Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Interesting Insights - Interview with Charlotte Biggs of the Card & Gift Blog

The Card & Gift Blog aim to showcase the best in the world of Cards and Gifts. With seven years experience working in the industry Charlotte Biggs; the writer of the Card & Gift Blogs gives her insights to the card and gift industry today.

Sara Prebble: "What inspired you to create the Card & Gift Blog?'

Charlotte Biggs: "The idea to start Card & Gift Blog began to develop in early 2009. I'd been working for a card and gift publisher for about six years, during that time I'd built up lots of experience and made lots of friends in the industry.

Speaking to friends who were artists and designers I knew a lot found it difficult to get noticed and get their products seen. They either didn't feel confident promoting their products or had limited time and budget to handle any attempt at marketing.

About the same time I'd started to get interested in blogs; it seemed like a great platform for showcasing card & gift products. A 'one-stop shop' that brought together lots of different companies and individual designers would be easily accessible and easy to find at any time. Designers and makers would be able to easily publicise their products, generating interest and demand by reaching buyers and consumers at the same time.

Later in the year the recession hit the company I worked for and my colleagues and I were made redundant. I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do next so I decided to spend a bit of time as a freelance copywriter, the job I'd had on and off since I was fifteen. While I was putting together a portfolio of my work the blog idea began to resurface. Writing a blog seemed like a good way to add to my portfolio and I'd always loved the new product launches so I knew it was something I'd enjoy writing about.

I'd never put together a blog before but I was fairly optimistic that I could give it a go. I'm good with computers and I've taught myself enough html coding to get by. My past jobs also helped with putting the blog together. I graduated with a degree in History so I'm confident with research work. I've also had my fair share of marketing roles so I can use some of those skills to help promote the products shown on the blog.

So far it's all going well, when I started the aim was to get as many people viewing the blog on a monthly basis as view the trade magazines and I'm just about there. The audience is growing each month so that first target will be completed soon and I'll start working towards the next target.

Sara Prebble: "What are you looking for from a Card & Gift Designer to feature in your blog?"

Charlotte Biggs: "It's hard to define exactly what I'm looking for as I never have anything specific in mind (beyond “Is it a card? Is it a Gift?”). I tend to react to the things I see. I look at hundreds and hundreds of websites and thousands of products. If something pops out or makes me stop in my tracks then I have a closer look. I do look for certain attributes in cards and gifts. I look at the quality of the products and try to choose items that are well-designed and well-made; if something looks unprofessional I tend to leave it alone. I also like to see originality, either in subject matter or design style. I think I'm also attracted to enthusiasm, it's a bit of an obscure one but when someone has a genuine belief in their products and enthusiasm for what they're doing it comes across in their designs.

Sara Prebble: "The average retail price of a card in 2009 in the UK was £1.17. Do you think the recession has effected the card & gift industry and made an impact on the prices we are seeing on the shelves today?"

Charlotte Biggs: "Since I first started working in the card & gift industry in 2003 there has been a lot of changes, but it's hard to estimate how much is due to the recession and how much was already in motion before 2009. I think two of the major changes I noticed during my time in the industry were diversification of supply and advancements in the printing industry.
On the high street it's no longer just traditional card & gift shops that are selling greetings cards: chain stores are complimenting their traditional stock with card ranges; supermarkets are commissioning and printing their own range of cards; higher quality discount stores are also entering the market. The diversification is mirrored online with the growth of handmade markets and 'direct from designer' sites. This diversification in stockists gives a greater variation in price points.

The advancements in printing also has a knock on effect on the prices you see on the shelves. Greater availability of digital printing means more people can sell cards using cost-effective, high quality digital print runs. Improved printing techniques and materials in the far east enables those with a larger budget to mass produce cards, while maintaining quality at a much reduced cost.

Thinking back to 2009 and since then one big change I have noticed with is that publishers are experimenting with how they sold their products: more seemed willing to sell direct to consumers, (as well as to their traditional trade customers), or sell off their old ranges to discount stores rather than pulping the redundant stock. In the recession cash flow was key, everyone had to be a bit more flexible; be willing to diversify and experiment. The result seems to be greater options in supply to consumers, greater options in production for the publishers and ultimately greater variety in prices on the shelves.

Sara Prebble: "What trends do you see emerging for 2012 in the gift industry?"

Charlotte Biggs: "There are a number of trends that have been predicted for 2012, covering everything from 'clouds', to 'technology', to 'voyages', to 'futurism' to 'cinematic'. I have been starting to see gift items that relate to all of these but the biggest trends that I'm starting to see more and more of revolve around 'British' and 'Nostalgic' trends. With events such as the Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee due in 2012 there is a lot of focus on 'British' inspired gifts. The union jack trend that has been around for a few years is being carried forward with new variations and iconic 'British' designs of stamps, taxis, bulldogs and telephone boxes are all being incorporated into designs. The focus on London that these events will bring has also brought all things London into the mix. The 'Nostalgic' trend is fairly adaptable, mixing with the 'British' trend it can incorporate sentimental tones, using vintage inspired artwork, designs and quotes. With 'cinematic' trends the nostalgia comes from the glamour of the fifties and the continuing love for the Mad Men style. The handmade market is also using nostalgia with 'upcycling', utilising the trend as products are created mixing 'old and new'.

Sara Prebble: "Handmade v Mass produced - do you think people are leaning towards the individuality of handmade cards or preferring the personalised computer generated designs we are seeing from Moonpig and Funky Pigeon for 2012?"

Charlotte Biggs: "I don't think there is one definitive answer if I'm honest, they're two very different styles that suit different types of consumer or different types of occasion. Personally I'd always choose something well-designed or handmade over something computer generated but that is down to my personal taste; I like the creative touch and I love finding a card that is a work of art. For me choosing a card online and having someone else print and post it seems like I'm cheating somehow.

It's easy to understand that with this mindset I never quite understood the appeal of Moonpig or Funky Pigeon. This did however change quite recently. Working on a marketing campaign for a construction company I was asked to purchase several hundred cards via Moonpig. I customised a design to fit the campaign, upload the mailing list (with only a few minor problems) and that was it – the message was delivered in a personalised greetings card. Similarly when a group of us wanted to send a birthday card to our boss for his birthday we uploaded a photo to a Moonpig template and customised the card with our own jokes. The cards had clear printing and the board was a good quality, so I was happy but despite this I'm not converted. On both occasions I was taking advantage of a very specific service that the Moonpig and Funky Pigeon offered but it's not something I would ever think of choosing under normal circumstances.

For some consumers the customisation options or the convenience of Moonpig and Funky Pigeon will be the deciding factor. I think for other consumers (like myself) it will always be preferable to find a handmade card that you can pick up, write and deliver. I've heard it said that when designing greetings cards you always have to think about your target audience and I think that even with Moonpig and Funky Pigeon there will still be an audience for handmade."

See more of Charlottes Card & Gift insights on one of these:

1 comment:

  1. Simple and to the point,your writing style inspires me a lot....