Latest trends in fine stationery, custom invitations and announcements from the Stationers Guild

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Many stationers I meet complain that their clients have deserted them for the convenience of the Internet.  When I  ask how they are marketing their bricks-and-mortar store on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest, they stare at me as if I were some sort of Poltergeist up to no good.   Indeed, many stationery store owners are reluctant to dive into the online social media scene which appears to be destroying their business.

Presumably, these stationers are more comfortable spending several hundred dollars a year in Yellow Pages advertising because “this is what we have always done” even though no one reads the Yellow Pages anymore.

It may seem surprising, but I have little interest in trolling for friends in social media channels.  In fact, I hate it.  Nevertheless, establishing a credible online social media presence is CRITICAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF A SMALL BUSINESS!

Mind you, I no longer care to harp about this much more, but EVERY STATIONERY STORE OWNER should have the following online marketing channels:

  • a website (you can build one for FREE with WordPress)
  • a Twitter account (also FREE)
  • a Facebook Page (also FREE)
  • a Pinterest account (also FREE)
  • a LinkedIn account if you intend to connect with other industry experts (also FREE) and, most importantly,
  • a Google+ account (requires a Google email account but is FREE)!

Now you can hire someone to set these accounts up for you on Fiverr.com for pocket change, but I would probably invest a long weekend with your daughter and/or son and try and do it yourself.

Now many stationery store owners have already established these accounts, but are simply unable or unwilling to put in the necessary effort (about 30 minutes a day) to help promote their business.  I feel your pain, since it isn’t much fun.  In fact, at times it can be quite frustrating and boring, particularly making silly comments on your social media accounts.  If cyber engagement is beneath your level of tolerance for the inane,  you can hire someone in the Philippines to do it for a song at ODesk.com.

Now, I have discovered one tool called EMPIRE AVENUE which is more like a game to help market your business and give you insights into what serious online marketing people are doing to promote their activities.  It is also FREE (with some paid upgrades) but rather painless to use and easily allows you to track your “social marketing” skills and acquire a lot of knowledge of what others are doing.   I just started tinkering around with EMPIRE AVENUE in December and have learned “buckets” in a very compelling and engaging way.

Give it a go!

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

For a variety of well documented reasons previously outlined in this forum, I have been giving a lot of thought to the evolution of the stationery industry.   I suppose that most of you have too!

There is no reason to think that my views are any better than others looking at the same crystal ball, but I am convinced that internet marketing will change radically over the next twelve months.   From my perspective, few vendors fully appreciate the significance of the changes that have taken place in internet marketing strategies following Google’s release of the Penguin and Panda search algorithm.  In fact, many of our vendors are pursuing internet strategies that may have been relevant two to three years ago, but hardly make sense today.   In fact, it may help to explain some of the silly decisions that have occurred recently.

There is no reason why any of this should make sense to you – or be of particular interest – but if you are relying on your vendors to make the “right” decisions to support your business strategy, forget it!   They don’t have a clue.   Their online marketing strategies are likely to be counterproductive and eventually destructive to their brand.

Social engagement has become far more important to promote your brand and business and many new tools are emerging that can help you do so without relying on your vendors for support.  In fact, with a little effort experienced dealers can become an authority spokesperson in their  local market and/or market niche by focusing on quality and excellence and disseminating the message efficiently through proper social channels.

Right now, I do not have the time – or energy – to share all of these great new developments with you, but several things appear evident:

  • Google + will become a far more important marketing platform than Facebook within the next 12 to 18 months;
  • Twitter is no longer a useful platform for social engagement and to promote your brand;
  • Scoop.It and Pinterest are far more relevant – and fun – resources to promote your business;
  • Curated content – which can be automated through RSS feeds – is far more timely and relevant than blogging;
  • Vendors should be paying dealers to promote their brand rather than obliging us to purchase their albums.

In short, brands that want to be perceived as having value to the consumer should work with their existing dealers to encourage them to promote their brands online.  It’s a win-win situation for both parties, but few Vendors realize it today.   I suspect that most won’t wake up until it is too late, but dealers have the time to act.  Will they?

Richard May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

For the last several years, I have attended practically every seminar offered by the National Stationery Show that had to do with website design, e-commerce and social media marketing.   While I have found some seminars to be quite useful, I have often felt that the information provided was either too basic for many in the audience and, at other times, simply overwhelming for those seeking a few tips on how to promote their business online.

