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Greeting-Cards Sector Looks to Woo the Young with Digital Delivery

Disenfranchised from the snail mail-delivered conventional missives of old, could the incorporation of augmented reality, as well as digital sound and video links, see many ever-fickle millennials brought back into the greeting-card fold?

Photo: Pen and pad: The social media of yesteryear sets out to restore relevancy.
Pen and pad: The social media of yesteryear sets out to restore relevancy.
Photo: Pen and pad: The social media of yesteryear sets out to restore relevancy.
Pen and pad: The social media of yesteryear sets out to restore relevancy.

Youth appeal was a common theme at Manhattan's National Stationery Show (NSS) earlier this year. Indeed, many exhibitors commented on the industry's increasingly aging consumer profile, while a variety of approaches aimed at attracting younger buyers were on show across the expo hall.

Highlighting the problem, Linda Lasala, a Brand Leader with Ontario-based product development company InQbrands, said: "One customer came to visit us and she said that her average purchaser is around 70. What we've found when talking to the stores is that many of them have an older customer base and they would like to transition to a far younger customer base."

With just such a demographic in mind, InQbrands' booth was showcasing a range of embellishments for the popular US niche of scrapbooking. Lasala explained that the company has a clear retail market in mind, catering to smaller brick-and-mortar stores, saying: "Sometimes the small stores don't have an opportunity to carry a full range. The large stores are well funded so they can do that with their own brands. In the small stores, there are a lot of special items, but maybe the basics are neglected."

One way to attract a younger customer may be to provide more innovative products. Focusing on this, StoryChips, a start-up from New York City, was exhibiting a range of QR stickers and cards that allow digital messages to be attached to physical products such as greeting cards.

Describing the aim of the products, Company Representative Omar Farha said: "The idea is to preserve the tradition of giving a greeting card, but to combine it with a modern way of interacting and sharing. The idea is you scan the QR code then you can record your video or you can upload your photo, hit save, and it is linked."

Farha pointed out, however, that appealing to a younger crowd brings its own disadvantages, saying: "We notice that a lot of the buyers are in their 50s or 60s. You see them look and, for a second, they want to talk to you, but then they see the QR codes, get intimidated and walk away.

StoryChips was not the only exhibitor looking to incorporate QR codes into its products. Another New York concern, Sound Sentiments, was showcasing a range of cards offering song downloads. Explaining just how the preposition works, company Founder Natasha Biljetina said: "We're a card company that offers the gift of a downloadable song. The cards each have a QR code on the back, you give it to a friend and they can just click on the QR code, then on the inside there's a scratchable alphanumeric and they get the gift of a song.

"It can be anything. Currently, for this stationery show, we're doing a lot of Christmas carols, plus a couple of originals and children's songs."

While QR codes enable digital content to be linked to a paper-and-ink product, another exhibitor took a rather more direct approach to adding audio-visual content to cards. Jose Seminario, a member of the Greeting Card Association, the industry's Washington-based trade body, was showcasing a range of cards with a built-in ultra-thin video screen. Explaining the objective behind the idea, he said: "Everybody uses the phone now – the new generation wants instant gratification, instant documentation, instant information. So nowadays, instead of creating a 100-page book, if you want to show your message what better way than video? It's a visual, audio message that you can send to anyone.

"The cards come blank and you upload your content. It can be a greeting or information, so maybe they could be used by a car company or a pharmaceutical company as a way of linking to a commercial for a new launch."

Photo: Grating greetings: Mischievous messaging.
Grating greetings: Mischievous messaging.
Photo: Grating greetings: Mischievous messaging.
Grating greetings: Mischievous messaging.
Photo: Posted pop-ups: Delivering a new dimension.
Posted pop-ups: Delivering a new dimension.
Photo: Posted pop-ups: Delivering a new dimension.
Posted pop-ups: Delivering a new dimension.

While many at the show were going high-tech to woo younger consumers, others preferred a more low-tech approach to adding value. Hallmark, the market-leading greeting-card company in the US, has – like many of its competitors – identified millennials as a key consumer group, but is targeting them with high-value distinctive hand-crafted cards.

The company's Creative Vice-President, Darren Abbot, set out Hallmark's approach to the issue, saying: "What we're finding, regardless of the perception, is that millennials actually like sending cards, maybe more than the older generation, which defies some orthodox thinking. At the same time, they expect something a bit different in a greeting card. They're very content focused, so it's not just about a pretty picture.

"Our Hallmark Signature line is very much focused on the premium consumer. Many of them are handmade cards, featuring intricate and unique attachments. We're seeing that, as consumers today are wanting a tangible way of expressing themselves, the more detail that a greeting card has the better.

"A card may have 30 individual attachments, so the card itself becomes something of a gift. We find that the more intricate the detailing, the better the card performs. The other thing we're seeing is secondary use. One of our cards comes on a reusable clipboard, so you could use it as a little desk accessory."

For its part, the Arbor Day Foundation, a Nebraska-based non-profit organisation, was offering a somewhat different way for card senders to stand out, with a resonant message on conservation. Explaining the Foundation's mission, its Commemorative Development Manager Max Anderson said: "We are one of the largest tree-planting organisations in the world. Each card sent will see a tree planted in a national forest in honour of the recipient.

"Depending on which occasion the card is for, it will say: 'In honour of the holiday season a tree has been planted in a national forest in your name'. It's genuine and real and it has a lasting impact when someone receives a card like that."

Not all the exhibitors at the show were quite as politically correct. Indeed, some used quite irreverent content in a bid to stand out from the crowd and to reach consumers looking to do the same. Kathryn Holloway, who styles herself as the 'Boss Bitch' (yes, really) of the card/gift company Lovebird Paper from Washington State, was a good example of this.

Describing both herself and her company's products, she said: "We're sassy, bold and vulgar. I've got three cards that are star players right now – 'I shave in the winter for you' is one; another says: 'That's really sh***y', because people like sending sympathy cards, but don't want to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, it'll get better', because it might not. And then there's one that just says: 'Brunch bitch'. There's a lot of drinking stuff in my line."

Los Angeles-based greeting-card company The Social Type was another exhibitor looking to showcase an offbeat sense of humour. Highlighting its new range of cards with messages like 'You're The Worst' and 'Ew Gross You're Forty', company representative Jessica Tree said: "We are debuting our new line called The Anti-Social Type, which is funny and snarky, and mean – but in a very beautiful way."

As regards more mainstream messaging, Tree noted a trend towards a simpler aesthetic, saying: "For a long time the hand-done style of typography was very big, but it felt like everyone was trying to do that, and we tried to steer the other way. Now we're doing very clean looking things that are very font-driven and not hand-done."

That trend was also picked up on by Brenton Ritchi, Sales Manager for Australian arts, crafts and scrapbooking wholesaler Kaisercraft. Describing how his company is changing the look of its products, he said: "For us, we're seeing the limited colour palettes of our greeting cards. We're using darker colours – we have our blue set up here, but also the burgundies are working well."

Photo: The National Stationery Show: National, but showing no signs of being stationary.
The National Stationery Show: National, but showing no signs of being stationary.
Photo: The National Stationery Show: National, but showing no signs of being stationary.
The National Stationery Show: National, but showing no signs of being stationary.

The 2018 National Stationery Show (NSS) took place from 20-23 May in New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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