As sharing on social media continues to grow in popularity, one might expect the volume of holiday cards and letters passing through the post office to go down. However, the USPS actually saw a 10% increase in Christmas mail last year. Moreover, that includes holiday cards, letters and photographs shared between family and friends.
While conventional greeting card companies have seen a gradual decline in sales, online stationery companies are thriving in the traditional printing market. This is because consumers are taking advantage of an increasingly diverse selection of personalized card options and designs.
“The impact from social media and digital marketing has influenced both the demand and the consumer’s engagement with personalized stationery, wedding invitations and holiday cards,” says Deb DeFanti. DeFanti is the senior director of Marketing & Customer Experience for Paper Culture, a San Francisco Bay-area e-commerce stationery company. “While consumers love their social media channels, they also want to get back to traditional channels that engage with their family and friends in a more meaningful way,” she adds.
Furthermore, baby boomers are not necessarily generating this upward trend. “The demographic has really shifted,” says Sarah Turk, a stationery analyst at the research firm IBISWorld. “Instead of it being more of an older consumer that values paper, we’re seeing a lot of millennials also purchasing paper products.”
Design Trends for Holiday Cards
Paper Culture’s DeFanti notes, “Christmas card trends are less about formats and sizes and more about content, design elements and copy. As consumers engage more with social media, the demand for social media as well as pop-culture-inspired designs has increased. Consumers are taking a more lighthearted approach to personalizing their holiday cards. So we’ve added more humor-related cards to our catalog.
“We also see a lot more ‘planned’ spontaneity in customers’ photographs,” she says. “While they continue to use professional portraits for their holiday cards, consumers are also incorporating selfies and fun pictures, like silly antics under the Christmas tree.”
No matter what photos clients choose to share, minimalist design is still an important criterion for holiday cards. “Well-executed typography and graphic elements put the focus on the photo,” adds DeFanti. “Foil-embossed elements definitely remain a trend. At Paper Culture, we’ve incorporated unique foil illustrations that are very popular.”
Pear Tree Greetings
A small, independent stationer located in Mankato, Minnesota, Pear Tree Greetings offers an extensive line of interactive greeting cards. The unique cards let senders share multiple photos.
Known for its award-winning designs, the Pear Tree Luxury Christmas Card line features cards that fold into photo cubes, ribbon booklets, hanging banners, swatch books, greeting sliders and even a set of memorable mittens. Most cards provide space for several images as well as a printed personal message—making them the perfect alternative to homemade holiday newsletters.
Pear Tree designers employ paper-engineering techniques to create unusual greeting cards that hang, spin and slide. One of the most unusual and flexible card designs is the Holiday Hello Slider.
It allows customers to choose from multiple paper textures, artwork and verse options, plus more than 70 colors. The two-piece cards consist of an outside sleeve printed with a photo and a handwritten holiday greeting on the front. The back features a full-bleed landscape photo. In addition, a thumb tab on the side allows viewers to pull out the interior card, which displays an additional 17 images on one side and a “newsy” personal message on the other.
Other award-winning designs include the swatch book, made up of four 4-5/8×6-1/4-inch cards, printed front and back. They are held together by a grommet in the top left corner.
Banner cards also provide a variety of formats for displaying images and holiday greetings. These include faux burlap flags, Christmas tree light cutouts and colorful holiday stockings printed with the names and photos of family members. Spinner cards feature a rotating holiday message wheel inside a 5-1/2×4-1/4-inch sleeve. It is printed front and back with photos and a personal message.
Nations Photo Lab
Nations Photo Lab provides a wide variety of photo printing services out of Cockeysville, Maryland. The company added a popular new printing media to its Christmas card collection—Birch Wood cards.
The 5×7-inch wood cards are printed on one side for display. Using no white ink, the natural wood grain shows through the lighter areas of the card’s image. The 1mm thick cards fit easily into the supplied craft paper envelopes and can be mailed with a single, standard postage stamp.
A Greener Printing Model
Paper Culture is one of many printing companies that appeal to younger customers by minimizing their environmental footprint. It was founded in 2009 by former HP, Xerox, Yahoo! and Snapfish executives who wanted to create a greener business model for cards, gifts and wall décor. As a result, Paper Culture uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper to print its products. The company also plants one tree for every order it fills, with the goal of planting a million new trees.
“As consumers become more particular about the companies they do business with, we find ourselves in a unique position to deliver an exceptional experience by offering both design and sustainability,” says Christopher Wu, Paper Culture’s CEO and cofounder. “Based on our 2017 surveys, over 30% of customers were looking for a sustainable option for their cards.
“People make a statement about who they are with their holiday cards. When they choose Paper Culture, they are saying they care about the planet and they’re doing something about it,” Wu adds.
Based in Chicago, Paper Source is a premier brick-and-mortar paperie and gift retailer that also embraces a greener business model. The company offers an intimate, boutique-style environment to shop for personalized stationery, gift wrap, fine papers and greeting cards. It also has a large online presence, representing a variety of innovative stationery designers.
“We appreciate that paper is essentially a simple formula, despite all its beautiful subtleties and complexities. Fiber + Water + Energy = Paper. It’s a science and it’s an art,” notes the Paper Source website.
“Today, with the increasing concern about preserving the earth’s fragile ecosystem, this simple formula has become a more delicate equation. Paper can be labeled as something ‘bad’ if stereotyped as the outcome of inefficient use of energy. Or irresponsible forestry and industrial practices. As a purveyor of paper products, it’s our responsibility to assess how and where we factor in.”
Snail Mail vs. Digital Delivery
For many consumers, the most challenging aspect of sharing annual Christmas cards is updating their mailing lists, labeling the envelopes and getting the cards to the post office on time. Paper Culture offers a professional mailing service that significantly reduces the manual labor.
“With everyone being so busy these days and the influx of services that do things for you, our mailing service is definitely treasured among our loyal customer base,” says DeFanti. “Knowing they can have a reliable company mail their holiday cards is a big conversion factor. It’s also been a big factor in our corporate business, where the average contact list is 10 times the size of a consumer’s.”
The other option is to skip the post office altogether and deliver your cards via e-mail.
A New York City-based business, Paperless Post launched in 2009. It set out to prove that digital communication can be as personal and well designed as its paper counterparts. The experiment was a success. In less than a decade, Paperless Post has outgrown three offices, raised $12.3 million and also sent more than 60 million user-generated e-cards.
Paperless Post also provides traditional printing services through its partner, Paper Source. Furthermore, it works with leading fashion designers, like Kelly Wearstler and Oscar de la Renta, to produce original designer cards and stationery. The company has an equally impressive list of former customers. They include the Barack Obama presidential campaign and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In addition, the e-commerce company offers hundreds of free card designs that can be upgraded with premium options and services. Consumers pay for upgrades with online “coins” purchased through the website. Most important, it provides a delivery and tracking service that distributes customers’ e-cards and notifies them when the cards are opened.
It is clear that holiday cards, letters and photographs are still extremely popular with consumers. Are you offering your customers a diverse selection of personalized card options and designs for this holiday season?