My Swedish Career

‘Tech-savvy Swedes still love postcards’

'Tech-savvy Swedes still love postcards'
Marketing manager Erika Garcia walks The Local through her professional transition from Mexico to Sweden, and what she learned about machismo, long-term plans, and the unusual clout of snail mail in Sweden's high-tech society.

While Garcia worked for a Swedish engineering company back home in Mexico, the office fell under the US headquarters, which meant she had little contact with Swedish business culture. Come December, however, there would be a steady trickle of visitors from Stockholm.

“The Swedes would come and check out the factory between December and February, but it wasn’t obvious to me what they were conveniently escaping from until I moved to Sweden myself and experienced the winter here,” Garcia says.

She transferred over four years ago, only to discover the real adjustment turned out to be the climate in the office rather than the one outdoors.

“As a girl in Mexico, you don’t have a say. In Sweden, people, including your boss, ask you what you think,” she says. “It was frankly shocking at first.”

The dial-down of machismo meant Garcia could present ideas as her own – “Rather than somehow convince your boss in Mexico that the ideas you wanted to implement where his in order for him to back them.”

“I grew up a lot as a professional – it is very empowering,” added Garcia, who nonetheless would soon leave the engineering company behind for reasons of professional development. The top management consisted of middle-aged men, only middle-aged men.

“There is only so much you can grow in a certain position, then you have to switch, it was very obvious very quickly that the next-level position was only going to be given to a man of a certain age,” she says. “I realized that if I wanted to continue growing I couldn’t wait until they changed their minds, I had to change companies.”

The answer was the Swedish office of software company HansaWorld, where the women to men ratio at management level was the reverse, at about 2:1.

Another cultural difference that Garcia had to grapple with that a certain gung-ho, let’s-go, attitude doesn’t fly in Sweden.

“People plan, they have meetings, they ask for feedback, they schedule another meeting, they plan,” Garcia explains. “It’s a lot of planning and less execution, so I had to learn that if I wanted to run a marketing campaign in February, I needed to start planning in September.”

In Mexico, plans were quickly made and quickly tried, with fine-tuning along the way.

“In Sweden, patience is hugely important, otherwise you’re screwed if you want to get something done,” says Garcia, who after back-dating her own planning calender to fit the new flow, had to adjust her marketing experience to a tech-saturated and savvy market. To her amazement, snail mail turned out to be an effective campaign tactic in Sweden.

“In Mexico, I think people still get excited to get an email. Swedes just get annoyed and delete it without opening it, but a postcard is harder to ignore,” Garcia says.

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She rates the call-back rate on snail mail at about five percent, whereas email campaigns have a hit rate of two percent. In Mexico, snail mail would be totally ineffective, she believes, while emails still garner about a five-percent response rate, depending on the target audience.

Marketing fatigue, however, plagues the Swedish consumers, as it does in many other countries, which means Garcia’s challenge is to keep a certain brand presence alive but also engage with bloggers who know their stuff.

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“Layout is less important than it was, unless you have an absolutely stunning campaign. That’s why we reach out to gurus of our industry, people need to be convinced that it is an interesting product,” says Garcia, who is currently promoting an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) app that runs on the hardware’s native system.

“Because it is unique we are trying to ask people to have a look, not only talk but give us feedback – this works so much better than any other type of advertising,” she explains. “Customers will not directly believe what companies say about themselves.”

More traditional forms of advertising, whether they be printed ads or reps showing up at trade fairs, have shifted more to brand maintenance than pulling in revenue.

“It depends on the market. South Africans and the Finns still believe in exhibitions, so you do it to respect their business practice,” Garcia says. “But in the US, the UK and in Sweden, you show up just to make a point that you are still there, you are still alive.”

Ann Törnkvist

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