A Definitive Guide to Multilingual Email Marketing

A Definitive Guide to Multilingual Email Marketing
18 June, 2024 • ... • 146 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

Looking for opportunities to expand your business? You might have already thought of going international then. Indeed, reaching out to consumers outside your local target market can bring stellar results, helping you grow your customer base, increase profit, and hedge risks. But such an expansion calls for a well-planned marketing strategy to succeed. 

To help your business take off abroad, one of the practices you’ll need to embrace is multilingual email marketing. If done right, it can elevate your business to new heights. But how do you do it right? Read this guide to find out.

What is multilingual email marketing?

The term “multilingual email marketing” might seem explicit without elaboration. However, some people believe it only refers to translating emails into other languages with whatever tool there is at hand, and it isn’t exactly right. 

In reality, multilingual email marketing is email marketing aimed at audiences located in countries across the globe, outside of your local market. And, contrary to popular belief, this practice goes beyond generic machine translation. 

Even applying to professional translation services might not be enough. To make this type of email marketing work, you also need to consider a multitude of aspects that we’re going to discuss later in this article, such as cultural differences, national calendars, time zones, holidays, traditions, and more. Plus you also need to adjust tried and true email marketing practices such as segmentation and other email personalization techniques to suit your new needs. 

But at this point, you might be wondering why you’d want to get into all this trouble at all. Well…

The importance of multilingual emails for your campaigns

Here are some benefits of multilingual email marketing to persuade you to try. 

Higher open rates

What would you do if you received an email with a subject line written in a language you don’t understand? Chances are, you’d send it straight to the spam or trash folder without even clicking to open it. 

You might even consider the email suspicious — who knows what it might contain? Since you probably wouldn’t go to such lengths as to run the subject line of a random email through an online translator, you’d simply block the sender — just in case. And so would most other people. 

But seeing a subject line in your native language is another matter. Even if you don’t recognize the sender, a catchy, well-crafted line can likely compel you to at least open the email. That’s how multilingual campaigns provide higher open rates that are essential to moving more prospects further through email marketing funnels.  

Higher conversion rate

Even if you would open an email with a subject line in a foreign language out of sheer curiosity, you wouldn’t be able to understand its content because of the language barrier. Let alone get any value out of it. And you wouldn’t click on any links and buy products offered in an email you cannot make anything of.  

The result? The email would still end up in spam or trash. If every recipient does the same, you get zero conversions for the entire campaign. Not the best way to justify your investment in global expansion. 

The good news is, leveraging multilingual email marketing is a way to avoid this scenario. Once a recipient clicks on the subject line, personalized content created in their native language can work wonders, boosting conversion rates and possibly helping secure more sales. But of course, putting together such an email is no easy feat, plus there are some other nuances we’re going to zoom in on later in this article.    

Better customer trust and retention

Not only that, but multilingual email marketing helps to build trust and retain international customers. As mentioned above, emails written in foreign languages can look suspicious. Most people don’t keep in mind all the newsletters they subscribe to, so don’t count on them recognizing the sender name. 

Also, many regard the lack of localization in marketing — especially in email marketing as one of the most “intimate” channels — as neglect to themselves, their culture, and their unique needs. Would you personally trust a brand that doesn’t seem to care much about you? Not very likely.      

Valuable, custom-tailored email content in the recipients’ native language is, on the other hand, an effective way to build trusting, long-term relationships with customers. Communicating in the way most natural to them means they can appreciate not only the value they get with the content, but also your care and attention to them and their needs.

But what about English? Isn’t it such a popular language that most people across the world can understand it? Not really. 

The truth is, there are many countries with high-potential, developed markets where very few people know English well. Although English still remains the most-spoken language in the world with almost 1.5 billion speakers, there are also roughly 1.15 billion speakers of Chinese (Mandarin), 610 million speakers of Hindu, and 600 million speakers of Spanish out there. To connect with all these people, as well as with those in France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and beyond, you’ll have to add multilingual email marketing practices to your email marketing checklist — and get really good at using them too.

Multilingual email marketing tips and best practices

So, how do you nail multilingual email marketing? Here are some proven tips and best practices to get you on the right track. 

Know your audience(s)

Target audience research is an essential part of every marketing campaign — email marketing campaigns included. So you’ve probably already done it before initially launching your business. But to assume that you understand potential audiences abroad based on what you know about your customers at home would be incorrect.  

