The stationery market is far from stationary

  • Opinion
  • April 10, 2017
  • Dulcie Tauri
The stationery market is far from stationary

“No matter how equipped we are with technology, we connect to the act of doing... living our world through analogue experiences.” – Baum Kuchen

There have always been stationery enthusiasts, but in an increasingly busy world of work commitments, social engagements and the technology to aid us to ‘do more’ there’s been a recent tidal wave of love for all things analogue. Is it a fringe interest representing a counter culture, and if so will it become mainstream? Or, is it a broader cultural current working alongside society’s digital transformation, and if so, what does that mean for the digital transformations taking place in New Zealand businesses?

Increasingly we live and work in a virtual world driven by the ease and convenience of technology. Our work, finances, personal and professional correspondence and engagements are all managed via digital tools. Technology is in all parts of our lives – the average household has at least three different devices, with people spending a significant amount of time each day in front of some form of electronic screen.

The desire to disengage from the digital world and reminisce over the tangible benefits of ‘real things’ and connections has been a key driver of the analogue counter culture which we see reflected in the renewed interest in vinyl music and film photography. There’s always been die-hard vinyl fans, but globally, and here in New Zealand, revenue from vinyl sales has grown steadily from 2013 to the point where vinyl now has its own permanent category section at our favourite Big Red Shed.

International lifestyle brands like This is Ground, Rhodia, Kikki K and Life are making stationery cool again. Globally stationery sales have seen steady increases, with global revenue expected to reach $20.2bn in 2019, a 30% increase on sales from 2014 in a category previously considered obsolete due to the rapid uptake of virtual options and the push for a paperless society. For companies solely focused on digital transformation there should be a warning bell ringing here (a lovely brass wooden-handheld bell of course, not a digital buzzer). Digital can deliver a seamless, effortless and easy customer experience but an omni-channel platform is the smartest play simply because sometimes an analogue experience is what the user wants.

The analogue movement is part of the flow of mindfulness

The interest in analogue products and services is reflecting a cultural shift up the Maslow pyramid to a desire for wellness in all of its manifestations – physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual wellbeing – which is driving the current of mindfulness gaining strength across the globe. Whether it’s journaling, mindful colouring, letter writing or scheduling a busy life, many stationery enthusiasts consider their passion an exercise in mindfulness. The simple act of writing – using pen and paper – encourages thoughtfulness and reflection that doesn’t come as easily with the instant and frenetic nature of digital communications.

This fact is clearly evidenced by English author Neil Gaiman who writes his novels with fountain pens – “It was the first time I'd used a fountain pen since I was about 13. I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.”

Wax seals, glassine envelopes, leather and brass, fountain pens, calligraphy, letterpress, rubber stamps, labels, document cases, envelope liners, pencils, water colours, grid, dot, lined or blank are all part of the stationery vernacular.

Fountain pens in particular have been transformed into more than just a tool – they’ve become an accessory, a status symbol, a gift for significant life events and a fond reminder of times gone by. Some reminisce about the school days of inky fingers, smudged books and dodgy ink pots, and while the ballpoint pen largely phased out fountain pens there’s been a recent resurgence in fountain pen sales for the likes of Lamy, Kaweco, Parker and Montblanc.

Analogue with the flexibility of digital

Society’s thirst for variety and customisable options for journals and planners has seen a growth in brands developing the new and improved Filofax for today – Midori’s Traveler’s Notebook, Hobonichi’s Techo Planner or the Deutsch Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter where people can choose how they want to configure their journal/planner/notebook of choice that doesn’t tie them in to one specific brand.

Digital planning and communications tools still play a role in people’s lives, but they’re more functional – the convenience of timely reminders and arranging meetings and social engagements with multiple parties in different locations and time zones simply can’t be done with analogue options. But digital does not offer the sensorial experience and emotive connection that can come from the simple act of putting pen to paper. 

Blurring the analogue-digital lines

Humans adapt, culture evolves and the fun starts when we get to see this happening. Stationery lovers are increasingly blurring the lines of digital and analogue – they buy their favourite pens, inks, paper and journals, create gorgeous illustrations and write eloquent think pieces using their fountain pen and ink of choice in their leather bound journals... then they share it all online with their fans and other like-minded people, they create ‘how to’ YouTube videos, they’ll arrange international meet ups and workshops, and wax lyrical about their latest purchases in their online groups with detailed reviews about why one product is preferred over the other. They love analogue, but use digital to help connect with other fans.

From an insights perspective, when we want to understand people’s behaviour, their emotions, brand perceptions and customer experience there is much to be gained by using analogue methods. While it’s tempting to use digital tools and platforms exclusively because of their speed and cost- efficiency, a written diary or scrap book, a drawing of the brand, or a hand scrawled timeline all give us a different perspective than an online blog or diary. Nothing replaces an in-the-moment video to capture actual behaviour, but pen and paper is a great way to get someone to write a story about their relationship with a brand.

And what does this mean for marketers?

The global trend toward self-fulfilment through wellness is here to stay and is growing – more people are engaging but we are also finding broadening relevance, so the movement is no longer relevant to only food or fitness brands. Every business needs to take note of this shift, in all its manifestations, when they look at both their customer and employee experience. By looking at all facets of how wellness plays out we are finding exciting opportunities for business – and not just those in the stationery business.

It’s great to offer the ease and convenience of digital, but the benefits for a brand come in combining the power of different media – tangible communications that meet the desire for analogue things, and connections in a digital world are a powerful tool for building the mana of brands. We chose a paper option for Frame over a digital magazine and, so far, your feedback has been great. We hope you enjoy your tactile reading experience. 

​ Dulcie Tauri is a senior consultant at TRA.

This article was originally published in The Cultural Intelligence Issue of TRA's Frame publication.

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