The Writing's on the ... Facebook Wall?
Relax, doomsayers: the pen isn't going anywhere. After a brief spell of panic among the literati—spurred on by the rise of email, and text messaging, and a little thing called Twitter—it appears the impending "death of the written word" was a false alarm, an overreaction to an Internet culture that demanded its communication be delivered in 140 characters or less.
Sure, maybe the long-form, handwritten letter is a thing of the past, but books and magazines are still around, if in different or changing forms, and pen sales are good—very good. Writing instruments remain the second best-selling promotional products behind apparel, and according to the BBC News article, "Why Are Fountain Pen Sales Rising?", fountain pens, those bastions of antiquity, actually saw an increase in sales in 2012.
Still uncomfortable about pitching pens to the client tapping away on his iPad Mini? Don't be. We've got the how-to for selling pens in the digital age.
"Technology has advanced rapidly in recent years. Pens may be used less frequently, but they are still a must-have item in everyday life," said Kevin Xiao, vice president of Ontario, California-based Atteff International. "You may not need to use a pen to write a long letter, but you'll still need it for writing a Christmas card, or for filling out a form, or to sign for a document."
And so it is: Technology has not rendered the pen useless so much as it has simply shifted the pen's primary uses. The Gutenberg press. The typewriter. The status update. All of that stuff revolutionized the way people wrote and communicated, but none of it was able to kill off pen-and-ink. Instead, pens simply filled the niches.
This is truer now more than ever. Online banking has reduced the need for paper checks, but every bank branch still has a majestic kiosk of Technicolor deposit and withdrawal slips. Smartphones offer apps for jotting memos, but you can write out three sticky notes before your app even loads. Classrooms are increasingly allowing laptops and tablets for note-taking, but try passing a "Do You Like Me? Yes or No" note through email. (It's not nearly as romantic.)
In other words, pens continue to sell because people still need pens—and that's the first thing you should tell your clients. "Every employee at a restaurant carries a pen, police officers writing you those wonderful tickets, students in class, outdoorsmen taking notes, artists and designers, etc.," explained Matt Fisher, ad specialties director for Fisher Space Pen Co., Boulder City, Nev. "There is always a need for a pen and there always will be."
Not sold? Is your client still mashing the touchscreen on his Galaxy Nexus 7, probably tweeting something like "@penhater454 Pens are so 19th century lol #welcometo2013gramps"? That's okay. Pen suppliers have an answer for even the staunchest of technophiles.
See, the pen industry did not sit idly by while the tablet-and-smartphone bandwagon was filling up. It did the sensible thing: It called shotgun. All manner of tech-friendly pens are now available, with stylus-tipped offerings effectively bridging the gap between the old-school and the new. "Pens with styluses, especially the soft-tip styluses that are compatible with capacitive touchscreens like on the iPad and iPhone, are becoming popular thanks to the great success of smartphone and tablet products in recent years," noted Xiao.
And "great success" might be an understatement. According to Computerworld, the International Data Corporation's "Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker" study projected 2013 tablet sales at 172.4 million units, with 2016 sales skyrocketing to 282.7 million. Even if only a fraction of pen-users embrace the pen-stylus hybrid, that's still a huge base of potential customers—and that's before you even account for smartphone users. Looking at projections like that, it's not crazy to think that the explosion in touchscreen devices—long thought to be the death knell for traditional writing instruments—could actually contribute to an increase in demand for pens.
"Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. In years to come, the flip phone with push keys will be obsolete, so a pen with a stylus tip is a must," Fisher said. "Why not kill two birds with one stone and have your smartphone tool and writing tool on you at all times, in one piece?"
If that's not enough to woo clients concerned that pens are too old-fashioned to be worthwhile promotional items, remind them that stylus tips are just one of many tech features available in this brave new ballpoint world. Fisher listed invisible-ink and check-guardian pens that protect against fraud and identity theft, while Xiao mentioned pens that incorporate L.E.D. flashlights or laser pointers. "The multiple-function feature is a great selling point," Xiao said.
If the track record of sales success isn't enough, there are two more big reasons it's worthwhile to pitch pens.
One, there are plenty of potential markets for sales. Xiao pointed to banking, insurance, advertising, retail and others. Fisher noted that high-end pens are great for businesses that run incentive programs or give gifts, while less-expensive pens work everywhere else. "There are tons of markets. Educational, medical, restaurant, military, law enforcement, attorneys, corporate, artists and designers, tradesmen, etc.," he said. "The list goes on and on."
Two, once you've found the right market, pens provide excellent opportunities for repeat orders. "We have a pen that is bullet-shape designed, and it has appealed to military end-user clients," noted Xiao. "We have been receiving repeat orders a few times a year for years."
Fisher gave the example of an Aerospace event that gave Fisher Space Pens as attendee gifts. "Because it was perfect for that particular market, it was well-received, and to this day when we return to the event people are still talking about it," he said. "Like I said before, all you have to do is find the perfect pen for the perfect market and you're set."