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Creating Direct Mail for European Markets

Direct mail marketers in the United States are slowly working their way across the Atlantic to the markets of Europe. When they hit the shores, however, they will find that they will have a new set of rules and standards to contend with.

While many of the successful themes in the United States are proving just as valuable in Europe, U.S. marketers might find themselves overwhelmed with the logistics of mailing in multiple countries and multiple languages under various regulations.

Among the factors to be considered in moving into the European market are: availability, production and postage rates, the language barrier, anticipated response rates and working lists.

Available markets. Because Europeans receive less mail, they are more willing to consider the plea of a nonprofit organization that should arrive in their mailboxes, whereas Americans are much quicker to throw the piece away without so much as opening the envelope. On average, Americans receive 600-800 appeals per year, while Europeans receive fewer than 200.

In Europe it is easier to make a donation, as well. Many European countries have the gyro, an electronic fund transfer system already in place that most Europeans use on a regular basis to pay their bills. It's very easy to make a donation while paying your water or electric bill, and the funds are automatically transferred to the charity along with an electronic copy of the donor's name, address and the amount of the donation.

Production and postage. U.S. agencies are fortunate in having to deal with one set of regulations and one language, whereas multinational mailings may cover several sets of regulations and more than one language or even multiple languages in a single country.

It's easy for a U.S. company both to manage the accounts and oversee production at home. In Europe, however, it's different. Take Creative Direct Marketing International, for example. CDMI's account executives are based in the States, while the CDMI office in the Netherlands manages production. The reason is simple — Europeans will have contacts with local vendors and will be able to travel much easier to vendor locations for press checks and to oversee the vendor's operation. Plus, as each culture has its own unique way of doing things, it's better to have Europeans on the front lines for European production. How many U.S. printers stock European A4 paper?

It's necessary to have a production office in Europe for postage concerns as well. An American lettershop first would have to ship the completed pieces to the foreign post office or pay for this service. It is easier and often cheaper to have the packages produced in Europe to be mailed in any of the countries where CDMI does business — France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom. The pieces arrive in mailboxes more quickly, and CDMI's Netherlands' production department will generally design the package to take advantage of the European price-sensitive weight breaks for postage.

In general, European mailings are more expensive per letter and print runs are shorter. While the United States has a population of close to 280 million people, Germany, Europe's largest market, has 82 million. The higher European postage costs matches the higher cost for some consumer products.

Language barrier. Operating in another set of countries brings up the next challenge — the language barrier. CDMI has offices in the United States and in the Netherlands, but not in the other countries in which it mails. How is copy written and translated into the appropriate language? When you have several smaller markets such as in Europe, you need to hit all available markets to mail in larger quantities. Fortunately, what works in one market generally works in another, even if one of those markets speaks French and the other speaks German. While this is not universally true, CDMI has found that successful American techniques work well in most European countries.

Thus, CDMI can use a copywriter in the U.S. office to write the copy for a package in English. The copy then undergoes an “acculturated translation,” often by direct response copywriters, living in the European countries and a native speaker of the various languages in each country. Then production is done all at once with the printer directed to use a “plate change” to accommodate the different print runs for each different language/country.

Anticipated response rate. Response rates in Europe are higher than in the United States. Response rates to acquisition mailings in Europe tend to be 1 percent to 2 percent higher, with response rates to donor mailings 4 percent to 15 percent higher, but there are fewer pieces mailed in the European market with less competition for both the recipient's attention and purse strings. While European mailings are smaller with higher response rates, the average donation is $10 to $30 in Europe, which makes the venture worthwhile.

Working lists. There are some fundamental differences on the list side of the business as well. In the United States, many nonprofit mailers use 90 percent swaps with other charities, whereas European charities use closer to 50 percent or less. In Germany it is often less than 10 percent. Compiled lists and overlays, which normally don't work for U.S. charities, work well for European mailers. Compiled lists produce response rates of 1.8 percent to 4 percent depending on the use of overlays. The list market can be confusing because of the differences in market sizes and logistics, so working with a list broker based in Europe is often the way to go.

Despite the differences in cost, language and culture, similarities of direct mail are apparent, regardless of what country you're mailing in. Client issues tend to be the same on both sides of the pond, donors tend to respond to the same message and the same appeal, and causes that do well in the United States typically do well in Europe.

The most important thing to remember is that while language and culture may change, allowing people of good will to make an informed decision on what charity deserves their support, will produce positive results for deserving charities, and those they strive to help.

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