To keep away from failures, do additional research in each country or region you’re going to launch in. You can use such methods as: 

  • Competitive environment analysis. Find and analyze your potential competitors in the region, both direct and indirect, and carefully study their audiences. 
  • Secondary market research. Tap into information from open sources to learn more about the markets you are planning to expand into, and about consumers in these markets. Examples of information sources include market reports, studies, white papers, survey data, and the like.  
  • Monitoring social media in the region. This technique known as “social listening” can help you gain deeper insights into your potential customers’ preferences, needs, and pains. 
  • Online surveys. Use your social media accounts such as X (ex-Twitter), Instagram, and Facebook pages to ask your audiences from other countries some direct questions. Also, you can use your website and online communities on popular platforms for that purpose.    

These methods can provide fundamental data to help you start planning your marketing campaigns for audiences abroad. But if you want to take your strategy and content to the next level, think about recruiting a professional in the target country or region. In multilingual marketing campaigns, a person “from within” can shield you from many mishaps as you’re entering a foreign market.     

Segment your customer base

Segmentation is one of the most powerful personalization techniques in email marketing. But for multilingual campaigns, it is essential. Without dividing customers into groups, you can never be sure your recipients abroad get relevant content. 

Luckily, most professional email marketing services have built-in tools to help you break your audience into any number of segments based on different parameters. For international campaigns, there are two main ways to break down your customer base: 

  • By language. Group together all customers speaking one language to ensure they get the right content. For example, you can add Spanish-speaking subscribers from Mexico and the US into one group. To do that, you can leverage conditional content on your landing page to determine the right language depending on the users’ browser data. Also, consider adding a “Preferred language” field to your opt-in forms.  
  • By country or region. This method is more precise since it also takes the specifics of each country’s culture into account. This ensures recipients get emails that are not just in the right language but also culturally appropriate and timely.   

Additionally, you can use parameters such as demographics, personal preferences, and past behaviors to make your segmentation more precise and your messaging — more targeted. However, this might be superfluous if your customer base abroad is not big enough yet.

We at Selzy work with audiences in different countries. While our main language is English, we also run campaigns in several other languages. Here’s an example of our email in Portuguese for the customer segment speaking this language.

An email (webinar announcement) from Selzy in Portuguese

And an example of a campaign in English and its counterpart in Portuguese:

An email from Selzy in English promoting our support services

An email from Selzy in English and in Portuguese promoting our support services

Localize your content

After segmenting your international audience, you need to make sure each segment gets emails specifically tailored to it. The most obvious step to begin with multilingual content is translation, but it isn’t that simple since any language has a multitude of nuances. And these often get lost if you simply translate word by word. 

In the marketing community, there are a lot of notorious examples of translation-related failures. One is an infamous Ford ad campaign in Belgium. Back in the day, the car manufacturer messed up a launch by translating a slogan that had to read as “Every car has a high-quality body” (meaning “car body”) into a sinister phrase meaning “Every car has a high-quality corpse”. 

Another example involves a Swedish electronics company that advertised its vacuum cleaners with an English tagline “Nothing sucks like Electrolux”.

The notorious advertisement from the Electrolux campaign that ran in the UK in the 70s. The slogan in the picture reads “Nothing sucks like Electrolux”.
Source: Elecrolux

Though this particular story has been debunked, these and other similar examples prove that in international marketing, you don’t rely on translation alone — that is, without giving additional context and understanding language and culture specifics — if you want to succeed.  

In email marketing, it works the same way. To hit the mark with audiences abroad, you need to not only translate your copy, but localize all the content you use in your campaigns. That means you have to consider cultural differences and country specifics, paying attention to idioms, slang, wordplay, references, tone, and imagery to avoid coming off as weird, unpersuasive, intrusive, or even offensive.   

Here is an example of a properly localized email by Marc Jacobs Japan promoting the brand’s Heaven collection. The email features an Asian model, and all text except the brand and collection names is in Japanese, which ensures the message and the CTA will get across to the target audience in the country.

A promotional email from Marc Jacobs Japan featuring a photo of an Asian model and text in Japanese
Source: MailCharts

Luckily, you don’t have to craft emails for each localized campaign from scratch. With dynamic email content, you can use templates and automatically replace pieces of content according to the rules you set in your email marketing automation tool. Just make sure the template you choose can be adequately tweaked to fit the target language. 

