When In Rome...Why You Need To Localize Overseas Email

Here is an international issue that has nothing to do with GDPR: How do you localize email content for national audiences?

By “localize” we mostly mean translate. Europe has many languages, as do Asia, the Trans-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. 

But there are other elements, too—like currency measurement units, and naming conventions, according to a study by Smartling, a company specializing in localization.   

The study shows that 55% of all international marketers expect to significantly increase their content localization spend this year. And 39% said it will rise slightly.

Smartling also reveals that 40% are spending at least $500,000 a year on localization. And most seem to be using a mix of services to do it.

For example, 58% have in-house professional translators, according to the study. In addition, 56% apiece use post-edit machine translation, and third-party professional translators. Finally, 51% utilize machine translation.



Now you may dismiss the findings as biased because Smartling is in the translation business. But don’t do it too quickly.

It’s easy to put your foot in your mouth when marketing in other languages, especially when doing versioned email. You can’t rely on Google Translate.

But 98% of the respondents have realized this—they say that they localize content or plan to do so. And 80% say you need to localize when entering new markets.

What kinds of content are they localizing?

Websites are the main channel, specified by 60%. Next is social media, cited by 54%.

Those content formats are followed by digital (53%), video (53%), technical information (51%) and marketing copy (48%). Email copy presumably would be included in the latter.

But there are obstacles. For instance, 37% say localization slows the time to market. And 34% complain that the process is too manual.

Next, 34% assert that localization impact is difficult to measure, and 33% that the process takes up too many internal resources.

As with many things, it sounds like a software solution can help. 

And here’s the killer: 32% say that translation quality is inconsistent or poor.

Overall, localizing email is “a logistical, data and regional issue.," says Ryan Phelan, VP of marketing insights at Adestra Inc., an email service provider with a global presence. 

He adds that “on the logistical challenge, it’s just another piece of content.  It’s possible to exponentially grow your content if you organize it You also have to have multiple people on the quality checks because they need to check the individual language.”

Phelan continues that “the logistical side is clearly the biggest piece as it’s people intensive for both content creation and validation once it’s paired with the data.

On the data side, it’s about “making sure that the right language flags are on the individual record.  Generally, it’s not a problem, but it’s a consistent piece that needs to be normalized and checked.”

Regarding the regional issue, you have to choose “how to narrow your focus,” Phelan says. “In some areas, there are dialect changes from country to country.  Or you can go broader--that generally works. But it’s a choice based on your customer mix.”

Here’s one more thing: Keep your eyes open. Will Conway, CEO of Mailgun, an email platform that does a quarter of its business internationally, says that you have to “make sure somebody can’t capture the essence of your brand into a new language.” 

Sound advice all around. You also need to fine a supplier. 

Smartling, to name only one, translates all types of digital content including email, a spokesperson says. It works with several marketing automation and email service provider tools such as Marketo and HubSpot, Eloqua,  to help translate marketing content like emails and landing pages. 

How are companies measuring the impact of localization?

For 53%, it’s by the number of new customers acquired in global markets. An equal percentage measure the percent of market share 

In addition, 50% look at downloads, 45% by traffic (by country and language), 38% by translation ROI and 38% by visitor conversion. Last, used by 32%, is increase in revenue 

Whatever you do, don’t neglect the nuances. There’s an old story worth telling. McGraw-Hill had a direct mail translation facility in the UK. It could translate English B2B copy into French, Spanish, German and even Arabic.

But there was one problem with the latter: A perfectly translated piece was mailed to businesses in Arab countries. And it tanked. 

Why? The colors were white and pale blue—the national colors of Israel, McGraw-Hill figured out. 

Now you might be skeptical of this. But response recovered when the same piece was redone in mint green. We got that story right from the source. 

For this study, Smartling surveyed 301 marketing decision makers in the U.S., the UK, Germany and France. 

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