Think global but send hyperlocal email communications

  •   October 19, 2019

Brands around the globe face a common challenge: scaling their communication and providing enough engaging content to keep customers coming back. The bigger the brand gets, the more it runs the risk of creating distance – oft-times literal distance – from the customer. Achieving scale is hard and means putting systems in place that can seamlessly deliver the brand’s message uniformly across countries and time zones.

However, when you stop and think about it for a moment, achieving global scale by turning a blind eye toward your local audience neither creates awareness nor delivers an authentic, targeted message. Brands that are tone deaf to people in their own backyard run the risk of a swift and merciless backlash in the marketplace.

Location, Location, Location

There are some ways that brands can become smarter about where their customers are. Knowing, at the very least, the specific geography, if not ZIP code, of a consumer that signs up but doesn’t convert means that you can deliver content geared for that locality which, given the richness and diversity of our cultural landscape, can make the difference between delighting a potential customer or losing them permanently. Here’s why location matters when it comes to email marketing:

  • IP Geolocation: Although problematic, IP Geolocation can be a powerful tool to better localize content and offers. Under GDPR, IP addresses are considered personally identifiable information (PII). Although there’s a legitimate use case for storing the IP address for purposes of anti-abuse/fraud mitigation, geolocating that IP address to localize offers would be a violation. If a marketer obtained consent under CASL – the Canada Anti-Spam Law, one of the strictest laws in the world regulating commercial electronic messages – then geolocating an IP address to improve the localization of offers and content would be permissible. According to U.S. laws, there are no prohibitions for geolocating IP addresses for marketing purposes. As a matter of fact, according to the M3AAWG Best Communication Practices guidelines, storing IP addresses as part of proving opt-in and consent should be a requirement. The important thing to understand is that the IP address could help localize marketing efforts. However, there are limitations based on where the recipient is based. GDPR covers everyone living in the EU and goes well beyond just email marketing.
  • Ask for ZIP code: There’s a delicate balancing act that happens with all opt-in forms – ask for too much information and our diminished attention spans cause us to leave the page because it’s too burdensome to fill out. However, this may be your one opportunity to find out more about your potential new customer. Be bold, ask them to tell you where they live, but don’t make it a requirement if you’re concerned about decreasing the number of sign-ups.
  • Preference centers: Having a good, well thought out and laid out preference center where a subscriber can adjust messaging frequency and cadence, and also express interest by product/brand/service/etc., is a great way of establishing that and locale. Occasionally sending an email asking people to fill out their preference center isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Conversion data: Whether you’re collecting point of sale data or mobile checkout data when you ship something, you at least know something. Use this data as a means of better focusing the content you produce to keep customers coming back. Again, the most significant risk you run is being toned deaf to what’s happening in a given region, state, city or county.
  • Brick and mortar: When people visit your store, marketers can leverage in-store mobile technologies combined with a transactional email to learn where their customers shop and what they are buying. Mobile apps harnessing in-store beacons and promotions have a high bar to access them. Shoppers would need to have the app, agree to receive push notifications and, depending on whether or not the technology is Bluetooth-enabled, possibly share their location. The richness of the data gained from this, however, is second to none and greatly beneficial to a customer’s shopping experience. Any interactions with the app can be followed up with emails reminding shoppers of their in-store experience and purchases to deliver higher levels of value to the customer in both the physical and digital realms.

It’s not just the ‘where’

Localization is much more than just where a customer is located. Localizing content and offers means taking into account local languages, cultural differences and currency. Contextualizing content based on location is only the start of achieving a truly hyperlocal rapport. Localization should include key considerations such as:

  • Time zone: It’s generally understood that most recipients in China check their email using a mobile device, therefore, sending email during the night in China is considered bad practice as it runs the risk of waking people up. In this case, localization includes respecting the Chinese time zone.
  • Currency: Just getting a mobile website and the content of the email “right” isn’t enough to localize and serve a given world market. Most Indians have a hard time making purchases using foreign currencies. Anyone hoping to do business in India should ensure they can accept and process rupees. By not giving people the option to purchase in their local currency, you’re bound to lose a great number of potential customers due to currency and exchange fees alone.
  • Language: It’s not enough to just know where someone lives; it’s critical to know their preferred language for messaging as well. Globalization facilitates a more free and easy flow of people across international borders. Assuming that someone living in a given region based on IP geolocation or identifying region by way of mobile country codes can be massively flawed. If your website comes in multiple languages, that’s certainly great! However, do your email communications extend and complement your multilingual site with a similar experience in the inbox? They definitely should.
  • Extended SMTP: A definition of protocol extensions to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the Internet Engineering Task Force published RFC 6531 to update the SMTP spec to SMTPUTF8, which now includes the internationalization of email addresses. People all over the world can now have an email address in their local language! Although the uptake has been slow, it is now possible to see email addresses in Russian Cyrillic, Japanese Kanji and any number of other foreign characters.

Start small and work your way up

Put simply, localizing content and offers is hard. It requires equal amounts of customer input and technology to achieve a truly local experience for a global brand, or a brand just starting their global expansion. Start by asking your customers what they want and learning what level of information they’re willing to share with you to receive a more personal and culturally sensitive experience. You don’t have to achieve hyperlocal websites per geography on day one. That will not only strain the budget but is certain to be a complete disaster as localization is a true learning process that requires patience, sensitivity and care when it comes to abiding by local laws and customs.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.