Going global

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When Ogilvy Interactive set out to take IBM Corp.'s e-mail marketing strategy international, it knew it would need to make some adjustments to both messaging and design. It also would need to check in with local ISPs, which can impede delivery rates.

"Deliverability [as a concept] is fairly new to Europe and Asia-Pacific," said Eric Wheeler, CEO-North America of NEO@Ogilvy Interactive, the digital media unit of agency Ogilvy Interactive. "Marketers going into these places need to understand where they are, how to integrate into that region and what kind of technology they need."

Wheeler knew what some marketers are just finding out: Just because it's a global economy doesn't mean companies can sell to audiences in different parts of the world using the same techniques, words or strategies. What works with one audience may not work with another, even in the same continent or country.

What is hilarious to one audience may seem tacky or rude to those who speak a different language, which is why Lisa Campbell, director of client marketing for Creative Digital Group, an interactive marketing agency, said she makes sure her clients stay away from humor in their international messaging and keep copy crisp, clear and concise.

"What we find funny, they might not find funny," she said. "Even people who are British and speak our language don't find the same things funny."

Plus, translation can be very tricky; it's not enough to hand a campaign to a translator and hope for the best. It's very important to make sure your message has localized-not just translated-content, said Michael Beavers, director of strategy at interactive agency IQ Interactive.

Consider the target market

"If you're sending a message out in German, the translation is going to be different for German-speaking Austrians versus what people get in Germany," Beavers said. "You don't want a college German professor who speaks perfect German but is actually American doing this work. You want to send it out [for translation] to someone who lives in your target market."

Another thing some marketers forget, Beavers said, is that localization shouldn't end in the in-box. Landing pages are just as important, he added. URLs should point to local Web sites whenever possible, and content should be available in a person's native language. It's also smart to provide a link within each message or on each landing page that points to an alternate language, so if your message goes out in French but reaches an Irish native, he or she can click through to the English version.

Language characters can also present challenges; for instance, anyone who speaks a language that uses characters outside the Roman alphabet-Arabic, for example, or Chinese-may have issues with rendering if layout isn't adjusted for two-byte versus one-byte characters. This means your message may end up looking like gibberish. Layout also comes into play when recipients read from right to left rather than left to right and up from the bottom of a page rather than down, said Per Caroe, senior sales representative at EmailLabs.

"You can't just place images where you, as a Roman reader, feel comfortable," Caroe said. "The best thing to do is take the American versions and tweak them, moving images from the upper right to the lower left to see what kind of response you get."

NEO@Ogilvy goes one step further, doing precampaign heat mapping, which tracks the way readers' eyes move when they look at an e-mail and helps the agency analyze how different readers scan a newsletter or landing page. Once marketers know how recipients want to read their messaging, they can design e-mail around those preferences.

Marketers also run into rendering issues with the Alt tags they use in HTML messages. Alt tags are HTML code that enable text to render instead of images if a person's e-mail software or won't support images or HTML. If the marketer doesn't remember to translate the text associated with images or HTML content, readers may be left wondering what they've received and simply delete it.

The target country's privacy legislation is another big issue for any international marketer. The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act seems much less stringent than overseas policies-even lenient, said J.F. Sullivan, VP-marketing at Habeas. "Privacy laws are draconian in Scandinavia and become more lax as you move into the Mediterranean," he said. "How and what control the end recipient has is different from place to place."

Indeed, some countries require marketers to place the removal feature in the hands of the person who opts in, meaning the marketer must give recipients direct access to the database. This brings up another set of privacy issues, creating a vicious circle.

Today, there's no quick fix for this problem. Marketers need to do the research for every country to which they are e-mailing, or pay someone to do it for them. In fact, using an outsourced local agency may help not only with compliance but also with deliverability because some countries' residents distrust anything that seems foreign, said Shar VanBoskirk, senior analyst at research firm Forrester Research.

"You have to think about what your goals are, who the customer is and how you can create relevance," she said. "Sometimes, you're not the best person to do that because you don't know enough about the region, so you might want to work with an agency that has experience in a country or area."

Finally, if you're sending out transactional e-mails, or e-mails that have e-commerce links within them, keep in mind that currency exchange should be a serious consideration. Don't include pricing in an e-mail unless you're willing to take a loss. Today's currency rates may be higher or lower tomorrow, which will affect your offer. There is a better strategy, Caroe said.

"There are tools that input daily conversion rates into your copy, which can be placed on a landing page," he said. "I'd caution against putting them into an e-mail because they can affect your spam score. Forms embedded in an e-mail can create points against you."

While all of these issues and considerations may make international e-mail marketing seem less appealing, take note: NEO@Ogilvy followed these guidelines, among others, when planning IBM's new e-mail campaign and had great success, said Jeanniey Mullen, the company's senior partner-senior director of e-mail marketing.

"We've been able to demonstrate double the deliverability rate that we originally had outside the U.S.," she said. Still, she said, sometimes e-mail marketing just doesn't make sense outside the U.S. unless your e-mail is a simple introduction before an in-person, live sales call.

"For b-to-b marketers, their prospect pool is much smaller to begin with," she said. "When you get into a smaller market-like Belgium, for example-where there are only a handful of companies that are interested in your product anyway, e-mail isn't going to be an effective lead generator."

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