With the NBA set to return to action on July 30, we will soon be hearing the term “rebound” quite often. The word possesses a deep connection not only to hoops endeavors, but also to commercial transactions. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to rethink their professional pursuits, with the print world needing to make major modifications, too, based on the dwindling of customers, the revamped needs of remaining clients and the aspirations of new connections. As businesses ponder which tools to call on to stay steady or regain their balance, it can prove pretty difficult to break out a reliable crystal ball, as Mardra Sikora, CEO of Pocket Folders Fast, Omaha, Neb., noted, but the idea that persistence pays off must, well, persist.
Based on the abundance of information that comes our way each day, presentation folders and brochures resound as great resources to tackle as the country tries to counter the pandemic. To see how the products are faring, Print+Promo connected with Sikora and Michael Mulvihill, director of business development for FolderWorks, Powered by Navitor, North Mankato, Minn.
Since the nation earnestly began its battle against COVID-19 in March, the print and promotional products world has eagerly responded to the crisis by choosing the latter part of the “sink or swim” directive that we commonly hear during tough times. What sort of shape, though, were professionals in when commencing the fight, and how have the last four months affected their standing and overall confidence?
“Let’s just get the obvious out of the way,” Sikora stated. “Every industry and market is experiencing a shake-up. Most individuals and businesses had little or no notice before being blindsided by the need for extreme changes in how business is done, if at all. Organizations of all sizes are shifting priorities, scrapping old plans and making critical decisions on points never before considered. I’m as tired of the word ‘unprecedented’ as anyone else, but that is the word for this moment in time.”
How, then, do these unique times influence one’s perception of the efficacy of presentation folders and brochures? These items can help people find stability in handling pandemic information and other vital components of their daily lives as residents and workers.
“For many businesses, the pocket folder is a valuable communication tool because it is either an introductory, welcoming, marketing piece or the carrier of important information to be kept and stored,” Sikora explained. “Some examples are for holding important papers like a pending sale/closing or a medical check-in or discharge paperwork. Presently, the most important messages to convey to consumers, employees, clients and potential clients are the tried, true and important points of trust, safety, security and connection.”
In imparting that knowledge, companies must decide on the nature of what will bear the details, with Sikora confident that they will continue to use standard 9×12″ pocket folders for the task.
“Although the costs for creating custom items have dropped significantly due to a variety of technologies, I think we will see a move to simple, clean and standard designs as a signal of comfort and security,” she said. “Consumer attention is maxed out, so this will lead to more marketing styles of functionality over pizzazz.”
Much like “unprecedented,” “the new normal” has become a byproduct of the pandemic, leading to sweeping alterations for some areas that consistently rely on literature to draw attention to their services and amenities. Though the modifications might sound like doom-and-gloom indicators on the surface, Mulvihill, while acknowledging their potential to cause conflict, has seen them as potential sources of growth.
“Specific market segments during the pandemic have continued to perform well for the folders category, including health care and banking,” he said. “Other markets didn’t fare quite as well during the peak of the pandemic, including higher education and hospitality. Overall, our sales have not been as planned, and that has impacted our business in a negative way. However, from a sales and marketing standpoint, it has allowed us to shift and pivot how we are selling our products and capabilities.
“The other positive during this time frame has been the ramp up of testing of new concepts, materials and finishes that will allow our company to add new options in the ‘new normal,’ post-COVID-19,” he continued. “It’s interesting how certain triggers and events force you to think outside of the box.”
Holding that her company has always served as a micro-window into what is going on in the economy, Sikora noted that most of the folders on her shop floor are for medical-related industries, with at-home care, retirement living and specialists thriving, along with larger hospital and clinic-based medical groups. Also seeing a steady flow of attorney folders, insurance and banking-related ones, Pocket Folders Fast benefits, too, from a balance of businesses either gearing up or keeping up with their respective community markets.
“Folders today are more than simple commodities; instead, a folder is a critical piece of the brand identity puzzle,” Sikora said. “In previous years, folders were ordered on the lightest weight possible and generically printed over several internal company divisions and locations. Now, technology and, therefore, pricing, allow organizations to individualize their folders by project, purpose and location. Also, studies have shown the impact on memory and impression made by simple, tactile responses like paper weight and texture. This means good news as companies vie for consumer attention by recognizing the value in using a heavier paper stock, and adding effects to catch and keep the attention of the user.”
Her team prides itself in helping clients heighten their messages with the tools at hand, leading her to posit that the next phase of embellishments and special finishing techniques will serve to emphasize the brand. Regarding embellishments, Mulvihill relayed that FolderWorks’ customer base has been asking for more customized solutions recently, giving the company the opportunity to test substrates that fit well with its UV printing solutions.
“Short-run [orders] continue to gain momentum,” he shared. “We have added a KM1-e press to help fill that need in the market. … We have also seen an uptick in both traditional and digital embellishment requests, specifically with our packaging products.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has us wondering about the future of everything. The degree of severity, of course, will matter from topic to topic, but suppliers remain optimistic here.
“We are still bullish on folders and brochures as a product line,” Mulvihill said. “We have seen tremendous growth for the last seven years, and we are expecting a bounce back throughout the second half of the year.”
Sikora sees continued demand for sturdy stocks and tactile finishes.
“We stock 14- and 16-point C1S and C2S and see the heavier options gaining popularity in vertical markets like real estate, roofing, landscaping and other home improvement-related markets, as well as high-end retail sellers like specialty bakeries, luxury spas or jewelry [stores],” she said. “… These stocks are often paired with the other hottest trend of tactile finishes—soft-touch lamination. Although soft-touch came onto the market years ago, it is still picking up momentum. What was once seen only in sophisticated brand markets is now popular across the board, from banks and hospitals to technology and automotive markets.”
As the “new normal” unfolds, Mulvihill believes that folders and brochures may come to play an even larger role in the sales and support process than they have played before. Thanks to digital evolution, FolderWorks and other businesses can produce short-run personalized folders through which agents and representatives can stand out in a crowd.
“This level of personalization and connection could play an even more important role in building trust and relationships as sales shift to more of a virtual experience,” he surmised. “Lastly, for many companies, the folder is the cornerstone of their brand. It will continue to be a key differentiator in telling a company’s brand promise and story.”
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