinks, prayer time, siesta, or a similar observance when people are less likely to be checking their email.
While abiding by your email marketing service’s anti-spam policy and/or permission policy will usually be sufficient to keep you out of any legal trouble, it does pay to be mindful of regional differences in electronic messaging and marketing laws.
Ensuring you have gained permission to email your subscribers, you have a means of unsubscribing and your contact details (including a phone number) are displayed on your email are the bare minimums – in some places, it’s also important to prefix your subject line, or ensure unsubscribe requests are honored within a set number of days.
We’ve listed links here where you can find out more about country-by-country laws; when in doubt, we recommend contacting your email marketing service, or seeking advice from a marketing professional in your country of interest.
The CAN-SPAM Act provides guidelines on sending into the US, from US servers.
CASL provides strict directions on gaining opt-in consent to email subscribers.
The EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive asserts that you are only permitted to email subscribers with which you already hold an existing business relationship, amongst other requirements. Member states are obliged to implement directives in their own national legislation.
The “Regulations on Internet Email Services” have a number of requirements, including that subject lines are prefixed with “AD” (or their character equivalent) and links to external content come with a written guarantee that linked content isn’t malicious.
The Spam Act features a clear description of what constitutes “commercial email” and includes provisions which include clearly identifying the correct legal name of the organization or individual sending the email, including an Australian Business Number (ABN), where applicable.
First and foremost, any successful localization project requires teamwork and cooperation. Most likely, you will find yourself working closely with a specialist or translator, who will not only help translate copy, but provide advice and insight into the cultural nuances of the region you’re sending into.
In previous experiences with localizing email marketing campaigns, it’s been useful to recruit a local colleague in sales or marketing; someone who understands the product and its customers. This has been essential in ensuring that the message is not simply a literal translation of the original – for example, marketing phrases and technical jargon often have commonly-used, sometimes “anglicized” equivalents that a translator outside of your industry may not be aware of.
With this in mind, here are some guidelines to help you work effectively on international marketing campaigns.
One of the most important documents you can create in the lead up to translating an email campaign into multiple languages are brand guidelines. This document should incorporate the tone of voice required for the different regions, notes on how messaging should be conveyed (eg. positive, yet professional) and any key phrases or words. For example, you may have a brand slogan that already has a foreign-language equivalent, or should remain in English as part of a logomark or other notable element.
Second to this, documenting the aim of the email campaign, its audience and objectives as you would in a design brief will also bring clarity for all involved in the internationalization project.
For ongoing localization projects, it’s beneficial to promote cross-learning between your email marketing team and localization specialists. By giving them an understanding of how important subject lines and preheaders are, why call-to-action buttons need to be short, sweet and yet informative and other guidelines, you can help them make more informed decisions on when and how to best translate the copy you have provided.
Let’s assume you’re starting off with an English-language email design. Typically, you will take the copy from the design and add it to a spreadsheet, to be matched to foreign-language equivalents by a translator or similar localization specialist. This can work well in many instances, but this approach can have its downsides.
In some languages like Traditional/Simplified Chinese and Korean, line breaks can have special significance. Japanese and other right-to-left languages may also require changes to the email layout to ensure copy can be displayed (and read) correctly. Often, the best option is to have translators edit the copy directly (via an email template editor, code or Photoshop for images), to ensure errors are minimized. Using dynamic content, you can even add multiple languages to the same email campaign. This can reduce your build time dramatically.
Keep in mind when testing that not all countries use the same email clients as you may. For example, Foxmail, by the portal Tencent is popular in China, whereas it hardly gets any press outside of the country. Thankfully, it has been localized into English.
Finally, we can’t stress enough the importance of a documented sign-off process with allowances for multiple rounds of amends. Don’t just assume that translated copy you receive is perfect – you need to make sure it is appropriate for your audience and is consistent with your brand. Any international campaign should be scrutinized by many eyes before you finally press the send button.
Before we wind up this guide, it is important to stress that you don’t have to have perfectly segmented lists to start sending localized campaigns. While it’s certainly very important to gather information on your subscribers’ language preferences, during this process you don’t have to miss out on the benefits of sending email campaigns in your subscribers’ native language.
That said, you should always have a clear and understandable unsubscribe link and be mindful of your subject lines. You can change the language of default text (including social sharing links) in our email builder – and in addition, change the language of forward to a friend and preference center pages using our template tag language. In addition, you may want to choose a subject line that has meaning across similar languages, if you do choose to send a single campaign across multiple markets.
If you haven’t segmented your list, there’s nothing wrong with adding multiple versions of the same copy to a single campaign. Customers Global Eyes Production have done this tastefully, using an animated GIF to display their slogan in multiple European languages:
Using the simple subject line, “News Update”, they’ve likely conveyed meaning to (almost) everyone.
This campaign could be improved by linking through to a survey or preference center, to capture the recipient’s language preferences. But as it is, it’s a clever campaign, which clearly makes it known that the campaign can be read in 5 different languages.
If you do have your subscribers’ language preferences in say, a custom field like “Language”, you can create segments using these values and display localized content without having to create multiple versions of the same campaign. Using dynamic content in our email builder, it’s easy to create content areas that display if say, the subscriber has their Language preference set to French, then preview and compare the results, all from within your Campaign Monitor account.
Aside from these approaches, there’s nothing wrong with sending separate campaigns for each language (by list or segment), as Birchbox do at the beginning of the guide. After all, this allow you to craft the perfect subject line for each of your regional audiences.
As a final note to this guide, we wanted to stress that while it’s often very rewarding to execute on internationalized email marketing campaigns, it should be done in step with a wider, customer-centric marketing strategy. For example, let’s say you’re a Spanish speaker and cheerfully receive a Spanish-language email newsletter from an eCommerce site. However, when you click through, you reach an English-language landing page. That’s a pretty lousy experience.
I encourage designers and marketers who wish to reach new audiences to think about the many moving parts in their localization strategy. Are there multiple language options on your site? Can international customers reach product support in their language? Have you created localized eBooks, or other content resources for your client’s customers to link through to? With these considerations in mind and the right localization partners, you too can send email campaigns like a local. Happy trails / buen viaje!