If your email marketing is spread over multiple countries, it is best to respect the local differences – and that requires more than just consideration of the varying email laws. My last post, Email Marketing from Your International Kitchen, explored customer email behavior and local and global preferences. But the question remains: How can we localize our email campaigns? Translation alone isn’t enough, as we will soon see.

Speak Their Language

It might seem pretty logical to speak the same language as your recipients; if you tried to communicate in a foreign language, they would not understand. But that is not only literally true when talking about personalized messaging, it can also be taken figuratively: When marketing in multiple countries, translate your messages to the local flavor, even in cases where, for instance, English is widely spoken in the recipients’ country.

Countries that speak the same language have their differences. Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium. English is spoken in the UK and the USA. But they have different ways of talking, saluting and conversing. For instance, a flashlight is called a torch in the United Kingdom and sneakers are called trainers.

Translation alone can bring a great uplift in opens, click-throughs and response rates. The best tip in translating is to always use local translators. Native speakers have a feel for the language and can easily spot if something is even the slightest bit off. If possible, try to find a translator that is in your own time-zone, as working with overseas teams can be much more difficult.

Translation might be a first step, but it isn’t enough to customize an email for international audiences. Localizing an email campaign often involves making adjustments to the campaign’s tone, imagery, offer and other elements to reflect cultural differences.


In general it’s not the best idea to use images that look too much like stock images. (You can use stock images, they just shouldn’t look like stock images.) It shows disinterest and people are trained to regard them as less interesting. It is better to use images that look “real and close.” When there are people in the visuals they should fit with the recipient’s surroundings.

While it is easy to spot the major differences between, for example, US, Arabian countries and China, subtle differences between countries can make it seem as if there is something strange about an image. Ethnic differences, but also brands, locations, tone and clothing styles can easily give away the fact that an image isn’t local. Non-local images may not always directly impact conversion, but be sure to test it.

Also be very careful when referencing the images as being local. Images of call center employees can give a totally wrong impression when not localized, as do images of account managers, shops and pictures that accompany local news.

Local Holidays

Different regions have different holidays, so make sure you have your holiday calendars up to date. Holiday timing can make a huge difference in email marketing success, both in B2B as in B2C marketing. School and national holidays imply that the recipients are breaking their normal email reading habits. And though they might check their emails while on vacation, more often via their phone, they might not (be able to) act on it or buy your products. So be sure to time your messages accordingly.

The Hook

A hook is a piece of communication where you ride the wave of top-of-the-mind events. It might be a great idea to do a Superbowl special or a Thanksgiving sale, but across the border there are people that don’t even know what those events mean. They don’t celebrate Christmas, or do it in a whole different manner. And they don’t have American football teams, let alone the desire to respond to such a hook. On the other hand, there is a multitude of national events that are in their thoughts. If you are crafting your hook, make an alternative version for your international audience.

Offers and Marketing Approach

Offers can be painfully off when targeting other countries. Take a good look at the variations in local statistics and conversion rates. Examples of segmenting your approach can be illustrated as follows:

  • The US and UK public is used to a much more aggressive style of campaigning and offers. For the rest of Europe, these messages would be too blunt and might not work at all. While you can still include offers, your messaging needs to be adjusted to a less sales oriented style.
  • In countries with strong religious traditions, sexual or explicit imagery is best avoided.
  • Nationalism and patriotism are often used in American marketing, but aren’t appreciated at all in other countries like Germany or Canada. A nationalistic approach there, possibly even with flags, wouldn’t strike a chord.

Final Prelaunch Check

Try to get a hold of a local representative to advise and tune your messages to the local customs and preferences. Even when not involving them in production, it is always good to send the message for a last prelaunch localization check.

Next time I’ll share some tips on planning for international campaigns and creating an international email marketing calendar.