As such, I was not expecting much as I sat down to listen to Rafael Mael of brandlauncher.com talk about social marketing.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  This was simply the best presentation I have heard on this complex subject and I am quite sure that those who were fortunate to attend would share my assessment.  Well done Mr. Mael and tell your wife that we all thought you did a great job!

The goal of Mr. Mael’s presentation was to give us five very valuable insights on how to tackle social media.  His objective was to teach us how “to engage successfully with a minimum of effort” so we could get back to our “real life” with family and friends.  As one who spends far too much time in front of a monitor, I find this to be a most worthwhile objective.   After all, a real person is far more engaging than a Twitter “follower” or a Facebook “friend” – at least they should be!

I am going to list his 5 Rules (which he  supported with useful examples of what he was discussing) with a minimum of fanfare unless I think it is required:

  1. Optimize Everything – This Rule mainly covered website design in which he emphasized that “less is more.”  A simple design pattern that tracks “proven” website reading patterns (the “z” effect) works best.    Fully agree, and my next website will reflect that look and functionality.
  2. Give your audience what they want –  Your audience seeks two things:  stuff that is “interesting,” and stuff that is “free.”  Mr. Mael was interesting and entertaining and passed out many FREE gifts.
  3. Automate Everything –  He gave us tools to automate NOW: ping.fm and tools to automate LATER:  hootsuite.com.  Ping.fm is used to communicate the arrival of new products and “new” news, which Hootsuite.com is used to schedule communication to social media outlets that are known in advance.
  4. Use Video:  YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google.  There are plenty of activities in your store that attract interest.  For instance, one video received some 14,000 views on how to wrap a gift.
  5. Where do you Start? – Start with the end result in mind and reverse engineer the process.  In other words, envision where you want to be and then work out the details to determine how you can get there in the most efficient way possible.

Following the presentation, Mr. Mael stayed around to give those that were interested a 10-minute one-on-one.

Thank you Mr. Mael and thank you organizers for finding this most engaging speaker.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I was reflecting recently on events in Egypt and how Twitter and Facebook seem to be organizing tools for Egyptian citizens seeking greater political, social and economic  freedoms.    While one certainly is stirred by the events in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, I am skeptical that Twitter is the ultimate “democracy tool” that many in the media seem so happy to embrace.  I mean, how many people can afford a smart phone in Egypt with average wages of $2 a day?   Also, while I would love to believe that people are tweeting about such as topics as “democracy,” “individual rights,” “health care reform,” or “the environment,” Twitter trends suggest something radically different.  Found below are the top ten Twitter trends for February 7th, 2011:

The top 10 most talked about topics on Twitter on February 7 at 7:30 AM GMT are:

1. #superbowl (promoted)

2. #idontunderstandwhy (new)

3. #aristegui (new)

4. Gary Moore (new)

5. FEMME FATALE (unchanged)

6. Green & Yellow (unchanged)

7. MVS (new)

8. Puppy Bowl (new)

9. Robert Kubica (new)

10. National Anthem (new)

While these are no doubt important topics for many Americans, it is unlikely going to cause politicians or big business to alter the way they do business or even break into a sweat.   I mean, who is going to fault Christina Aguilera for not getting the words to the National Anthem correct at the Super Bowl?  Fergie (whoever that is) certainly isn’t.   To paraphrase a tongue-in-cheek British organizational manual,  “think small and the big things will take care of themselves.”  Let’s face it, Twitter is more about entertainment than education or communication, so let’s stop pretending that it reflects the will of the people.

When I think back to the passionate discussions of “life,” “love,” “peace,” and “war” during the Viet Nam era, I can’t help but be reminded that these discussions often took place in bars and cafes that somewhat resembled the scene in ABC Cafe in Les Miserables.  In ABC Cafe students were gathering to man the barricades in Paris in a call to social action while Marius was professing his love for Closette (Red and Black).   In contrast to Les Miserables, see the young woman below describe the benefits of WiFi at Starbucks:

Starbucks WiFi en Yahoo! Video

I would like to think that those in Starbucks sipping their lattes and logged in to their social media accounts are engaged in worthwhile communication. However, I suspect downloading a popular tune or tweeting about your impressions of the Superbowl are perhaps more important than talking to your neighbor. When the world is seen through the optics of social media, it is a pretty dreary place indeed.

Richard W. May
Stationers Guild

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

While in Vermont for a wedding, I happened to be driving by a Church and noticed the following message posted on a large sign near the entrance:

Honk if you love Jesus! Text while driving

if you want to meet him!

