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How American Greetings Learned to Embrace Tumultuous Change

American Greetings, like its chief competitor Hallmark, is fighting back in an era when social media has given everyone an instant platform for communicating sentiments—one that would seem to have eliminated the old-fashioned, hand-held greeting card. How does a traditional media company stay relevant and keep its business profitable?

optimized-istock-507846478“It’s a moving target,” John Beeder, president and chief operating officer of the company told Chief Executive. “There aren’t many industries that aren’t changing in some way faster than in the past, and everyone is dealing with certain disruptors.”

To start with, “We stepped back and asked a good cross-section of our associates to tell us what our values were, and that led us to articulating in a more contemporary manner the mission and vision of our company,” Beeder explained.

For example, when the company moved into a new 5-story, 660,000-square-foot headquarters in Cleveland, “our employees created a mural that greets everyone, which is striking in terms of helping understand what happens every day at our company—our innovation, and how we collaborate, and how we help organize our people so they can work every day in an environment where there’s respect for those values.

“We stepped back and asked a good cross-section of our associates to tell us what our values were, and that led us to articulating in a more contemporary manner the mission and vision of our company.

“The building also shows how we value creativity,” he said. “Employees told us they wanted sunlight to unlock their creative energy, so we built the building with the vast majority of the floor space open to the sunlight in some way, and a courtyard in the middle that has turned into a central gathering place” for collaborative thinking.

“We’ve realized that our products are being used differently by different people based on their communications networks,” Beeder said. “For instance, a lot of our customers are using greeting cards in the context of very close friendships to supplement social media networks, whereas others use greeting cards more traditionally.”

To capitalize on that change in behavior, American Greetings recently created a line called Just Wink that was written specifically for the smartphone generation and simultaneously launched the card line along with an app so a customer can deliver the card digitally if preferred.

“We also are putting more technology in cards such as sound chips,” Beeder said, “while others create more of a fashion statement, such as our Papyrus card line. Each of these appeals to a bit different group.”

Looking to disrupt too, American Greetings is tapping what it calls moments of “cultural tension” with its #ThankList social-media campaign, enabling personalized videos and messages for people to reach out and thank others. The benefit of this online product is that it cuts across the company’s entire audience. And because it’s a digital-only effort, it’s not expensive or time-consuming for the company to scale up.

About Dale Buss

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.