Localized e-mails are a key part of an effective customer communications strategy, driving immediate revenue and opening the doors to future branding and sales opportunities. However, you need to be prepared to address critical technical and creative issues as you create your communications strategy.
Many of the same browsers (Explorer, FireFox, Netscape, etc.) and e-mail programs (Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo, Google, etc.) that dominate the U.S. marketplace are also commonly used by the rest of the world. If you are adhering to standard, recommended best practices for e-mail coding, you should be fine in most cases. However it is important to research regional options that exist and determine what share of the marketplace they have in relation to your list for that country. If significant, include that option in your regular quality assurance processes for e-mail deployment.
There is no easy way around consistently rendering ASCII or “special” characters. Cutting and pasting from a program such as Microsoft Word will create ASCII characters, which some e-mail clients will not be able to read, even if the .doc file is exported as HTML. For example, “é” may display incorrectly or not at all so you should use the HTML equivalents instead. The downside to this is production time is likely to increase. One option is to copy and paste content into the design panel of Macromedia Dreamweaver. The application will automatically convert special characters to their HTML equivalents.
It is essential to find a translation provider that is familiar with the language and has a broad understanding of cultural preferences. With the nature of the global workforce, it should be relatively easy to find a copywriter and translator, but most agencies have dedicated partners as well that can help you out.
Be careful to avoid expressions or slang that may not translate well into another language. The worst thing that can happen is you send an e-mail that unintentionally offends the recipient or is unclear.
Aside from the e-mail copy, you should take into account potential cultural differences around images. Be sure to consider whether images of different genders, certain colors, regional holidays or hand gestures might be offensive to a recipient.
Though the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act is generally broad enough to ensure compliance for most countries, you are still responsible for complying with all the laws for each country to which you intend to send e-mail. Be sure to check with your legal resources as well as your e-mail deployment provider to determine the best approach before sending anything.
I deal with multi-language emails and special characters all the time, so here are some more tips:
- If you do a simple copy-paste from Word to Dreamweaver you will get in trouble. Not only with special characters, but even with the ' character. I always choose the "Paste Text" option in the Edit menu to paste text in the Dreamweaver Design view.
- To have Dreamweaver automatically convert special characters to hexidecimal values you need to set the URL encoding to "Encode special characters in URLs using &#" in the Edit > Preferences > Code Rewriting tab.
- It is not enough to find "a translation provider that is familiar with the language", the copywriter has to be a native speaker.
- If you're living in Europe, you'll know that Dutch Dutch and Belgian Dutch (Flemish), German German and Austrian or Swiss German, French French and Belgian French are in fact all different. If you would send Belgian Dutch copy to a Dutch reader from The Netherlands, he will mock you. Believe me, I've been there! The language is the same, but the words that are used to say something are different.
- Never just "translate" email copy from one language to another. You need to "localize" the content.
- ALWAYS have an in-country person that is a native speaker validate the content of the email before you send it out.
- Send out your messages in UTF-8 encoding.
- Make sure your email service provider supports special characters.
- Test, test, test: some errors you won't see until you have sent out test emails to various email accounts. Characters that don't render correctly will show up as a question mark.
Check out also these tips from Ken Takahashi.