Regardless of your religious affiliation, the message is quite powerful.  Nevertheless, I am not sure it is a ringing endorsement to attend Church since the message implies that you can get closer to Jesus by texting while you drive than by sitting in a pew.

Now, I am all for clever word play to make your point, but the context or setting must be taken into consideration when crafting your message.   While the message at the Church entrance is certainly a  “public service” and “driver safety” message, many would consider it out of place at a House of Worship.

Similarly, “texting,” “writing” on someone’s Facebook Wall or “tweeting,” is very much different than sending a personal note on fine stationery.  For the most part, digital exchanges on Facebook and Twitter are public manifestations and lack the warmth and intimacy of a personal exchange of correspondence.

While the words or message may be identical in either medium, the handwritten note bestows a level of considered importance that most forms of digital communication simply can’t match.  A well-crafted note written on elegant stationery simply stands out from the seemingly endless clutter that daily piles up in our inbox or the ever-present demands to stay in touch with our social media friends.

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

One of the more useful benefits of attending the National Stationery Show (“NSS”) is the opportunity to attend highly targeted seminars that fill our impressionable minds with the many things we can do with our store and provide a context for identifying new products and trends.  The 2010 NSS was no exception with daily “How-to” exhibits  ranging from making wedding favors to holiday wrap and tying bows.  In addition, there were educational seminars ranging from stationery trends to how to use social media tools to market your bricks-and-mortar store.

Being the geek that I am, I attended two social media seminars brilliantly hosted by Patricia Norins, of Specialty Retail Expert from Gift Shop Magazine and the enthusiastic and engaging Carolyn Howard-Johnson from How to do it Frugally Publishing.  Both seminars were targeted at those who wanted to find out more about Twitter, Facebook and Blogging or those that were sceptical and wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  Judging from some of the questions that were asked, I suspect that most people who attended were novices.

Personally, I think both speakers made a convincing case as to the merits of engaging in social media marketing.  Carolyn stressed the importance of connecting with your clients in this new digital medium in an open-handed and friendly manner that was less about promoting your business than being a part of your community.   Both speakers made the point that Facebook is a more relevant social platform for exchanging information with family and friends, while Twitter has become far more commercial and “immediate.”  I certainly agree with them on this point, but feel that both platforms should be used to creatively engage, build and sustain a loyal following of customers.  The idea is to befriend your digital audience and come across as a “real” human being with a sense of humor and personal  interests rather than the proverbial one-dimensional used car salesperson.

It is difficult to judge how many attendees will heed Carolyn’s and Patricia’s advice.  I suspect that the digital revolution remains an anathema  to most storefront retailers.   While many have gotten over the hurdle of having a website, this is not a medium where they feel comfortable  and most appear unwilling to make the effort to do more.  It is not difficult to get started as Carolyn and Patricia demonstrated, but it does take time and effort to build new skills and engage in the online debate. Frankly, it is fun and interesting once you get the hang of it. 

We all know that the Yellow Pages (“YP”) brings in little or no business, but many stationers continue to pay ridiculous fees to YP to highlight their store rather than spend the time using free social media tools to market their business.  Hard to understand, but sadly true.  For those out there who want to know if your store can be found online (no, you do not have to have a website!), please visit getlisted.org to see if you are on the right track.  A listing below 50% means you have some work to do.  This is a good litmus test to join the 21st century. 

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

I had known it was coming, but didn’t know it was already here:  Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less.  Twitterature “\’twi-ta-ra-chúr\ n: amalgamation of ‘twitter’ and ‘literature’; humorous reworkings of literary classics for the twenty-first-century intellect, in digestible portions of 20 tweets or fewer.”

Written by two University of Chicago students (Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin),  Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less humorously twitterize just under 100 great works of literature into 20 or less tweets.    Twitterature  is published by Penguin Press and I do hope this great publisher won’t go the way of the Dodo with Kindle rearing its ugly head.

According to the authors, they distilled the Great Books “into the voice of Twitter – the social networking tool that with its limit of 140 characters a post (including spaces) has refined to its purest form the instant-publishing, short-attention-span, all-digital-all-the-time, self-important age of info-deluge.”

Clearly, this is no small feat, particularly when college kids seem to spend most of their free-time binge-drinking rather than contributing to our understanding of Great Literature.  Clearly these aspiring writers were out having a little literary fun, but it is surprising that Penguin would publish it.   Nevertheless, why should I be surprised anymore when The Library of Congress (yes, our Library of Congress!) has seen fit to archive every Tweet since 2006!  Have we gone mad?  I read in the New York Times that future historians are salivating at the thought of having uncensored and instantaneous reactions to daily events.  Isn’t that what reality TV is for?

