- 17. December 2018 - Corporate communication
Were your business holiday cards a hit or a flop this year? A cross-cultural approach is key!
As the new year begins, it’s a great time to contemplate the things that we did well last year, while also identifying what we could have done better. Most of us spent a good amount of time sending out (and reading) business holiday cards last month. Sending out corporate holiday cards is a wonderful opportunity to remind your clients and partners that you’re still available. That said, we’re sure we’re not alone when we say some of the cards we received sadly didn’t make the best impression they could have. Many were riddled with errors, with one even going so as far as the sender misspelling their company name. It’s such a pity when so much time, money and effort is wasted over one little mistake that can have such a huge impact.
Even if you proofread your text to perfection, communication faux pas can still happen in international workplaces. Not just during the holidays, but all-year round. Switzerland alone is home to around 2 million foreigners. Cultural mishaps can happen to anyone. If you don’t believe us, just ask Cadillac, which made a commercial about the ever-so-coveted American Dream, but accidentally ended up offending the rest of the world, the French in particular. The ad was so hated that Ford used the momentum to create a rebuttal of the message in Cadillac’s ad, and their version is phenomenal.
We’ve drawn up a shortlist of what you can do to ensure your company is seen in the best possible light during the next holiday season:
1) Business Christmas cards that are culturally inclusive are great, but proactively accommodate the rest of the year too!
What’s key is making sure you’re being culturally appropriate all-year round, not just during the holiday season. If you take the time to familiarise yourself with cultural traditions outside of your work, your international team will thank you for it.
It is also important to always be sensitive to your international team’s boundaries and expectations, especially when your team is composed of individuals used to completely different customs. A specific activity you may be comfortable with and enjoy may actually be in conflict with the personal values of one of your team members. For example, socialising with team members from Asia, especially when you’re in their country, is widely associated with what Westerners commonly perceive as two grave risks: karaoke singing and strong rice liquor.
There are also little things we can do in the workplace that can go far in making our colleagues feel accepted and appreciated. One of them is taking the time to pronounce our foreign colleagues’ names correctly.
2) Remain secular in tone: Use “Happy Holidays” instead of the more traditional Christmas wishes.
Don’t assume that just because your country is largely Christian everyone in your company celebrates Christmas. This was probably never the case anyway as most countries have at least some religious minorities.
One seemingly harmless ad by Nike, a company long known for its culturally embracing adverts, was banned by China for offending their gods. Religion is a sensitive topic.
In one clean sweep, Nike offended the Chinese, their 4000+ years of cultural history and their religion with this single ad. Nike’s thousands of Chinese employees couldn’t have been at all happy.
Unlike Nike, Samsung showed itself to be very much in tune with its diverse user audience when it created last year’s holiday video, a touching advert that shows us how important it is to think of everyone when we extend our holiday wishes.
Rest assured, it’s unlikely anyone at work will judge you for being too secular with your approach to the holidays. The reverse does not hold true.
3) Corporate cards: Make it a bit personal.
Every year, Apple dazzles us with their capacity to generate emotionally resonating content, while also addressing the core of their key demographics. Apple’s holiday ad last year not only adeptly used the brand’s tone to convey a beautiful message, but also remained imperceptibly culturally neutral, not including even a whisper of Christmas, Hanukkah or otherwise.
Remember your company’s core values. Simply taking the time to write out an anecdote illustrating what you’ve been grateful for over the past year can have a tremendous personal impact in your holiday greeting card.
4) Know your audience: Be aware of your recipients’ backgrounds as much as you can.
You may think the words "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" are boring and generic. But for someone who celebrates the holidays secularly, “Merry Christmas” may not resonate with them and may even put them off. You don’t want to seem antiquated.
Also keep in mind that what you may find hilarious may actually offend someone from a different background. A great example of this backlash was the card sent out by the CEO of JP Morgan back in 2013 of him and his family basically destroying their home by playing tennis inside their opulent living room. Many people complained it reeked of rich entitlement, which did not resonate with the recipients of the card.
While humour can work wonders in creating a personal bond between two people, choosing one card that will make everyone happy is serious business. This is probably not the best time to be making jokes, even if they do seem cute and harmless.
5) Quality control: You cannot edit a card once it’s been sent out, so quadruple everything for tone, spelling, grammar and cultural fit.
As you can see, good holiday cards are more work than you would think! We know that buying gifts and cards is a lot more fun than proofreading. Mistakes do happen. If they happened to Asos when they printed 17,000 bags with a blatant spelling mistake (“onilne” instead of “online”), they can happen to you.
Of course, the safest way to make sure your card is mistake-free is to have a professional linguist look at it, which also lets your employees focus on their own jobs. If you require our help in the matter, we’re happy to offer you the following services:
We wish you the best of luck next time you’ll be sending out your greeting cards. And above all, we hope you enjoyed your holidays! Now back to work :-)