Christmas Card Climax
As Christmas approaches, many of us are torn between what is expected of us and what we really want. You see, we can’t walk around being self centred and egotistical, especially at Christmas where, certainly in the Europe, it is definetly seen to be a time of goodwill, compassion, giving and understanding. I like to think that I am all of those things for much of the year and yet I often struggle to do right by everyone at this time of year, and let’s face it, at Christmas, for many of us it involves having a wide range of generations to accommodate from the excited toddlers to the rather less than excited older members of the family.
Today though, specifically, I want to talk about the Christmas card tradition. Hands up – like last year and the year before I have yet to write any and quite frankly, the chances of writing them is dangerously close to zero, I would rather write to you. So why is that? Well you guys get me.
You see writing and receiving Christmas cards is a big thing in the UK, here in Germany, they are more like an unnecessary waste of time and money – and because climate change is on the lips of many and in the media, it conveniently presents a fabulous excuse, hence relieving us of the chore – in a politically correct way – of writing cards. Christmas cards therefore present a cultural mismatch for me personally.
You see, I am the kind of person that actually really enjoys writing a nice letter or card, (any excuse to get out my favourite ink pen and choosing the right colour ink – green for Christmas as a rule) or sending something little in the post, to let people know that I am thinking about them. I am a spontaneous kind of person that likes to show their appreciation for other people, so putting pen to paper to find the right words to make my point is something that I really love doing. The problem with Christmas cards is that it is monotonous. If you are to write a hundred cards, then clearly there is not the time to write something nice in each one – for me that is where I glaze over and start looking for excuses.
You see if I just write a couple of lines, the typical ones :
Happy Holidays (for the non Christians)
Happy Christmas (for believers)
Merry Christmas (for the drinkers)
Einen Guten Rutsch (for the Germans – even though there is no slide in sight)
Well, that’s pretty lame isn’t it – is it really worth the effort?
But what is the alternative? Either you are the ogre that doesn’t return Christmas cards – people really don’t care if you are disorganised or rude, the outcome is the same.
You see, being a Brit, you are raised to join in the ‘fun’ by signing your name on the cards, lots of cards. Every year the pile gets bigger and more intimidating. Those cards will monopolise the dining table with the obvious lack of dinner until it is done – hardly optional. As a child when I had just learned to sign my name, I remember finding this really quite exciting – the look on my Dad’s face should have told me that the novelty would soon wear off but being a bundle of positivity I sat down and painstakingly went through the mountain of cards. One “Lots of love, Corinne” at a time. It took forever.
This tradition is steeply entrenched in British families and businesses. The trick is to put on Christmas music and make sure that there are plenty of compliments about lovely handwriting and motivational sweets and treats (which are being devoured due to a lack of real food)
Years later, once my Dad and I had resigned ourselves to the fact that the Christmas cards had to be written, I started working and that is when the Christmas Card Crime Scene continued. You see in a culture where Christmas cards are a clear indication of who is important to who, the logistics of getting the right signatures on the right cards, in London where meeting rooms are like gold dust to find, is just short of a miracle. As a marketing manager I had to co-ordinate a card signing system and rota that was run like a military operation – putting everybody in the departrment under pressure to find time between department lunches, client lunches, after work drinks, end of year tasks, claiming expenses and much more, to sign cards to clients. Suddenly it was I who was the wicked witch, chasing up partners and managers to sign their cards. Excuses? I’ve heard them all.
So why do companies send out Christmas cards anyway?
Is there a hidden agenda?
What justifies the cost and time investment in getting them out?
Trust me, I have been asked this dozens of times by the last minute scribblers – no compliments required
Well there are a couple of reasons why we send Christmas cards:
* Firstly, companies want to let their customers know that they are appreciated. The best customers of course are likely to get a bottle of wine, champagne or something else too, a small gift marks you as a special, popular or VIP customer.
* Secondly, it’s an easy way to get on your client’s radar – top of mind and all that. So in this instance the card might for example not get hung up with those from their nearest and dearest but it makes them think about your organisation and at the end of the year when there is still a little bit of training budget left for example, you might be inspired to call to book that seminar after all – in a desperate last minute commitment to justify needing all of that training budget.
