A Comprehensive Guide to Email Localization in Marketing

A Comprehensive Guide to Email Localization in Marketing
20 June, 2024 • ... • 215 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

In international email marketing, localization can be the secret sauce to success. It can help your business connect with new customers, raise brand awareness abroad, and increase profit. But if you believe the email localization process boils down to simple translation, this practice will hardly bring you awesome results. In reality, it takes time, effort, and knowledge to localize your email campaigns the right way. 

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll define email localization and break down the process, specify major localization mistakes and challenges, and explain how to put together an effective localized email campaign.

What is email localization?

Email localization is a practice that includes in-depth adjustment of email campaigns to fit the audience outside of the brand’s home region. Put simply, it is the process of tweaking certain campaign elements to make sure that subscribers abroad get emails in their preferred language that are also relevant, easy to understand, and culturally appropriate. 

Email localization is a part of email marketing management for businesses that operate in more than one country. Email localization is a narrower concept than multilingual email marketing, because it is just one part of preparing and launching multilingual campaigns. But localization itself is also a multi-step process that goes further than content translation and considers language specifics, cultural differences, national calendars, and more.

We are going to discuss all these aspects in more detail. But before that, let us zoom in on why localization matters in the first place. 

Why is email localization important?

The importance of localization in marketing is not just an assumption. There is a wealth of research data that indicates, directly and indirectly, how content localization makes international marketing campaigns more effective. 

Here are just a few numbers: 

  • While there are around 5.44 billion internet users in the world, only half of web content worldwide is in English. Also, the country with the largest number of internet users in the world, as of 2023, was China with 1.050 million users.
  • In 2023, English was spoken by 1.456 million people. At the same time, there were 1.138 million speakers of Chinese Mandarin, 609.5 million speakers of Hindi, and 559.1 speakers of Spanish around the globe. 
  • 64% of technology buyers surveyed by Forrester said they value localized content when buying technology items.
  • 76% of consumers across 29 countries would rather purchase products with information provided in their native language. 40% of them also said they won’t buy at all if product information is in another language. 
  • 75% of buyers across these 29 countries also indicated they were more likely to repeatedly purchase from a brand that provides customer care in their language. (SCA)  

Also, there are a number of case studies indicating that localization in marketing really works.  

That’s why more and more organizations around the world are leveraging localization. This practice can come in handy in every industry, be it email marketing for schools where they need to attract international students, email marketing for global e-commerce companies, or email marketing for small businesses trying to find new customers abroad.   

However, one might think it sufficient to simply translate content from one language to another — or to a bunch of them. But as mentioned earlier, localization is not as simple as that.

Email translation vs. email localization

To understand the difference between translation and localization in general, let’s draw an analogy. 

Most people love movies, and most of them know how crucial localization is in the film industry. From movie titles and taglines to dialogue, it is localization that makes movies make sense across languages and cultures. 

That is also why many film titles are unrecognizable in foreign languages. For example, the title “Silver Linings Playbook” makes perfect sense in English — but if you translate it into Spanish word per word, the equivalent would be “libro de estrategias del lado positivo”, which is hardly an enticing movie title. So that movie is called “El Lado Bueno de las Cosas” in Spanish, which roughly means “the bright side of things”. Although this title differs from the original, it captures the essence of the film’s idea, looks well, and is easily understandable to Spanish-speaking audiences, which increases the probability of them seeing and appreciating the film.  

A collage containing two posters of “Silver Linings Playbook” — the English (on the left) and the Spanish (on the right) version

Even the movie posters look differently depending on the market they are intended for. In the collage above, the English-language one uses a grayscale palette and a tagline that reads “Watch for the signs”. The Spanish version features a colored image and a tagline “al amor duele” (“love hurts”). This is also part of localization because Spanish-speaking audiences are considered to be more emotional.  

This is basically how localization works in email marketing too: it makes your messages make sense to audiences abroad and feel relevant to them. To achieve that, you need to consider things like cultural references, traditions, audience preferences, design, and visuals. 

Take a look at this collage of multilingual emails by NARS Cosmetics for its Japanese, Brazilian, and German markets. Although the products are similar, the emails feature different images.

A collage of localized multilingual emails from NARS Cosmetics Japan, Brazil, and Germany
Source: MailCharts

Besides, there are other important factors to pay attention to when localizing your email campaigns that we’ll discuss later in this article. But first, here are some common localization mistakes to avoid.  

Common email localization mistakes to avoid

In email localization, there are some common pitfalls novices might not be aware of. Here’s what you should take care to avoid. 

Neglecting the importance of email localization

However important localization is, it is a challenging process that can also be rather expensive. That is why many brands tend to neglect it. Some rely solely on translation, while others choose not to localize at all and just launch generic English-language campaigns in all regions. This is especially true for businesses that are just starting out abroad. 

But in global marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all. To turn your subscribers abroad into loyal customers, you need to give them what they want, how they want, and when they want it. As the statistical data above indicates, this is really important.  

