HomeBlog Contacting the Continent: Personalizing European Communication

Contacting the Continent: Personalizing European Communication

January 14, 2014 | By Julian Archer

Many U.S.-based marketers are surprised when they learn the different nuances of addressing people in certain regions, especially continental European-based contacts. Marketers must take steps to recognize regional differences and give local teams the opportunity to help build out the data by ensuring that available fields are in place. Maintaining an internationally viable contact database requires great consideration and groundwork.

Many U.S.-based marketers are surprised when they learn that they must use last names when addressing people in certain regions, especially continental European-based contacts. In the U.S., and in recent times, the U.K., contacts are used to being addressed informally, by their first name. This is not as common on the continent, where it is usual to address people by their surname; hence, each language’s version of “Mr.” and “Mrs.” is required.

For example, I regularly receive emails from market-leading social community networking sites from German-speaking countries. These sites address modern companies with a modern target audience. The subject line always reads (in German) something like “Your personal newsletter,” etc. The “Your” is written in the polite form “Ihr” as opposed to the more personal friend/family form “Deiner.” I am addressed as “Lieber Herr Archer.” True, the Lieber is a less formal version of “Dear” than “Sehr Geehrter,” but I am still referred to by my last name, and as the mail uses “Herr,” they know my gender.

Each country has its own peculiarities. Here are three examples that illustrate why companies must build flexibility into their databases:

  • In German-speaking countries, you may see the word “Doktor” in someone’s name. This is because the title becomes part of that person’s name – thus, if a person is awarded a Ph.D. – he or she actually becomes known as “Herr Doktor (First Name) (Last Name).”
  • In The Netherlands and Belgium, many people have a “Tussenvoegsel.” This is not a middle name or first name but something in between, for example, Edwin van der Saar. This has significant consequences for database building and email communication, because if the full name is written, the “tussenvoegsel” is written as “van der,” but if addressed only by the surname, it becomes “M. Van der Saar” (note the capital “V”).
  • Even though people speak the same language in the Netherlands and part of Belgium, you cannot address the Belgian/Flemish people in the same informal way as you would address the Dutch.
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    In a previous blog, I discussed email communication within Europe, including the strict opt-in laws and, in the case of Germany, confirmed opt-in email laws. All companies doing business in Europe must take steps to build opt-in email lists, as nearly all national laws require that companies operate with an opt-in policy. When building the opt-in list, companies can take steps to create the relevant data capture fields (e.g. gender, first name, last name, preferred language) so this data can be captured and stored as a result of the opt-in process.

    Maintaining an internationally viable contact database requires great consideration and groundwork. Beyond what are typically considered standard fields, companies need to identify information that is required to improve the personalization of emails, for example:

    • Gender – to ensure that individuals (especially those with unisex names) are addressed correctly
    • Preferred language – an American living in Germany may prefer to receive communications in English
    • Title – for example, Mr., Mrs. and Doctor, in various languages
    • Actual job title – for example, a German might be a CEO/managing director in English but might be called by the German equivalent, Geschäftsführer
    • Your company title – a label used by your organization to encompass a variety of similar titles in various regions/languages. For example, use “CEO” to represent company leaders, regardless of their actual job title. This should indicate what this title represents inside your company and is a common field when pulling lists for marketing activity.
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      Communicating to your market is too important not to get right. Naturally, misrepresenting a person’s gender is not a crime, but doing so can leave your company open to criticism and the potential loss of an opportunity to build an important relationship. Our benchmark studies show that a 75 percent data accuracy figure is nearing best-in-class. So will all records be accurate at all times? Of course not. But marketers must take steps to recognize regional differences and give local teams the opportunity to help build out the data by ensuring that available fields are in place.

      Julian Archer

      Julian Archer is a Senior Research Director of Marketing Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. He has more than 25 years of international b-to-b demand creation experience within corporate and pan-European field functions. Follow Julian on Twitter @julianarcher

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