Also, remember that your email localization localization efforts should extend to all the assets you use in your international campaigns — from landing pages to websites to mobile apps — unless you want to lose potential customers right after they click on your CTA.   

Consider time zones and national calendars

Now that you’ve properly translated and localized your email content, your international campaigns might seem good to go. However, there are a few more details to take care of before you hit “Send”. 

Most importantly, consider the time zones to make sure subscribers abroad receive emails at the most convenient times. While failing to optimize send times does not lead to such serious problems as missing the mark with content localization, it can still cause some unpleasant issues. Deploying campaigns at the same time in New York and in Melbourne, for example, can mean your Australian subscribers will get their emails in the middle of the night, which isn’t the most popular time to read marketing emails. As a result, open rates will drop.

Again, you can leverage email marketing software to determine the best time to send your campaigns. Some professional email services offer send time optimization features that do it automatically based on your subscribers’ activity. But until there is any activity to analyze, you’ll have to think about the time differences yourself. 

Also, don’t forget special occasions since holiday email campaigns can be very effective. But keep it in mind that national calendars differ across regions. There are unique national holidays in each country, and some holidays are celebrated on different dates in different countries. For example, it wouldn’t do to send a Memorial Day campaign to your European customers because they don’t have such a holiday there. Likewise, a Father’s Day email in June will be timely and relevant in the UK but not in New Zealand where the holiday takes place in September.    

Test, analyze, and optimize

Last but not least, remember that marketing is always a work in progress. You cannot simply launch a multilingual email campaign once and wait for a bright future in international sales. What you can do, however, is to use trial and error to find what works best, keep tabs on your performance metrics, and constantly improve your campaigns to get the most out of them. 

To that end, professional software features such as A/B testing and email analytics will come in handy. By testing different variations of your emails, you can determine the version with the best potential without sending the campaign out to the entire customer segment, and improve possible outcomes. This is especially important when you are just starting out in a new market because you yet have to get to know your audience there. 

Using email analytics, you can track crucial metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, number of unsubscribes, and more. This data will help you pinpoint weak spots and areas for improvement. For example, if open rates are good but CTRs are not as impressive, you might have a strong subject line but need to work more on the content of your email. 

And of course, it is essential to take action whenever you feel your multilingual email campaign has veered off course. Be it low CTRs, high unsubscribe rates, or poor feedback from customers, you need to tackle the problems as soon as possible to win your new customers’ trust and loyalty. Also, be sure to track metrics for your other marketing channels as well because email marketing, however important, is just one link in the chain.

Currently, we at Selzy work with four European languages and are planning to add another one soon. In our experience, basic metrics differ noticeably for campaigns in different languages, and tracking these metrics for international audience segments independently helps us analyze and optimize the performance for each one of them. 

To ensure top performance, we segment our international audience by language based on information in the subscribers’ profiles. We also work with professional translators and native-speaker professionals to guarantee that our email content is spot-on in every language. Additionally, we optimize sending times depending on the language and country, and run regular A/B tests to pinpoint the optimal campaign logic, tone of voice, CTAs, and other significant parameters.

Summing up

Multilingual email marketing is a powerful way to access global markets and secure a customer base outside your home locale. If done right, it provides such important benefits as higher open rates, higher conversions, better customer trust and retention and, ultimately, more sales. 

But to unleash the full potential of this email marketing practice, remember that it goes beyond simple content translation to involve audience research, customer base segmentation, localization, and more. To excel at multilingual email marketing, use the following best practices:

  • Get to know your audience in the markets you’re going to expand into. Analyze the competitive environment, run surveys, and employ social listening to gain as many insights as possible. 
  • Divide your customer base into groups based on language, region, or country to offer the most relevant content to customers in each segment. 
  • Don’t rely on translation alone. Carefully localize all your content (and not just texts), taking into consideration such aspects as language nuances, cultural differences, and traditions. To get this part of the process right, consider outsourcing multilingual content to interpreting services or recruiting a localization expert.     
  • Consider different time zones and national calendars to determine the right timing for your campaigns. Also, don’t forget special occasions such as national holidays, commemoration dates, and the like. 
  • Test, analyze and work on improving  your email campaigns to make sure the outcome is as good as it gets. This step is really super important, especially until you get to know your new audiences really well. 

Finally, remember that professional email marketing services are there to help. They can make your experience with multilingual email campaigns much less tedious  thanks to their useful features such as automation, A/B testing, email analytics, and more. Good luck to your business in winning new markets!

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.
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