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Direct Marketing » Tips & Facts | 21.01.2015

Direct mailshots in Europe: be sure to avoid surprises


Direct marketing users are still experiencing unpleasant surprises when it comes to international mailshots. There are no discernible effects and the response rate is far below expectations. The reason? The direct mailshot used successfully in the home market was not adjusted to the target group in the recipient country but simply translated.

Years ago, a French mail-order firm made the painful discovery that the bed linen advertised in Germany simply wasn’t selling. Sales were almost at zero. The reason wasn’t the colour of the fabric, the quality, the price or the creativity of the mailshot. The people in charge of marketing had simply overlooked the fact that common sizes in France aren’t suitable for German beds. This is not an isolated case. It’s usually language, colours and symbols that don’t match the expectations of recipients abroad. The consequence is that direct mailshots are thrown into the wastepaper basket without being read.

"English-language mailshot are a real possibility in the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. In France, this would be tantamount to violating a taboo."

Europe is not a unified whole

Differences are evident from country to country and from region to region. Language, cultural habits and preferences sometimes vary considerably even within a country. For direct marketing, this means that direct mailshots from the domestic market cannot usually be used as they are for new markets abroad.

It all starts with the language. A simple and quick translation isn’t enough. After all, idioms and creative formulations are not familiar in every country and cannot be translated 1:1 in many cases. That is why a native speaker, preferably in the target country, should be employed to adapt the mailshot with a great deal of sensitivity. While a perfect translation into the national language is obligatory in the B2C sector, there are exceptions in the B2B realm. For instance, English-language mailshot packages are a real possibility in the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. In France, this would be tantamount to violating a taboo. The French expect to be wooed in their national language with no errors.  In Poland as well, direct mailshots that are written in correct Polish are essential.

It’s all a question of style

In Austria, style is most important. Titles remain a must in the Alpine land. Potential customers also value being addressed personally and emotionally. The tone is somewhat more casual in Scandinavia. In Sweden, new customers can even be addressed with a simple “Hej” rather than with their first and last names. Everything’s a bit more formal in Italy. In the B2B sector, it’s important to make sure that the form is right here. By contrast, a personal and emotional style is heavily employed in the B2C field.

It’s also rather emotional in the Czech Republic as well. The people there love a bit of humour. Alongside the information content, entertainment value is an essential selling point in this country sandwiched between the Bohemian Forest and giant mountains. Information is also in high demand in Hungary. Direct mailshots written in a rather formal tone have the best chance of success in the land by the Danube.

“When a new market is to be tapped into for the first time, knowledge of culture, language and habits is essential...”

These examples show that it always makes sense to get advice from specialists in the target country. Particularly when a new market is to be tapped into for the first time, knowledge of culture, language and habits is essential. This applies not just to translation but also to the impact of colours and symbols.

Bringing colour into play

Which colours are favoured and how do they go down with recipients? Do the key images and symbols used contravene good taste? Every individual responsible for marketing should ask these questions before adapting a mailshot.

Within Europe, most colours have a similar effect. But there are exceptions and favourites. While red sends out a signal in most countries, standing for strength, danger, fire and love, the colour red symbolises beauty in Russia. Even the words “beautiful” and “red” are strongly related in Russian. Red Square in Moscow is also “Beautiful Square” in reality. The colour orange also has a different effect in some countries. In the Netherlands it is the national colour and therefore very popular. In contrast, orange is connected with religion in Ireland and stands for Protestantism.

Just how the culture and tradition of a country can influence perception is also evident in Scandinavia. In Northern Europe, green is an everyday colour that exists in abundance in nature. On the other hand, in English-speaking countries green is a colour representing money in particular. When adapting a direct mailshot, it is therefore often worthwhile to change the colour for other countries. After all, who wants a mailshot to be thrown away unread just because the colour isn’t right for the recipient.


The careful adaptation of direct mailshots for foreign countries helps to avoid mistakes.

Take note of the following points in particular:

Native speakers achieve the best results. It’s best to have your mailshot translated directly in the target country.

Find out about the impact of the colours used to make sure that your mailshot goes down well with the target group. Even within Europe, colours are interpreted differently.

The meaning of symbols can have a completely different effect abroad to that achieved in the domestic market.