Until recently, many Australian organisations have ignored two basic, demographic facts: Australia is both an increasingly multi-cultural nation, and a less religious one.
The slow dawning of this reality, as well as our participation in a global marketplace, has handed communicators a multi-faceted opportunity (and problem) at this time of year: How do we spread the Christmas cheer and reap increased sales without excluding or alienating staff, clients or customers?
Early last century, more than 90 per cent of Australians identified as belonging to a Christian religion. At the last census (2011), that figure was down to around 61 per cent, and one-fifth (21%) said they did not identify with any religion at all. What's more, Indigenous Australians were even less likely to identify with a religious institution —one-quarter (24%) recorded no religious affiliation at all.
Since federation, the number of nationalities and religions that are embraced as part of Australian culture has increased significantly — around one-quarter of Australian citizens were born in another country, and the UK now features less predominately in that statistic than ever.
With this in mind, business communicators and marketers need to step in and clarify two simple, but routinely over-looked, issues for their clients and colleagues before launching campaigns of the Christmas variety:
1. What are the real objectives and opportunities of communicating during the Christmas period versus any other time; and
2. Who are we really talking to?
Assumptions about these two questions are no longer possible, particularly the second one.
Make no mistake —the Christmas period is a serious marketing opportunity, even here in this increasingly diverse nation. Tools like Google Correlate chart the fascinating exponential rise and fall in keyword searches for the term "gift ideas" from mid-November to early December, and retail sales alone would tell any brand they would be missing a huge opportunity by not getting into the Christmas spirit.
However, it's about time communicators and marketers led a new conversation about Christmas, and indeed about other major festivals that are relevant to our multicultural society.
By thinking about the culture of giving and how we promote it as part of Australian life at this time of the year, Christmas takes on a cultural significance, not just a religious one. Clearly, this is already the case for many non-practicing followers of all Christian faiths, but to take it to the next level, it requires two things of communications professionals.
First, we must begin to integrate all kinds of cultural celebrations, including Diwali and Chinese New Year, in more communication and marketing plans. We must skilfully communicate the symbolism of celebrating together so that the sharing of customs is a genuine two-way street.
Second, communicators must step up and play a significant role in making other customs known, understood and effectively conveyed inside the microcosms of our organisations. What we don't know already, we must find out.
It is our job as communicators and marketers to understand our markets, our target audiences and our employee populations. If we do that, we will become more successful at integrating all relevant cultural celebrations into our communications planning, and we will more accurately reflect the nation we are today.
If we're smart about it, Christmas can be one opportunity among many to reflect the diverse and successful nation Australia really is, and to the culture of giving that makes it so.
Justine Webse is a writer, and a marketing and content strategist working with IABC Victoria partners, Most Contentious. She has more than 10 years’ experience as an internal communications consultant and has worked with organisations large and small all over the world. To find more about her and read her blog, visit www.justinewebse.com