Effective Persuasion of International Business Sales Letters: An Emic-Etic Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract:

* Language usage has attracted increasing research attention in international business studies. Yet scarce research has been done on the use of language in sales letters across cultures.

* Our paper, using a combined etic-emic approach aims to compare Chinese and New Zealand managers" reflective accounts of persuasive strategies and the function of sales letters used in these two countries. In particular, we seek to contribute to an improved in-depth cross-cultural understanding through an investigation using emic sources of language and persuasion.

* Our findings indicate that language and persuasion play a significant role in sales letters, the Chinese managers focusing more on building qing (positive affect) with the reader whereas the NZ managers sought a more immediate reaction to their sales pitch and informal engagement with the reader.

* Furthermore. also based on the insights gained reflectively and reflexively from our discussion, these differences were closely related to persuasion strategies which are also important parameters influencing cross-cultural adaptations.

Keywords: Etic-emic perspective * International business language * Sales letters * Genre * Cross-cultural persuasion * Politeness

Introduction

Recently, an increasing number of researchers (e.g., Bjorkman and Piekkari 2009; Harzing et al. 2011: Piekkari and Tietze 2011) have begun to realise the importance of language in international business. The study of language is also important for comparative study in cross-cultural business communication, which is essential for managers to understand foreign markets (Tayeb 2003). Our core focus is on comparing persuasive strategies used in sales promotion letters in New Zealand (NZ) and China. Although a wide range of studies, incompletely cited here (Al-Olayan and Karande 2000; Albers-Miller 1996; Leman and Callow 2004; Tai 2006: Lowe and Corkindale 1998), relating to cross-cultural communication are evident, less emphasis is given to language and persuasion. These researchers mainly use cultural value based dimensions (e.g., Hall 1976; Hofstede 2001), also known as an etic perspective, to identify cultural differences. This trend seems to have prevailed up to the present day. So for at least more than a decade, cultural dimensions or etic perspective remains prevalent in cross-cultural comparisons while the emic or culture-specific perspective has been overlooked.

We see emics as a useful way of extending the extant etic-driven cross-cultural research and we will combine the etics and emic perspectives in this paper. The emic perspective studies view behavior from inside the system, applying emic perspectives including incorporating insiders' viewpoints and using local theories (Pike 1971; Helfrich 1999). The opposite is true of the etic (universal perspective that views behaviour as from outside of a particular system) (Pike 1071). Thus the emics reflect depth to local knowledge and nuances of specific cultures. An emit' perspective is especially needed for comparative study of business language and persuasion where the emic trend is less apparent. Persuasion strategies differ across cultures (Pan et al. 2002). Even when using the same message, different cultures may have varying interpretations (Kleinjans 1972; Tsang and Prendergast 2009: Albaum et al. 2007). This is also a marketing challenge to persuade via sales letters in historically dissimilar cultures such as NZ and China.

Our emic perspective includes applying local theories and soliciting managers' views about their own culture. We seek out emic sources in language and persuasion, and explore how the emic perspective may complement the etic [e.g., Hofstede's (2001) individualism vs. collectivism and Hall's (1976) high-and low-context cultures]. Two reasons underpin our choice of NZ and China. Although both countries are located in the Asian Pacific Region, they represent the Anglo-Saxon/Western and Asian/Eastern cultural clusters respectively (Albaum et al. …