Writing instruments have been around for ages. Fountain pens date back to the early-1700s, but ink spills were prevalent then. A ruined life-insurance contract due to an ink leak motivated New York salesman Lewis Waterman to improve the design and eliminate leaks. He is credited with succeeding in 1884. About 50 years later Hungarian journalist László Bíró received a patent for the ballpoint pen utilizing the fast-drying ink used for newspapers. Many strides and upgrades have continued to occur as the pen matured. With so many options in 2014, what do end-users want from their pens?
REMEMBER THE PEN'S MAIN PURPOSE
Pen users still want the simple, original characteristic of a pen: that it writes. Laura High, senior marketing manager for BIC Graphic, Clearwater, Fla., mentioned that the company's surveys found the No. 1 desire for a pen is a smooth write-out. "Our standard ballpoint inks are already very smooth, but the Easy Glide takes it to a next level," she said. "With those survey results, and hearing that [a smooth write-out] was truly what people felt was the most important attribute in a writing instrument, that's why we have introduced it in 2014 at no additional charge," she added.
In addition to ink quality, Brian Padian, vice president of sales for Logomark, Tustin, Calif., noted that refills (which Logomark offers via www.freerefills.com) lengthen the longevity of a promotional pen. "Some people say, 'Oh, that's just a marketing scheme,' but the reality is when a pen doesn't write, typically, it goes in a drawer, but people don't throw pens away," he said. "However, if you go online and get refills mailed to your office, you're much more likely to refill your pen, and you don't just get one refill, you get five."
FIND A PEN WITH A USEFUL FEATURE FOR A SPECIFIC CLIENT
Harris Cohen, MAS, president and CEO of All-In-One, San Diego, advised distributors to think outside the box. While antimicrobial pens may be more popular in the health-care field, that's because those individuals are more aware of the benefits. However, an antimicrobial pen will work to minimize the spread of germs anywhere there is a sign-in sheet.
Additionally, All-In-One's scented pens are great for food-based organizations and events, but can extend beyond the obvious markets. "Realtors use a lot of the chocolate-chip pens because they've been taught that if they have an open house, they should bake cookies so that when the prospective buyers come in, the house will smell like home," Cohen said.
Pens have limited space to get a brand noticed, right? Not anymore. Large clips, wide barrels and improved imprinting technologies will make this line of thought disappear. The BIC Super Clip not only has a large imprint area, but is the company's debut writing instrument to feature its britePix printing technology. "It really is a great amount of space [on the clip]," High said, "and with the added feature of britePix, to be able to do a full-color imprint and even add personalization to that, that's something that we believe customers are going to be really interested in because it's really a very dynamic imprint."
Padian noted that regardless of the imprint size, the usage is more important. "We use the word 'subtle' when you decorate a pen versus a T-shirt, but a pen makes approximately 37 appearances a day, so for us, it's logo frequency," he said.
Padian noted that styluses are on the rise with more than 4 million new tablet users. Although the market steers toward stylus pens $3 or less, end-buyers are willing to pay more when it comes to buying high-tech gadgets as gifts. "They're going to spend $200 to $400 on a tablet or a Kindle," he said. "They're having no problem now spending $10 to $20 on a stylus pen as opposed to 89 cents (the cheapest version)."
Additionally, the stylus has evolved with the pen now retracting through the stylus instead of being located on the opposite end. Cohen noted that this advancement soon will result in most pens having that dual tip. "You want something in your purse or your pocket or your shirt pocket, and being able to use a pen and then—you want to grab your tablet or you want to grab your phone—you just simply retract the pen, and suddenly you're using it as a stylus wand."
Padian believes these integrations will continue to drive future pen development. "Pens are going in the direction of technology," he said, "so maybe your pens will answer a phone call at some point in time."