11 July 2017
March of the Millennials Drives Innovation in Greeting-Cards Sector
With Millennials having just overtaken the Baby Boomers as the primary purchasers of greeting cards, exhibitors at the National Stationery Show turned to high-tech innovation and conspicuous green credentials in a bid to win them over.
With Millennials, for the first time, overtaking Baby Boomers as the primary purchasers of greeting cards, it was the more distinctive celebratory missives that dominated proceeding at this year's National Stationery Show (NSS). For many, it seemed, the route to success in this low-volume, high-value business lies in using increasingly sophisticated technology to deliver a genuine 'wow' factor. At the other end of the spectrum, a more back-to-basic approach was also in evidence with environmentally aware green greetings cards proving to be very much in demand.
While covering all aspects of the stationery industry, this annual New York event was once again dominated by greetings cards, with the vast majority of the show's stands given over to this large and lucrative sector. It was also clearly evident that many exhibitors had now switched much of their focus to those born post-1980, the so-called Millennials.
Acknowledging the growing significance of this particular demographic, George White, President and Chief Operating Officer of Ohio-based Up With Paper, a 3D pop-up card specialist, said: "Millennials are now of an age where they are buying cards, a development that has been the biggest change over the past five years. Although Baby Boomers have been our biggest buyers for 25 years, last year they were out-spent by the Millennials."
This change of target buyer has, inevitably, obliged card manufacturers to change their approach. Highlighting this, White said: "These Millennials are looking to differentiate themselves, so they want a more distinctive, expensive, high-end card. While the volume of card-buying is actually less than in the Boomer-led days, the dollar value is higher as more expensive cards are being purchased."
Despite this apparent shift, the majority of cards on display were still of the usual single-sheet, ink on paper variety. Overall, there was a clear trend towards pastel shades and simple designs, often featuring silhouettes, while Christmas-card manufactures opted for tried and tested bold colours and traditional festive themes.
Among those exhibitors targetting the premium-cards sector, high-tech features were often resorted to in a bid to win over the bigger spenders. In this regard, LED lights seem set to continue as a staple of the more costly greeting cards, despite necessitating a thicker, more cumbersome product. One exhibitor, Illinois-based RRD Printed Electronics, however, believes it may have found a way around this particular problem.
Explaining its innovative approach, Brad Hull, the company's Vice-president, said: "While old style LED cards use a thick lithium 'coin' battery, we have gone a different route. We print the necessary circuits directly onto the card, making it not much thicker than the standard variety.
"As such, our cards are ideal for those looking for something that really stands out, something unique, perhaps for a wedding or a bar mitzvah. As well as being more attractive, they are also lighter, making them cheaper to post."
While already well known for its 3D pop-up cards, Up With Paper has now added an LED element to its range, confident that this will deliver extra standout. Explaining the thinking, White said: "This year, we've introduced pop-ups with LED, a development that has generated a lot of interest."
Augmented reality (AR) is another increasingly popular high-tech element in many greeting-card ranges. Indeed, its widespread uptake led Tigra, a New York-based 3D animation specialist, to exhibit at NSS for the first time this year.
Outlining the possible uses of the technology, Sales Representative Jason Haug said: "We mainly work on augmented-reality products for children. Our speciality is bringing characters to life. On a colouring page, for instance, a child can colour it in, then our software brings it to life, using all the colours the child used.
"All such characters are interactive – you can feed them, you can clothe them. This results in a far more in-depth experience than paper alone can deliver."
Haug believes the use of AR is set to grow as more become familiar with the technology. Expanding on this, he said: "The iPhone 8, for instance, will come with a built-in AR camera. All the big companies – Facebook, Apple, Amazon – are now buying into it and using it for a range of different applications."
High-tech innovation, however, wasn't the only trend on show, with demand also clearly growing for environmentally friendly products. This was seen as something of a priority for the industry, given the damming assessment by some that a whole host of trees have to be chopped down every year to produce its somewhat frivolous offerings.
Taking the recyclable cards concept to the next logical stage, Dubai-based Treewise Pencils even had on offer a range of environmentally friendly pencils. Keen to establish the company's green credentials, Founder Ghulam Hussien, said: "Among our range are pencils that have been 100% made from recycled newspapers. We also have a range called Plantables – pencils with seeds on the top that you can plant when you have finished using them.
"It's really all about getting kids to engage and learn about sustainable products. Children come to value our pencils and want to watch them grow."
As well as their green status, Hussien believes Treewise pencils actually have a number of practical benefits compared with their more conventional counterparts, saying: "While they perform the same function as a regular pencil, they actually sharpen better. Our pencils are the only ones in the world that come with a guarantee that they won't break while writing or sharpening.
"In the case of a wooden pencil, you can often snap the lead while sharpening, but our pencils, as they are made from newsprint, can absorb far more shock. A traditional wooden pencil is brittle by comparison, making it easily breakable."
Recyclability was also one of the key product benefits of the Decomposition range of notebooks, the latest offering from Michael Rogers Inc, a New York-based journal and wrapping paper manufacturer. Explaining the range's appeal, company President Eric Held said: "The Decomposition books are made in the USA using 100% post-consumer waste paper and printed with eco-friendly soy ink. They are a new take on the classic American composition book, something a lot of us loved back in our school days."
With recycling a key part of the brand's image, Held sees such green credentials as an important part of the decision-making process for many buyers, saying: "While I think the primary reason that people buy our products is because they look great, the recycled aspects of it are certainly a bonus. Even if a customer doesn't initially set out in search of a recycled product, buying one still helps them feel good about their purchase."
As with greetings cards, the premium-priced $8 Decomposition books are seen as means of self-expression and differentiation. Acknowledging this, Held said: "It is much more of a choice product. Instead of buying 20 notebooks a year, people are opting for just five, but really loving the ones they are using."
Targetting the more creative and individualistic side of consumers was also the strategic approach adopted by the McCall Pattern Company, a New York-based producer of self-adhesive writeable wall stickers. Analysing the appeal of the company's products, Janet Wolf, Vice-president of Marketing, said: "Our customers feel like they are being creative because they are putting the stickers up themselves. They are free to arrange them many different ways, with each person doing it a little differently."
Personalisation was also the approach favoured by The Hospital Box, a New York-based gift box concept company. Outlining the company's unusual USP, Founder and Chief Executive Kari Catuogno said: "We offer the first and only dedicated care-package kit for hospital-bound loved ones. We make it really easy to give a get-well gift that's personal, useful and inspiring. In the US, 35 million people are hospitalised every year, so that's quite a market.
"Each kit contains a large patent-applied-for box that folds into itself. Inside, there are three bags with a number of instructions – 'Open when you get this', 'Open when you need a hug' and 'Open when you feel bored'. There are also 3D heart-shaped stickers and Band-Aids that you can use to attach your own pictures to the box."
The National Stationery Show was held at New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center from 21-24 May. Some 750 brands exhibited at the event, which attracted about 10,000 visitors from across North America and beyond.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York