Relying solely on English templates

There are a lot of ready-made email templates for popular campaign types in special services or in your email service. These templates are convenient and easy to use, and it is generally a good idea to utilize them for your international campaigns. But relying solely on English-language templates is not always a good idea because languages are very different. 

In some languages, words are generally longer than in others. For example, you will need more space to convey the same amount of information in Finnish than in English. With Chinese Mandarin, it’s the other way around because its information density is very high. 

Here’s how the same typical email line looks in different languages: 

  • Exclusive summer sale! Only 24 hours (English, 36 characters) 
  • Exclusieve zomeruitverkoop! Slechts 24 uur (Dutch, 43 characters)
  • 独家夏季促销!仅限 24 小时 (Chinese, 15 characters)  

To choose appropriate templates, you can compare translation length in different languages with an online tool such as Wolfram Alpha.

Also, remember that languages like Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left. This means you cannot use English templates for campaigns in such languages due to alignment and layout settings. To create campaigns in right-to-left languages, use specialized templates and/or tools. For example, Selzy’s new user-friendly email builder allows you to change text direction within each block depending on the language:

Changing direction and display control is Selzy’s email builder
In Selzy’s email builder, changing writing direction and controlling display settings can be done in just one click

Misconceiving localization as merely language-based

As mentioned earlier, localization doesn’t boil down to translation alone. If you ignore other important components, customers might fail to connect with your messages or ignore you altogether. For smaller brands, this may result in losing a foreign market for good. 

Besides language and culture specifics, these components include the following:   

  • Time and date formats 
  • National calendars  
  • Currencies and prices 
  • Measurement units 
  • Local laws and regulations 

That means localization is also relevant for consumers within the broader English-language market. For example, while people in the US and the UK speak the same language, they have different currencies, measurement units, and national holidays. Even vocabulary and spelling are different! And for English-speaking countries in the Southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed. 

Take a look at this Christmas 2023 email from a New Zealand-based global brand Ashley & Co. Instead of a decorated evergreen, it features a colorful summer sunset at a rocky shore, because December and January are summer months in New Zealand. 

A Christmas email from Ashley & Co featuring a scenic outdoor summer landscape
Source: Really Good Emails

Main challenges to prepare for

Email localization can be tricky, especially when you are just starting out. Here are some tips on handling the most common challenges.

Managing local email lists

Localized email campaigns are practically impossible without structuring your audience. To leverage email geotargeting based on your customers’ location and ensure that each customer gets campaigns most relevant to them, segment your email list. You can create segments according to common characteristics such as language, country, or region.    

Another challenge with local lists is that countries have different policies on processing and storing personal data. It is especially relevant in Europe where they have a special regulation called GDPR. This regulation makes managing email lists with contacts in the EU more challenging since you might not be able to use some data for your local marketing campaigns.    

Crafting relevant subject lines

Subject lines can make or break email campaigns. In localized multilingual emails, subject lines are just as important as usual — but crafting them well is more difficult because translation is not always an option. 

Even if the line itself translates well, length might become an issue after translation. Also, some formulas that work well in one country might not fit into another culture. So, you will probably need to craft subject lines for each local campaign individually. 

Creating localized email copy

For this article, we ran an experiment to illustrate the importance of localizing email copy. We took one of our emails in Portuguese and translated it into English with a popular online translation tool. The result was miserable: the English version contained incorrect phrases and looked very awkward in general. Obviously, this is not something you’d want to send out to your subscribers! And this email didn’t even contain country-sensitive information such as pricing or measurement units. 

A collage of an email in Portuguese and its machine-translated English version. The latter contains a lot of awkward phrases and doesn’t read well at all.

To avoid getting similar results, don’t rely on convenient online tools such as Google translate to translate your emails. Instead, weigh human translators against translation software. Also, remember to provide campaign context, audience insights, and other important details when hiring a local translator or outsourcing to a localization agency. 

Keep in mind that tone of voice is also a crucial part of marketing emails. While trying to preserve your brand identity, remember that different cultures have different preferences when it comes to delivery. For example, Americans are okay with a casual, bright tone, but you’d want to sound more reserved in your emails for the Asian market.  

Tip

If slogans, product names, collection names, and the like are difficult to translate, which is often the case, just leave them as they are. After all, that is what most global companies do. Here’s an example from Marc Jacobs Japan.

A Japanese-language email promoting the Consider Pink collection by Marc Jacobs in the Japanese market. The collection name is in English.
Source: MailCharts

Using visuals

Visual elements make emails more attractive — but inappropriate visuals can only do harm. In localized campaigns, choosing the right imagery is even more difficult since you have to consider things like culture, traditions, color choices, audience preferences, and other such aspects specific to the country or region.  