Now there are a few who will see the humor in Twitterature and, perhaps, thumb through the book at the library or bookstore, but I suspect that many “Twits” will use it in much the same way that my generation used Cliff Notes.   One in four adults in the United States does not even read one book in a year and the average is only four!  Really, who can compete with Lady Gaga, Jersey Shore and the Kardashians for enlightened commentary on today’s pressing moral issues?  A further question:  Will digital media improve literacy?  I suspect not, and Jaron Lanier, who wrote You are not a Gadget, would most likely agree.

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

As reported earlier, Google is aggressively reaching out to local businesses to improve search results for people who place a local qualifier in a search.  Google Places is certain to overhaul the search dynamics and improve search results for those seeking “wedding invitations Greenwich, CT” or “wedding invitations 06830″.  The natural or organic search results will return a stationery store -hopefully yours – in local search results for “wedding invitations” in your town or zip code.

Clearly, mobile search has been driving Google’s effort to improve the search experience for a growing number of consumers using mobile devices.  This is a tremendous opportunity for mom and pop stores and smaller businesses to effectively position their store for mobile search.  To determine how effective your online marketing is working for you, visit getlisted.org to see how well your store stacks up for local search in the four key search engines. 

Twitter is also beginning to make “big” noise on the local search front.  While I have reluctant to recommend Twitter and other social media tools, the local search component has caused me to reassess my position.  With technology, it is difficult to forecast what is coming next, but clearly the time of Twitter and Facebook has arrived.  If you value your business and want to help tech savvy consumers find your business, it is about time to reallocate your Yellow Pages advertising budget to online search.  You will be glad you did and so will your new customers.

This is also the death knell for wedding portals who have so corrupted the local search component.  If you are paying for advertising on The Knot, Martha Stewart Wedding or other wedding portals, this money should now be reallocated to local search.  It’s a heck of a lot cheaper and far more effective.  Why pay for advertising to compete with the likes of weddingpaperdivas.com who are paying close to $50 for each sale in your local space?  Makes no sense.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

I recently was engaged in an  interesting discussion on LinkedIn within the “Greeting Card, Stationery & Gift Industry Gurus” Group.   Without going into a lot of detail, the discussion focused on the future of paper greeting cards and how best to create the next generation of eGreetings to connect with a new generation of “tech savvy” users.   While I do not question the impact of the digital revolution on paper greeting cards, I could not see an economic rationale to create a sustainable and successful eGreeting business.  Found below are brief excerpts of some of the comments I made during this discussion. 

 There is no question that digital greetings and invitations are rapidly eating into the “paper” market. While I don’t happen to think of paper as a “device”  since color reproduction and print quality on paper remains far superior and authentic to anything on the web (band-width restrictions), the whole point of the discussion is how to make money with digital greeting cards.

Personally, I think it is a losing proposition because I don’t believe any company will be able to create designs or unique delivery capabilities to compete on a sustained basis with the many (and growing) “free” alternatives on the internet. I have yet to hear how someone will be able to create “brand awareness” around something so mercurial as a greeting card and convince a critical mass of “subscribers” or “buyers” to pay for something that is pretty much free.

To draw from just one example. Take Blue Mountain Greeting Cards which was one of the first digital greeting cards to make a splash in electronic greeting cards. They are now owned by American Greeting Cards (AG), because they wouldn’t have been able to survive as a stand alone venture. Is AG any better off? I think not. Their sales are down 25% since 2002, they lost over $200 million in 2009 and they may break even this year.

Why Paper? A well-designed greeting card with a personalized message printed on quality paper is often worth “saving.” On the other hand, a digital greeting card or image maybe worth “storing” (there is a huge difference between mechanically deciding to save a physical object as compared to storing it on your computer). While you may eventually want to print the stored image, what will you print it on?: 20lb copy paper stock. There is a reason why people go to art museums: they want to see the real thing, not some digitally reproduced image formatted for a digital transmission. The same is true for greeting cards for memorable occasions.

