- Liz Whitaker
Delete. Delete. Delete. Bin.
Around about now on the marketing calendar, an annual project pops up where the person whose initials are against it will grimace and gird their loins.
It is the most thankless marketing task of the year. It polarises opinion and everyone feels entitled to express one.
On convenience v impact (page 71 in my book) it scores badly on both. It’s expensive, time-consuming and, on balance, has zero, possibly negative, impact.
This project is … the firmwide Christmas greeting and its cousin, the Happy Holidays missive (miss, I think, being the operative word here).
Paper or e-card, here is the epitome of the commodity communications I talk about avoiding in the book. Commoditised marketing doesn’t work because people are not commodities.
And never is this more obvious than in the Christmas card. Noisy, dehumanising and empty, it meets the needs of none of the people, none of the time. One partner I spoke to summed them up perfectly; “a faff, a fag and pointless.”
If you stopped doing them, it will not make any difference to your incoming work, employer status or reputation. But it will give you back money, time, the sanity of the marketing team and the opportunity to do something better, more meaningful and inclusive.
Still need convincing? I asked a few contacts, all buyers of professional services, for their views on receiving paper and e-cards. Here’s a selection of their responses and I promise you these are genuine.
From an FD who openly practices another religion, the Christmas card says …“I’m not thinking about you and now I’m going to shove it in your face that I’m not thinking about you.”
From the chief counsel of an international business … “Corporate Christmas cards feel like an anachronism. I still get some paper cards, to my utter bemusement. They go straight into the bin as there is (literally) no place for them in a hotdesk environment. The only ones that make it through the cull (and home) are from business contacts that I consider friends and where the card has a personal message / has been designed by their children. And I’ve never understood the point of a corporate e-card. We get far too many emails as it is (year end is our busiest time) and there is nothing warm and fuzzy about them. I don’t actually notice which firms do and don’t send them out. That’s how much they resonate!"
Another who disapproves of mixing religion with business had simply this to say … “Delete. Delete. Delete. Bin.”
The gigawatt spotlight Christmas not only disrespects the significance of other religions, and undermines the work collectively done on improving diversity and inclusion, but also threatens to strike quite the wrong chord with committed Christians: it reduces something profound in their lives to a marketing mailshot.
Using the principles in the Power of Personal – How to Connect, Convince and Create Exceptional Client Relationships gives you the way out. And, this is the best bit, if done for the right reasons, it will give you a new way of approaching religious festivals that will be appreciated and remembered. At its heart are the principles of being thoughtful, not thoughtless, covered extensively in the book’s final chapter.
Please note this is not intended to be flippant or offensive, it’s intended to help you deliver a more authentic and individual experience that is everything the power of personal stands for.
The time is now
What’s happening in the world that might drive our views about the Christmas greeting? Lots. But this alone is surely enough? As I draft this post, the Amazon rain forest is on fire, Greenland is melting, the Great Barrier Reef is beyond help and a 16-year old girl with 1,360,626 Twitter followers is addressing world leaders on climate change. It’s safe to say that things have changed.
We don’t have to do the old things any more.
We shouldn’t be doing the old things any more.
Much to celebrate, learn and draw strength from
And the lovely fact is, in these challenging times, there is much to celebrate, learn and draw strength from in all religions. Across the world, the main religion is still Christianity (33%), followed by Islam (24.1%) non-religion (16% - which proves my point about the irrelevance of the Christmas card even more), Hinduism at 15%, Buddhism (7%) and Taoists/Confucionists/Chinese traditional (5.5%)
The power of personal
Religion is an intensely private matter. If you were to think about your priority clients and contacts, for most of you I can guarantee that it would be rare for you to think of someone who you know to be profoundly faithful to one religion or another. So ..
o If someone is profoundly Christian – you know they are regular churchgoers for example – and they have made this known to you*, then please do send them a Christian Christmas card. A proper card, handwritten with thought and a personal greeting from someone in the business who shares those Christian values (see the importance of right messenger in book).
o If people have made another religion known to you*, and there is a very fine line to be drawn here, then at the very least, factor that in to your working relationship and acknowledge that on their significant days. There’s no need to go overboard. It’s just about being quietly thoughtful.
Do you now see how sending a bulk standard Christmas, Happy Holiday card to any of these people is so very thoughtless.
For everyone else, yes everyone else, Use your website and LinkedIn corporate page to highlight and acknowledge key religious feast days celebrated all over the world. What’s not to like about;
o Diwali which symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance (now there’s something we’d all like a bit more of).
o Rosh Hashanah, a time of renewal of ourselves and of the year. On this note, I’m inspired by the work of Syndey Mintz, a San Francisco rabbi and a voice for Tech Shabbat, a break from tech, 25 hours without a screen.
o Ramadan, which teaches self-discipline and control and empathy for those less fortunate to encourage generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
All of these values are also written large in the Christian Bible.
There are plenty more.
· Internally, if colleagues and employees are openly celebrating their religious days, acknowledge that.
· Donate all the that time and money spent on the Christmas greeting to doing something more meaningful like helping with charities that support people who are especially vulnerable at Christmas – homeless and mental health charities spring to mind. Or actively support organisations which embody the principles shared by all religions, such as kindness and generosity.
· Or, you could go big on something that unites us all – see International Peace Day on 21 September. https://www.un.org/en/events/peaceday/
Make 2019 the year that the marketing/branding-mailshot-disguised-as-a-Christmas Card/Happy-Holiday-greeting is consigned to the past life of professional services alongside fixed desks, the typing pool and women not allowed to wear trousers.
*We’re hot on GDPR for users of Propella. Religious views fall into the category of sensitive information and it would be unwise to record this anywhere unless you have consent. To be honest, for key people, this is something you should just know – it doesn’t need to be written down.
Christmas and how to handle other cultural and religious observances is featured in Making the Impersonal, Personal - The A to Z Guide to Using Propella across the Marketing Mix available to Gold and Silver software clients.
With thanks to Clare Rodway, Mark Greenburgh and Maeve Jackson for advice and guidance on this post. And thank-you to the anonymous contributors.