The next big thing in greeting cards: It’s always hard to glimpse what is beyond the horizon. Strategy is about how you get there.
In Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters by Richard P. Rumelt, the author describes how companies repeatedly confuse their mission statement and their strategy.
Mission statements are about what you want to achieve. Strategy is about how you are going to get there. Good strategy almost always involves surprise. Like the judo player using the opponent’s weight against him.
And how you achieve your mission statement objectives is not by wishing a change in public perceptions. Rumelt interviewed Steve Jobs of Apple, who answered the question of what his strategy was. Jobs said that he waited for the next big thing. Even Steve Jobs of Apple knew that he couldn’t make waves. He knew he could only catch sight of a wave and make a better product that satisfied that need.
That’s what we are looking for: The next big thing in greeting cards. Waiting to catch the wave of what interests the buying public. Recognising that we cannot make fashion. Even Steve Jobs of Apple said that he was waiting for the next big thing.
Yoel Harari in Sapiens, makes the point that social pressure and real needs shade from one to the other. Myths keep us doing things of which, if we stopped for a moment, we might question the meaning.
We know that life is a continual struggle to break out of one myth while falling into another.
Technology And Change
That said, technology has a way of breaking down myths, or the relevance of a particular myth. And that is not least of all because technology means change. So what happens when we get used to the idea of change? What happens is that we feel less rooted in one way of doing things.
Technology also gets us used to the idea that things will change. And will change at a faster and faster rate.
One myth is the need to send cards. We don’t need them to keep warm or fed or housed. But we do think we need them to keep body and soul together. We need them to foster relationships and keep us from sinking into nothingness and negativity.
Books are an example of the resilience in the face of change. Do you remember how eBooks were going to kill the book market? But they haven’t.
Books have fought back. And I am sure as I can be that only part of it is because of the convenience. There is also the physical pleasure of holding a real paper book in one’s hand.
I think another part of it is the desire to get back to authenticity and away from technology,
Now Find Your Envelope
You may remember years ago in card shops when they didn’t display cards in plastic wrappers. You found the cards you wanted. Then if you were lucky, the envelopes for it were stacked behind that card design.
If the envelopes weren’t there you would hunt along the shelves to find the envelope that fitted your card. You might find a lavender-coloured envelope three shelves along, but you wanted a white one. So you hunted until you found one.
If you didn’t find one, you might ask the shop assistant to help you. He or she might open a drawer below the shelves and root around in there.
You might find a card but then you wouldn’t buy it because it was dog-eared. You might find three of the design you liked and they all had scratch marks or were bent or dog-eared. It really hurt when you found that all of the cards of the design you liked were scruffy.
The same with the envelopes, creased and dog-eared.
You couldn’t buy them, could you? After all, how could you show you cared about the recipient when the thing you sent was dog-eared?
Plastic wrappers solved those problems.
Fast Forward To Today’s Environment
Now fast forward to today, with more environmental awareness. Now card designers are thinking it is time. It is time to move to a more eco-friendly solution. No more dog-eared card and the missing envelope in your local card shop.
I recycle. And I add my voice to those who don’t want plastic wrapping every item of food.
That said, I can’t find an easy alternative to buying fruit wrapped in plastic. Who in their right mind wraps four pears in a hard plastic clamshell? Supermarkets do.
The Next Big Thing: Doing Our Bit
And what do I do? I rail against the damage done to the environment, the pollution that risks life itself. Then I have to look at what I do. I have to think about what we at Flying Twigs do to minimise the use of plastic.
That means getting rid of cellophane wrappers around our cards. That said, there is no sense in removing the wrappers from cards that are already wrapped. That doesn’t solve anything. But for the future – what are the alternatives?
Polypropylene bags, which is what are used to protect greeting cards, have a long life. They don’t crinkle and they don’t decompose when exposed to moisture. The downside is that it takes a thousand years for polypropylene to decompose in the oceans.
Of course, it can be incinerated. Did you know there are arguments that this is a better eco-solution than misguided attempts at recycling.
The problem of dog-eared cards is actually easier for online sellers who sell direct to consumers. That’s because the card doesn’t have to sit for weeks in a shop being handled time and time again.
Doing Away With Plastic
But that is still not a reason to be complacent. It has to be better, surely, not to make or use these short-term-use plastics at all?
A substitute has to be from a non-petroleum based source. It has to be biodegradable, look good and be crinkle-free. And it has to have a long shelf life. No one wants it to decompose in the shop. And not also in the box of unsent cards that the customer has at home.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a possible answer. It is different than most thermoplastic polymers. And it is made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane.
Apparently it is less clear and crinkles easily. I am not sure about the crinkling, because one of our magazines arrives in cornstarch plastic. Admittedly it is not clear. But it doesn’t crinkle. It is stretchy and we put it in the compost bin after we remove it from the magazine.
Suppose PLA or some other biodegradable material doesn’t prove to be useable to protect cards. Then will naked cards be the way the market goes? Somehow they don’t seem to fit the description of the next big thing in greeting cards. That phrase surely means something more disruptive than delivering naked cards.
I got a sample of the new Kard Klasp product from the Windles Group. The idea is to be able to do away with the plastic wrapper using a small piece of self-seal paper. We would wrap it around the open end of the card, with the envelope inside the card.
The Klasp is about 10x100mm (about a third of an inch by four inches). And the idea is that greeting card designers would order these in bulk personalised with their own branding.
My brief experience with the samples is that the Klasp kept the card/envelope in place, so that’s good.
There are options for where to put the Klasp are. It can go in the middle of the open side of the card. Otherwise it can go near the top of the open side of the card. Or it can go somewhere near the bottom outer side, etc.
What is not so good is this. Once we’d decided where the Klasp went we would not move it to accommodate different card designs.
The position of the Klasp might be OK on one card design. But it could obscure the design on other card designs. And we would not have time to make endless creative decisions. Furthermore, they would be mini decisions about where best to place the Klasp for each card design. That’s not a very rewarding use of time.
I tried pulling a Klasp off a card/envelope combo. It came off intact and didn’t lift any print, so that’s good.
However, peeling the Klasp off the card left little scratch marks on the card from my fingernail. I was trying to get a purchase on the Klasp to lift it off the card. So the Klasp failed, which is definitely not so good.
Naked and Dirty: The Next Big Thing?
The real problem though is that we would be moving backwards. We would be heading towards ‘naked and dirty’, covered in finger marks. And that is what prompted the use of plastic wrappers in the first place. That is surely not a desirable outcome.
Imagine the scene repeated a million times in card shops. There would be complaints about dirty cards, or the new plastic bags that fell apart in the drawer at home. Or disappointment that there are no cards with glitter any more.
There has to be a solution, but I don’t think that naked cards are the way to go. And if not naked cards, then what is beyond the horizon? It’s easier to see poor solutions than it is to see what the next big thing is.
We look and hope to catch sight of a wave. We try to detect the next big thing in greeting cards and make a better product.