There is a difference between building an iPhone application that plays “Happy Birthday” and sends a cute text message to your contact list on their birthday as opposed to building a business providing “unique” designs over a technology platform that gives the business provider a sustainable competitive advantage. Most novice tech users can already embed videos and pictures in their emails and many have already created their “free” WordPress or Blogger websites. While I don’t doubt that technology providers can “sell” services to users interested in creating or selling their own greeting cards, I have yet to see how one can build a sustainable eGreeting business around the many “cool” apps that appear each day. Competing against “free” communication alternatives doesn’t seem to be a market that offers much promise.

Just did a Google search: there are 14.5 million web pages offering “free greeting cards.” Do you think it will be less competitive when the iPad hits the market in a few weeks? Again, if someone shows me a sustainable business model for eGreetings I will eat the digital printout of the business plan. Better yet, if you have figured it out, go for it! (I would love to be a shareholder).

I remain unconvinced that one can make money on a sustained basis with electronic greeting cards. Twitter and Facebook have essentially eliminated the need for them since the lives of its members are pretty much an open book.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I read with great interest that the 2010 National Stationery Show has succumbed and, indeed, embraced social networking to promote interest in the National Stationery Show scheduled for May 16 through the 19th at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC.  According to Patti Stracher, the NSS Manager.  ”Social media sites are becoming increasingly important for impromptu business discussion, in a world that has become accustomed to instant feedback and news.  Websites such as Twitter, Facebook and others are helping us to communicate quickly and concisely in a way that works for busy professionals on the go.”

Last year, as an April Fools joke, I published a Blog article suggesting that the National Stationery Show would be digital by 2012.   The latest announcement by Ms. Stracher suggests that there was, perhaps more truth than humor in my “prediction.”    While one naturally assumes that “social networking” makes great sense to promote the National Stationery Show, I always ask:  “Who benefits?”   For instance, would you use the Kindle to market the National Book Show or Skype to promote a long-distance calling plan?    While I have no regrets in using every available marketing tool (particularly if they are free) to market my business, Ms. Stracher and other organizers should think carefully how these promotional tools will be used.   As far as I am concerned, empowering social networkers to promote the National Stationery Show is akin to giving the keys to the Jedi spaceship to Darth Vader.

Twitter is a social network based on the simple concept that friends and followers are actually interested in what you are doing.   I realize that any sane person could care less what I am doing.  Furthermore, I firmly resolve not to encroach on your privacy even if you are inclined to be a contestant on a reality TV show.   In other words, “Thank you for not sharing.”   I don’t mean to go Andy Rooney on you, but if you are genuinely interested in what I am doing 24/7 you probably have a pretty sad life.

While Twitter may have started out as a social phenomena for people desperately trying to “connect” or “follow” someone with lives less shallow than their own, its “social” function has been taken over by big business and media manipulators.   Like most of my fellow stationers who attend the National Stationery Show, I don’t plan on texting.    While I do carry a cell phone, it is not text enabled and, to be honest, I have found little to call about, let alone text at the National Stationery Show.  If stationers are not texting or tweeting, who is?    This brings us back to the central questions:  “Who benefits?”

Texting and tweeting is big business.  Professionals and paid free-lancers will be busy using the NSS social and their own platform to promote their brands, websites and anything else which attracts “eyeballs” or visitors to their booth (assuming they are even registered as an exhibitor).  In fact, I am quite confident that as I write this blog,  paid mercenaries are busily crafting scores of 140 character tweets in anticipation of the event to promote their own brand.   It works something like this: 

  • BrandX Company plans to launch a new line of wedding invitations called “Cloud 9″ at the May show
  • BrandX  Company’s marketing department contracts Indian and Philippine copywriters to write thousands of 140 character “text” messages promoting “Cloud 9″, “wedding invitations” or “BrandX wedding invitations” within the context of the NSS show product launch (at $1 to $2 an hour,  you can generate a lot of messages cheaply and you don’t even have to spell too well)
  • Many thousands of messages have been created around the product launch (coordinated with article and PR releases) that will then be timed to be released around the time of the show
  • The artificial “buzz” is self-generated by BrandX and will quickly be picked up the search engines and those who track key words (i.e. wedding invitations) on the social networks.

The end result of this manipulated social  “marketing campaign” is that consumer has been played.    I realize that there is an old adage that says “Let the buyer beware.”  Nevertheless, for NSS organizers to blindly jump on the social bandwagon without evaluating the consequences is, in my opinion, most disheartening.  The organizers at the National Stationery Show must should ask themselves:  ”Does social networking  lead to a stronger industry, better craftsmanship and a more-informed consumer?”  I think not.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

Related Posts