In today’s global economy, properly localized content can make or break a campaign. If localization is overlooked, an iconic tagline in one country can become an iconic blunder in another.
Email remains a cornerstone of customer communications, from product updates to upsell opportunities to invoices. It’s essential these communications clearly convey a company’s message in ways that make sense for global audiences — while staying true to brand identity.
Localizing emails at scale is typically a painful process, for which there’s little technological help. But by avoiding the following common mistakes, marketers can create meaningful email campaigns that will resonate across multiple markets.
Overlooking email as part of your larger content strategy
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is failing to consider email as part of their larger content strategy.
Marketers would never risk publishing an Italian website or blog post, without confirming the images and text are culturally relevant. But often, they don’t think twice before sending off an email that’s not properly localized. Why?
Managing hundreds of emails in English alone is painful enough. Compound that by adding multiple localizations for each email, and the task quickly begins to feel impossible.
In the future, we can expect to see more enterprises structuring email as part of their overall content strategy. We can also expect companies to manage email content using systems and workflows similar to those used for other types of content.
Email will be created, stored, and optimized in content management systems — much like those that manage our blogs and websites today. In the same way that WordPress streamlined website creation, new technologies will make managing email templates across multiple locales a more seamless (and less painful) process.
Key takeaway: Until then, marketers responsible for managing email localization need to be extra mindful to get localization right.
One (English) template to rule them all?
The most common localization pitfall marketers fall into? Relying too heavily on the English version of an email as a fixed starting point from which all localizations must flow.
When you’re managing communications in dozens of markets, it can be tempting to just send the English version off for direct translation. This is where the difference between translation and localization comes into play.
Straight translation can be dangerous. You’ll typically end up with a literal conversion of the text. Localization, on the other hand, is getting the message across in the vernacular of your target audience. It’s using the everyday language a native speaker would use to convey your message in a culturally relevant manner.
Key takeaway: Be sure to steer clear of sending the same message translated into multiple languages. Instead, be open to localizations that may vary in meaning based on cultural, as well as linguistic differences.
Localization is more than ‘just a language thing’
Localization demands brands consider regional differences in language and meaning. It’s not enough to translate once for a particular market and call it a day.
In Spain, for example, it might seem easy to translate into Spanish, and use the same email for the entire country. But an email sent to a customer in Madrid, using Castilian Spanish and its associated idioms, could be seen as insulting if sent to a partner in Barcelona, where the primary language is Catalan.
Differences within the same language must also be taken into account. Depending where your target audience resides, the “same” language can be very different. For example, French in Canada, France, Haiti, and Cameroon, varies drastically.
Branding is another important element to consider in localizing content. Logos, color palettes, and taglines carry a brand message that must also be appropriate for each market.
The new logo you created in bright red might be seen as lucky by your Chinese market, but evoke feelings of caution elsewhere. Rather than adjusting branding for different markets, you should consider those markets when creating or updating brand assets, so you can maintain global consistency.
And don’t forget time zones and currency. Localization can also mean customizing your messaging based on the time zone of the recipient.
An example I’ve used many times is Uber’s ride receipts. They use time stamp information to customize their subject lines, i.e. “Your Saturday morning trip with Uber”. But in order to make sure the subject line is relevant in every market, they also use localizations.
That way, a receipt sent to a user in California doesn’t mention a time of day more appropriate for New York. They also use localizations to make sure a California user gets a receipt in U.S. currency, rather than Canadian dollars or Mexican pesos.
Key takeaway: Cultural differences go far beyond language. Localized content should too.
One-off translations = one-off failures
Another common mistake I see marketers make? Failing to engage a consistent partner when localization isn’t handled in-house.
A brand’s voice takes time to develop, understand, and emulate. It isn’t something that can be replicated at a moment’s notice. The people creating your localizations should be just as familiar with your brand voice, as they are with the vernacular of their particular market.
Key takeaway: At the end of the day, having the right people and processes in place to ensure an email is properly localized can be the difference between success or failure.
Build lasting customer relationships through localization
The goal of localization is to ensure the best customer experience — whether it’s reading about a new offer, hearing from a company for the first time, or purchasing a product or service.
Investing time and effort to ensure your message is relevant to your audience, wherever they happen to be, is one of the best ways to build lasting customer relationships. And those relationships will help your company not only last, but thrive.
An edited version of this article first appeared in Business2Community.