Greeting card companies innovate around multicultural, younger consumers
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” might as well be the mantra of the greeting card industry. Despite long-held concerns that the e-card or Facebook wall post would wipe out the nearly $8 billion industry, it continues to hold strong. With the category headed into the No. 3 and No. 5 biggest card-giving holidays — Mother’s Day and Easter, respectively — it still occupies an important place in people’s lives despite the growth of social media.
In fact, as Carlos Llanso, CEO of Clinton, Mass.-based Legacy Publishing Group and acting president of the industry’s trade group, the Greeting Card Association, tells it, the Internet has even helped build up the category’s appeal among consumers.
“Social media and online components help us strengthen and maintain relationships that then lead to a card-sending event or opportunity,” Llanso said. “Because there’s less letter writing and physical communication, it makes getting a greeting card even more profound.”
Which is to say that, between holidays and such year-round festivities as birthdays — which maintain the pole position as the top reason people give cards — there is no shortage of opportunities for greeting card manufacturers to reach a consumer.
What has changed, though, is the type of consumers the greeting card companies are targeting, what those consumers are looking for and how these manufacturers create value.
Besides helping build relationships, many greeting card company officials chalk the category’s staying power up to continued innovation, increased multicultural and multigenerational offerings, creating products that convey value, and leveraging social media and e-commerce to build sales.
Though greeting cards have not gone the way of video rentals, neither is the category immune to the macro trends that have roiled every other category, in particular the need to expand the scope of products to further include multicultural, LGBT and other communities.
“There are still greeting card companies that almost exclusively cater to a particular community or demographic, but it’s also now normal for bigger companies or those that haven’t traditionally focused on certain demographics just have that as part of their offerings,” Llanso said, noting that one of the top selling cards in Legacy’s Seedlings line, which features envelopes made of seed paper that can be planted and composted, is a same-sex wedding card, something that he said likely wouldn’t have played 10 years ago.
As in such categories as cosmetics and skin care, where reaching consumers often considered niche despite having substantial buying power are increasingly in focus, card makers are zeroing in on such consumers by creating products tailored to them.
For example, Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark earlier this year launched Eight Bamboo and Golden Thread, two lines aimed at Asian consumers and holidays that are specific to Chinese and Indian culture.
“Honoring each distinct heritage and blending it with inspirations of modern culture, Eight Bamboo and Golden Thread will help Chinese and Indian consumers meaningfully connect with their loved ones during key holidays, such as Lunar New Year and Diwali, and culturally significant moments, such as a baby’s 100th day and first birthday,” said Amy McAnarney, Hallmark’s vice president and general manager of key accounts and development.
McAnarney said that in the coming months, Hallmark is set to roll out new lines aimed at black and Latino consumers. Uplifted, within its Mahogany card line, will feature new designs and uplifting editorial meant to speak to black shoppers. Within its Hallmark Vida line, it will launch Love Ya Mucho, which features a mix of English and Spanish editorial, focused on bilingual shoppers.
As card makers focus on offering products for culturally significant occasions, they also are looking to innovate around shifting age demographics. Legacy’s Llanso said that generally, people are getting married and having children later, which requires editorial tailored to them. Younger consumers are buying more cards as well, which he said requires relatable products.
“As we see the millennial generation buying more cards — they’ve actually been leading the way in greeting card purchases the last few years — the editorial is geared toward that younger generation looking for authenticity and cards that speak the way they speak,” he said.
American Greetings, based in Cleveland, has built out its offerings, targeting younger card buyers. From birthday cards to all-occasion options, peppered in among more traditional heartfelt offerings are cards that prominently feature creative typography and such millennial-specific mottos as “Treat Yo Self!” and “Cray-Cray.”
Edison, N.J.-based Designer Greetings also is delivering on relatability. Dawn Garvey, Designer Greetings’ CFO, said the company is introducing A Little Salty, a humor line. “This collection features edgy, topical, political and trendy humor, some of which is hilariously mean,” she said. “Some cards include social media references that will amuse people of all ages. Each card comes with a matching signature envelope that adds a playful finishing touch.”
Worth the Money
Llanso said that when the recession hit in 2008, Legacy, which also sells stationery and gift products, noted a decline in sales among every category except greeting cards. This, he said, highlights the fact that consumers — then and now — see the value in cards.
“You may not be able to afford to buy someone a gift, but you can get them a card, and if that card is going to cost a little bit more, but I see the value in it, I’m OK paying $4.99 for a card,” he said. The key is providing value for a consumer’s buck — something he noted manufacturers have been taking to heart.
“A few of the trends taking shape in the industry are cards with interactive elements, such as the use of 3-D imagery and other interesting technical features. In addition, high end designer cards that provide a personalized sentiment are in demand,” Designer Greetings’ Garvey said. She also said that the company is introducing a laser-cut card line to appeal to these trends, and building on the success of its 3-D lenticular line that was introduced in 2018, refreshing its existing everyday line with designs for various occasions.
Hallmark’s McAnarney highlighted the success of the brand’s Paper Wonder line, which features folds, pop-outs and artistic detail that reveals an intricate scene, and said that it would be brought to bear on Mother’s Day and promoted with a national marketing campaign.
Value also can be created through highlighting a brand’s purpose — Legacy buys a meal for a child for every card purchase, and the company’s Seedling line appeals to eco-conscious consumers, Llanso said. It also helps appeal to younger shoppers.
“They’re looking for product that’s responsibly sourced, that what they’re buying is good for the environment and any other cause-related marketing,” he said. “They want to make sure the companies they’re spending their money on stand for something and believe what they believe. That’s an important part that GCA members are aware of and try to do something about.”
Not Only Analog
Just because they make a physical product doesn’t mean greeting card companies are averse to taking an omnichannel approach. One method is to use it as a driver of foot traffic. “Social media is a great way to highlight product being sold in stores,” Garvey said. “Designer Greetings finds that Instagram is the most beneficial platform to show off the many different designs and embellishments our cards offer.”
While one way to meet consumers where they are online is social media, it also can include burgeoning shopping habits. With the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen projecting U.S. online grocery spending will grow to 20% by 2025, Hallmark sees partnering with retailers offering click-and-
collect or delivery options as a prime opportunity. The company last April kicked off an e-commerce offering, and McAnarney said it is continuing to build the service out.
“Just as we do with our best-in-class localization within rooftops, Hallmark works with the retailer to curate the assortment for their specific shopper’s online shopping needs,” she said, adding that Hallmark works with retailers to offer flexible fulfillment options, and that “adding a greeting card to a purchase doesn’t add much weight to the overall basket, but it does add significant sales.”
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