* Thirdly, it makes you appear professional and reputable. It’s a bit like a big player not being at the industry’s biggest exhibitions or conferences, it secures your positioning if you like.
* Another goal is to win back former customers. So in my case I have clients that have worked with me before for a specific event or speech, or a job interview in English and a Christmas card might inspire them to get back in touch for this year’s new gig that they have been asked to speak at for example. It might have been something that they have been meaning to do for a while, but – you know how it is, people are busy. A christmas card is like a nudge in the post.
* Finally, In the US, some companies use a Christmas card/letter to make an offer to their customers or a Christmas discount. (Personally I find this a little bit warped but I’m British, we believe in understatement and not wishing people a wonderful Christmas on the one hand with a hug and pickpocketing them with the other). Black Friday has thankfully replaced this.
So what are the Christmas card trends then?
When designing a card, companies increasingly make sure that instead of going with an ordinary (or bog standard) Christmas motif, they prefer to stand out somehow. This is a positioning exercise, right? So motivational or funny sayings on a card with a Christmassy design are quite popular. These can be a bit cheesy, but they get some attention – other companies try to come up with something thought provoking or cool to make them look smart. It is worth making an effort with the design and particularly the quality of the card, because those with the most popular designs will be hung up in the office. The dull standard ones just land in the trash bin I’m afraid to tell you.
Having your Christmas card on display makes you front of mind, not only for the person that received the card but also for any colleagues or clients, going into their office. As they look around the office waiting for you to finish a call they might well see the Christmas card. Repetition has an impact so seeing the card every day until the new year is certainly an approach worth considering.
The success of your card rests in your ability to personalise the card. You really should use your client’s name in the card so that the recipient feels personally addressed, a short sentence specific to that person singles you out.
When to send them?
Christmas cards are usually sent out shortly before Christmas Eve, here in Germany but in the UK, the first cards go out right at the beginning of December. The advantage of sending them early is that you have a better chance of getting all of the signatures on the right cards for the right clients.
The last minute workaround
Thankfully, to make it easier for people like me to send Christmas cards at the last minute without having to brave a visit to the post office, there are now digital tools available. My go to solution is Touchnote. The addresses of my family and friends, but also some of my clients are all stored in there, making the process faster and easier. These Christmas greetings are written online in an app – dead easy, but what I love about it is, that my card still arrives with good old snail mail – a real Christmas card in your postbox – not an ecard in your inbox.
I tend to design my own personal Christmas card each year – using an app like Canva, PicMonkey or WordSwag on my phone and send the same card to all of your customers. The nice thing is that you can change the message slightly, making it more personal and more interesting to write. By paying for an upgrade you can even have the lettering look like handwriting, I think that is a nice touch! Once you have sent to an address once it is added to your address book there, making it even easier to send them a card next time. This is not an option for high volume senders but for someone like me that just sends a handful of cards, each card costs you less than €2, which includes the postage. It’s quick, easy and once you have designed the text and graphic, you can make yourself a list and work though the list with a glass of Glühwein. (Some parts of the Christmas card writing tradition are hard to go without). Before Touchnote, I used to feel mega guilty by this time of the year, but now I feel in control, it’s my saving grace. And no there is no affiliate link or anything but you never know they might offer to sponsor my podcast 😉
Black Brtish Sense of Humour Origins
It might not surprise you to know that the warped, black sense of humour that the Brits are known for also marked the start of sending Christmas cards, I’ll link to the full article about this below but did you know that the first cards sent in the Victorian era in Britain seemed pleasant enough from the message themselves
“May yours be a joyful Christmas,” (very old fashioned English by the way, you will sound old if you use this or snobby)
but they were often included with an illustration of a dead robin. Charming!
We have a lot of carol singers in the lead up to Christmas and so another card shows an older couple – no doubt exhausted from the bad singing – laughing hysterically as they lean out an upstairs window to dump water onto a group of unsuspecting carol singers below. “Wishing you a jolly Christmas,” it says beneath the image.
So that is all for today, I hope that you enjoyed this short blog, now excuse me, I have some Christmas cards to write…
Have a fabulous Christmas and I’ll see you in 2020.
Lots of love,