Best practices when sending email to an international audience

The world is getting smaller and sending to international subscribers is becoming an important part of many organizations’ email program. No matter where your country of origin is as a marketer, it’s important to do some research about the country you are planning on sending email to in the future. Not understanding local laws as well as customs could put you at risk for legal problems, poor performance, and hurt your brand image. 

In order to help you send to international subscribers successfully, be sure to follow these best practices. 

Language, culture and norms 

  • Understand data collection and privacy laws. There may be strict laws on using opt-in or confirmed opt-in consent, as well as what data you can or cannot capture, and how or where the data is stored.
  • Determine your ability to offer support in different languages. If you send an email in French and the subscriber responds in French, will you be able to take care of that subscriber?
  • Ensure your localization services use native speakers that understand local dialects and the nuances of acceptable marketing communication for either B2C or B2B subscribers.
  • Research local norms and customs. Some content that is perfectly acceptable in your country may be perceived as an insult in another country. For example, a thumbs up gesture is acceptable in the United States but very insulting in the Middle East. This can also help you create better targeted content.
  • Ensure your brand name or product name has meaning when translated. You may need to change your branding or product name so that it can be understood.
  • Research the dates of holidays and popular vacation times for each region. This may help you promote your product or service or avoid costly campaigns sent during a time when people are traditionally not paying attention to their email account. 

Email tips

  • Research content design tips for the region. People in a specific country may prefer more or less information about products within an email. People may also prefer different colors that have special meaning in their culture. For example, Japanese subscribers often prefer to see additional sales points for a product and prefer brighter colors such as red, yellow and green.
  • Use responsive design techniques. Many international subscribers prefer to view email on their mobile device.
  • Be mindful of time zones. Sending an email campaign to a region at 1:00 am in the morning may lead to lower or delayed engagement metrics.  Also, in some countries, people tend to keep mobile notifications active during the night. Receiving an email during the night can lead people to negatively engage and mark emails as spam.
  • Offer language options during sign up. Allow subscribers to select their language preference from the start of the relationship.
  • Optimize your website. If you send emails in German and your landing pages and website are in English, it may lead to some frustration as well as jeopardize the sale with some international subscribers. Also, ensure your landing pages load quickly, especially when keeping a mobile audience in mind.
  • Ask your subscribers what languages are preferred. Send a survey to determine which languages are most important to them.
  • Use appropriate encoding standards. UTF-8 is a standard, but there may be other standards for a specific region.
  • Ensure your email copy is written using the correct characters. Accents and special characters in the wrong place may change the meaning of a word or phrase. Incorrect presentation of the language to the recipient could harm your brand image since, to some people, it may indicate you don’t care enough about their language to do it correctly.
  • Use appropriate emojis and emoticons. Using a specific emoji popular in your country in context with local slang or culture may or may not be understood or could be perceived differently in another country.
  • Research the mailbox providers you are sending to for that region. International mailbox providers may have best practices or sending requirements that you must meet in order to reach the inbox.
  • Taking care of the email weight (size) could make sense according to the average internet connection speed per country. The email loading time can be different according to the country. Focusing on the mobile networks and the percentage of mobile opens per country is also very important.
  • Some countries require to add a prefix to the email subject lines. In China, mass emailings must have the word “Ad” (in Chinese) in their subject line.
  • Test. A/B or multivariate testing should be done whether you send internationally or only send domestically. Because of differences in language, customs and norms, testing becomes an even more important part of your international sending strategy.


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