For example, it isn’t a good idea to send Lunar New Year emails with black and white colors to consumers in China since these colors have dark connotations there. Likewise, it might not be a good idea to feature non-Asian people in your Asian campaigns or partially uncovered models in campaigns targeted at consumers in the Middle East where they tend to be more conservative.

Here’s an example of adjusting visuals to fit a local market from Dove. The banner targeted at the US and EU customers features women in underwear while the banner for the Middle East market shows fully covered women in traditional clothes. 

A collage of two banners from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign featuring banners for the US and European markets and for the Middle East markets
Source: Elastic Email

Also, don’t forget about translation length and writing direction and be careful when placing text in the images for your localized campaigns.  

Character encoding

Character encoding is how computers “translate” binary code into human languages. Today, there are several encoding standards, and not all are a good fit for every language. ASCII, which was one of the first standards, for example, was created with the English language and Latin alphabet in mind. That meant other alphabets, such as Cyrillic, Arabic, or Chinese, often didn’t display correctly. 

To make sure your localized emails render well, choose templates with encoding that fits the campaign language, and check your system settings. Generally, UTF-8 (Unicode) is the safest option since it can handle a wide variety of languages and symbols. Also, remember to double-check your emails and run tests to minimize accidental errors. 

Determining optimal sending times

Countries exist in different time zones, and it’s important to take that into account when launching your localized email campaigns. You want your subscribers in every country to receive your emails at the optimal time when they are more likely to open and read them — and, hopefully, to take action. 

So, avoid sending your emails in the middle of the night when most people are sleeping. That shouldn’t be much of a problem if your email list is properly segmented, but sometimes you can forget this is even important. To go the extra mile, you can try to determine the best sending times for each of your international customer segments based on analytics data from your campaigns. 

Email marketing localization checklist

Now, let’s sum things up as a checklist. Save it and use it until you learn it by heart — and feel free to complement it with your own know-hows. 

◻️ Write your message and formulate engaging subject lines

Come up with your campaign message in your native language. Focus on the central idea and build your text so that it leads to your CTA without dwelling a lot on exact wording since this text will be translated anyway. 

Then, write some subject line ideas that fit your message and campaign type. Yet again, there is no need to worry about careful wording, but some common triggers or subject line formulas can come in handy. 

◻️ Create compelling calls to action

The CTA is the crucial element of every marketing email because it can either convert the readers, leave them indifferent, or even avert them. So you want to come up with a truly attractive, compelling CTA that is also clear and concise.  

To create one, write it as you normally would for a campaign in your native language, paying attention to the coherence across all elements of your email. 

Tip 

Before sending out a localized campaign, always make sure the CTA link leads to a properly localized website or landing page to avoid disappointing customers at a crucial stage of their buyer journey.

◻️ Pay attention to design aesthetics

From a technical standpoint, it’s better to use only those templates that suit the chosen language in terms of translation length and writing direction.

Also, when choosing between different layouts, templates, and illustrations, try imagining yourself as a person of a different culture and background. What might you like and dislike about those designs? That is nowhere near an easy task, by the way, so it might be a good idea to study materials on the topic or hire a professional local designer.

◻️ Hire a local translator

Once you have your email ready, find a professional translator with expertise in the country or region, or hire a local proofreader to review your copy. This will require additional resources, but the result is usually worth it. 

Today, you don’t necessarily need an in-house specialist: if you are just starting out, you can easily find contractors online. Just make sure you provide enough information about your campaign and product to them. 

◻️ Set optimal timing

As you proceed to send your campaign, don’t forget about the time zone differences. Email services allow you to schedule your campaigns, but you need to know how to set the optimal timing. To check the time zones, you can use websites such as Time and Date. While there is controversial data on the best email sending times, the general recommendation is not to send during the night and on weekends.

Scheduling an email campaign in Selzy
Scheduling an email campaign in Selzy. You can choose to either send your campaign immediately or set another sending time depending on the target audience location

◻️ Review, test, and improve

As always, it is necessary to review your campaigns to make sure everything is correct before launching them full-scale. Localized campaigns usually involve efforts from several people, so reviewing becomes truly vital. 

Also, remember to A/B test your campaigns to determine the best version of each email and carefully track your metrics with an email analytics tool to identify possible weak spots.  

Final thoughts

Email localization is an important part of international marketing campaigns. If done right, it can help you win more customers, make your brand stronger, and bring in more profit.  

For your localization efforts to pay off, steer clear of common pitfalls, learn to overcome challenges, and follow the basic steps to successful email localization outlined in this article. Also, make sure you choose the best email marketing service for your needs to facilitate the process. And, of course, remember that practice makes perfect.  

Article by
Natasha Zack
I’m a professional journalist with 10+ years of experience. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with various kinds of media — print, online, broadcast. Currently, I write copy for brand media and teach English part-time. I also have my own edtech passion project dedicated to teaching English via Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Visit Natasha's
Selzy
Selzy
Selzy
Selzy
Selzy

Latest Articles

Selzy Selzy Selzy Selzy