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Peddling Analog Tools in a Digital World

By Vivian Wagner
Feb 25, 2019 12:24 PM PT
it may seem contradictory but e-commerce is how analog toolmakers are marketing their anti-digital products

From fountain pens and high-end pencils to unique paper notebooks, analog writing tools have legions of fans, in spite of -- or maybe because of -- the fact that we're living in a primarily digital world.

It's precisely the physicality of analog tools that makes them appealing to many people immersed in a digital reality. They're grounding and real in a world that has become increasingly ephemeral.

"In this age of nearly infinite digital connectivity, analog devices are still the go-to for many," observed Chris Rothe, executive director of Write Notepads & Co.

"This certainly isn't a gimmick or fad," he told the E-Commerce Times. Individuals ranging from those who have been immersed in paper their whole lives to younger generations who've been born with smart devices in their hands still gravitate toward high-quality paper goods."

Tactile and Functional

The tactile nature of analog stationery tools, in particular, makes them appealing to many people.

"Writing with pencils is a tactile experience that creates a completely different user experience when compared to digital tools," said Nick Sese, account services manager at Blackwing, which markets high-end pencils, notebooks, and other stationery products.

"For example, drawing with your finger on a tablet doesn't have the same impact as writing pencil to paper," he told the E-Commerce Times.

In addition to their feel, analog tools serve some purposes that digital tools cannot.

"From a functional standpoint, few if any digital devices can truly replicate the processes involved in formulating an idea and physically writing it down or drawing it out," said Rothe. "I don't see paper notebooks going away anytime in the future."

We don't always have access to electricity and WiFi, after all, and we might simply prefer writing down information and ideas in a pocket notebook to pulling out a cellphone or tablet.

"For me, it's hard to replace a pen or pencil and paper," said Cody Martin, founder of Option Gray, which markets a variety of artisanal stationery tools and other gear.

"I carry a notebook and writing utensil every single day," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Digital Marketing of Analog Tools

Most businesses that make and sell analog stationery tools use online and other digital methods to reach their customers and build their market. There's no contradiction between making and selling analog writing tools and marketing them digitally, in other words.

In fact, there's a free-flowing symbiosis between the digital and analog worlds when it comes to analog tool enthusiasts, with social media stationery groups and podcasts that help to create and sustain analog stationery communities. Examples include Erasable Podcast and The Pen Addict. Further, companies make use of Facebook pages, YouTube videos, email lists and blog posts to reach potential customers.

People might like writing with a fine pencil, but they don't hesitate to research analog tools on the Web, participate in digital communities, and place orders from a variety of online vendors.

"It's ironic that I use the Internet and work in a digital world in order to facilitate my escape from the digital world," remarked Martin. "I earn a digital living to support escaping from those very things."

In their marketing, companies that specialize in selling analog tools tend to highlight the real and physical benefits of their products, as well as the value they can bring to their customers.

"The biggest factor in successfully marketing a notebook in this digital age is adding value to our customers' lives," said Write Notepads' Rothe. "We create products that actually have meaning and facilitate an ease of use for our customers. The Internet has helped us identify, locate and create community around those individuals that rely on paper notebooks to assist in planning, organizing, and creating a multitude of things covering all facets of their lives."

Blogging to tell the story of products and tout their usefulness and appeal works well for many companies.

"We simply provide education and inspiration through our blog in a way that demonstrates the tool's value," said Option Gray's Martin. "Curating quality tools and equipment that will last is something that stands out in a disposable world. I really believe with all the convenience and information at our fingertips, people still long for simpler manual processes. It's not always convenient, but it's nice to have the option."

In addition to blogs, a variety of other digital platforms provide a valuable opportunity to connect with potential customers, particularly for businesses that exist solely online.

"We use the Internet and digital marketing to exclusively drive sales and brand awareness," said Martin. "By leveraging paid ads, social media channels, etc., we are able to connect with folks, build recognition, and push new products. It's extremely vital to us, especially since we do not have a physical store front. Traditional methods of marketing do not fit into our business model, and we have to be creative to find new ways to stand out in the digital space."

The Future of Analog

Despite our headlong rush into what seems to be an almost entirely digital existence, analog toolmakers and sellers are optimistic about the future of these tools.

"From the trends we've seen and studied, it's my opinion that analog stationery is here to stay for several generations to come," said Rothe. "There are always those individuals who will race to grab the next-best-thing in the digital world. There's an equally large segment that gravitates toward analog. Think about it, does receiving a thank you via email really carry as much tactile and emotional connection as a handwritten note?"

The more digitized we become, in fact, the more we might crave having analog tools to express ourselves.

"I think as we go further into the digital frontier, there will always be an audience looking to reconnect with our analog past," said Blackwing's Sese. "Some of it probably stems from having a contrast of experience. For some, work has become a mostly digital experience, and using analog stationery tools to be creative is a great way to disconnect from work."


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.


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