Thoughts On How Stationery Businesses Can Compete In The Digital Age
The Pen Is Mightier than the iPad
Speech delivered by Pam Danziger at National Stationery Show, May 15, 2011
Thanks for inviting me to participate in this panel discussion entitled "Analog Is Mightier than Digital - Believe It!" or as I like to say "The Pen Is Mightier than the iPad."
Before I introduce the panel, I have three key ideas to share about overcoming the challenges that we in the analog stationery industry face in this new digital age. They are easy to remember because each of these three ideas starts with an "I." We need to:
Integrate the new reality of our marketplace, our customers, our challenges, so that we can...
Innovate by creating new products, new services, new ways of selling, new ways to meet the needs of our customers, then we must...
Inspire ourselves, our employees, our partners and most importantly our customers to connect with us in this new future.
Let's look at each of these closer:
Integrate the new reality, the facts of where we really stand in this digital age so that we can find our future. The most important fact/reality that we need to face today is simply that NOBODY NEEDS ANYTHING THAT WE HAVE TO SELL. Integrating this new reality about our products and services is the first step toward a promising future.
Not long ago people needed the stationery products that we sell in order to communicate. But now they don't need our products because that communicating experience has been replaced. Digital is far better and faster for communicating facts and information. So we aren't filling that communications need any more for our customers.
That means we must Innovate and find new experiences that we can deliver to our customers. Henry Ford famously said, "If I were going to give people what they wanted, I would have invented a faster horse." Just like Henry Ford, our future doesn't lie in inventing a 'faster horse' or a bigger, better, newer greeting card or stationery product. Our future lies in innovating to find new experiences that people desire that our products can deliver to customers in unique and special ways.
So we need to think beyond our products for communicating. Rather they are products that deliver new experiences, like building relationships and helping to connect and bind people together. While digital has replaced our products for communicating facts and information, they are exceptionally well suited to transmitting emotions and feelings. And they are great for expressing creativity and self-expression.
Since our products no longer fill that basic communications need anymore, we also have gone from being a mass market, commodity product. Our products have become more personal, highly specialized, more luxury, if I can use this word. Stationery has gone from mass to 'class' and this is the new reality of the marketplace that we must integrate.
Take Montblanc. This is a classic brand founded in 1906 that integrated its evolving marketplace reality and innovated to deliver new experiences to its customers. Montblanc started out as a pen company, selling the best pens for the best writing experience. But nobody buys a Montblanc pen for writing anymore -- there are many cheaper, more accessible pen options. Today Montblanc is delivering new experiences. Now their products are objet d'art and are often bought for collecting. That is why they offer themed pen collections and special editions, like last year's John Lennon pen series celebrating the anniversary of his birth in 1940. And of course some people buy Montblanc pens for status.
Finally we have to Inspire ourselves, our employees, our retailing partners to look at our products and our services in different ways. And most of all we must inspire our customers like Kevin Blackford, the postmaster in a tiny little town in Virginia with less than 3,000 people called Stuarts Draft. Kevin has created a grass roots campaign to encourage school children to write letters called "A Letter Is Better."
He worked with the school system to develop a curriculum that instructs students how to write a personal letter. And he provides each student a stamped envelope to send their special handwritten letter. On learning that I was going to be here today, Kevin wrote me - using email, b.t.w. - "If we don't show our youth the value of the personal letter, soon there will be no market for much of the stationery industry. I see 'A Letter Is Better!' as a means to help teachers teach, students learn and improve family communication [I'd say rather family bonding]." And Kevin encourages you "I truly believe that if teachers, the USPS and the stationery industry joined together to promote 'A Letter Is Better,' millions of students could become regular patrons of the stationery industry."
Now let's turn to our panel to help us Integrate the new reality of our market. To get ideas that will help us Innovate and Inspire us to find new analog opportunities in a digital age.
For media: Danziger available for interviews. Charts, tables and graphs detailing major findings in the report also are available.