The language barrier

If you can’t read this post… well chances are you speak another language. Research has shown that over 70% of the world’s internet users are not native English speakers. Although it’s a commonly known language to the majority of those users, the language and tone of voice in which the email is written, influences the decision making process profoundly.

That’s why it’s crucial to localize your email approach. Not just the language and tone of voice of your message, but the content and imagery as well. Always aim at sending your subscribers a message they can easily understand and process. A message they easily ‘get’. That requires a certain amount of tailoring, whilst trying to sell the same product.

Just think about it. The vast cultural, behavioural differences between Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania make a huge difference in your means to sell a product. While some words or images might seem harmless and fitting for Swedes, they could very well offend their neighbours in Finland or Norway.

Take these 7 best practices into account when you’re creating your next ‘international’ campaign.

1. Work with local copywriters/translators
Try working with a native speaker or native translator to get the copy of your newsletter just right. Simply translating your message won’t do the trick. Certain accents, references or expression often get lost in translation.
2. Personalize the right way   
Pay attention to local customs whenever you think about personalizing your messages. Different cultures tend to have different ways of addressing one and other. Using a recipient’s first name is always at your own risk. A more formal way might just be the better option.
3. Segment your database based on language, country and region
For obvious reasons of course. If you haven’t already, segment your subscriber list by language/region/country. You could also suggest your recipients to use a profile update page to adapt their language preferences. That way you offer them a choice.
4. Pay attention to subject lines
In accordance to what we said in the first tip, do think about using different subject lines, and pre-headers. Trial and error is the best to find out what works and what doesn’t. Also be careful with the use of certain words: Win, Love, Limited offer, Free… They might not have the effect you want it to have. Instead use active copy instead of a more passive style of copy.
5. Use images wisely
People around the world don’t look the same. They don’t dress alike, they have different weather conditions, habits, … Do your research before you use images. A misunderstanding could very well be very offensive to certain cultures.
6. When to send
Take a look at time differences in your database. As you are well aware, we don’t all share the same time zone. And timing in email is crucial. Your ESP might offer you solace on this matter.
7. Character encoding
Don’t forget to change the encoding of your email. UTF-8 is the safe choice, but doesn’t always provide the extra security you need. Especially when working with languages with a multitude of special characters like Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) or Hebrew, to name just a few.


We can’t emphasize it enough: keep adapting your messages to your audience, as good as you can. It doesn’t work the other way around. Using native languages will make a difference in your opened and click rates. But it doesn’t really stop there. Take a look at your other channels as well. Email is often a way to divert traffic towards another ‘channel’. If that channel isn’t adapted in a similar way, your efforts might have been in vain. Don’t see it as extra work, but handle it as an extra benefit for your recipients.

Posted on
Dec 30, 2015