By Matt Harris, Co-Founder of Dyspatch

In today’s global economy, properly localized content can make or break a campaign. Just ask Marriott. The U.S. hotel chain had their website shut down in China after they sent out a customer survey referring to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau as separate countries.

Email remains a cornerstone of customer communications, from product updates to upsell opportunities to invoices. It’s essential that these messages clearly communicate 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 is little technological help. By keeping the following considerations in mind 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 the larger content strategy. Marketers who would never risk publishing an Italian website or blog post without confirming the images and text are culturally relevant rarely think twice before sending off an email that is not properly localized.  Why? Managing hundreds of emails in English alone is painful enough but compound that by adding multiple localizations for each and the task quickly begins to feel impossible.

In the future, we can expect to see more enterprises not only structuring email as part of their overall content strategy but also managing 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, less painful process.

But until then, marketers responsible for managing email localization should keep the following considerations in mind.

One (English) template to rule them all?

The most common localization pitfall we see marketers fall into is 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 different markets, it can be tempting to just send the English version off for direct translations. This is where the difference between translation and localization comes into play.

Straight translation can be dangerous since 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, using the everyday language a native speaker would use to convey your message in a culturally relevant manner. This means that rather than sending the same message translated into multiple languages, you should 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 also demands that brands consider regional differences in language and meaning. It’s rarely enough just to translate once for a particular market and call it done. 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 outright 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 on where your target audience resides, as with French in Canada, France, Haiti, or Cameroon, just to name a few.

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, sunshine yellow might be offensive to your Chinese market, where a ‘yellow book’ is associated with adult material.  But 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, where 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 to make sure 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 that California user gets a receipt in US currency rather than Canadian dollars or Mexican pesos.

One-off translations = one-off failures

Another common mistake I see marketers make is 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. Even if the moment is ripe for a particular message, having the right people and processes in place to ensure an email is properly localized can be the difference between success or failure.

The goal of localization is always 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, can yield massive dividends.

An edited version of this article first appeared in Business2Community.