Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Greeting Cards and Business Models

My wife and her mother run a greeting card company called Any Horrible Occasion. It's a great line that has divorce cards, cancer cards, lawsuit cards, and cards for any occasion. Check them out sometime, they're hilariously funny!
It all started when they were running a company for LDS-themed greeting cards, that then got buried under when a large corporate entity took over the market with some pretty shady business practices. Yeah... no bitterness here! Since my mother-in-law is a twice-divorced single mother of 6, she's had some ideas over the years for real-life cards that make people laugh at the situation. She'd talked with various artists to brainstorm it, looked at all kinds of photography, and somehow settled in on the idea of fine art gone bad.
My mother-in-law has found a great niche. There are lots of cards that look at situations in life in a mean-spirited tone, or that resort to easy punchlines that are crass or rude. Any Horrible Occasion cards talk honestly about the difficult situations in life while retaining the receiver's dignity.
It's been a great little line of cards! Everybody that sees them has an emotional reaction-- either they love them, or they hate them. Apparently that kind of reaction is a very good thing! It's okay to offend some people because you need to break out of the Zone of Mediocrity that comes from trying to please everyone.
That brings me back to market niches. In the religious market especially, you're never going to please everyone. While you may be wildly popular among your target denomination, everyone else is going to call blasphemy on you. Run the numbers for a minute. In the US, the LDS faith takes about 1.9% of the population. That means you're almost completely guaranteed to never sell to 98.1% of the market!! Who in their right mind would try to sell a product that 98% of the population would never buy?!
Any Horrible Occasion targets a broader niche. I can't really back that up, actually, since its sales numbers have never been what Twin Peaks was, but we think the target audience is broader. At the National Stationery Show in New York, Any Horrible Occasion has won 2 LOUIE awards in two years. Since the award is based on sendability, quality, price, etc., I have to assume that there's some segment in the broader world that appreciates AHO's unique brand of humor.
Whatever the niche is, it's the reaction that people have that's been most important. We've been called everything from genius to prostitution of fine art, but it's incredibly rare to find someone who just says, "Meh." It's this visceral reaction to the product that's going to drive sales. People who love it are passionately showing (and sending) cards to their friends.
People who hate it are also passionately showing cards around. Ever notice how when you're at a restaurant and somebody gets bad food, the first thing they do is say, "Oh my gosh, this is SO NASTY!! Here... try it!" That's the kicker. Even if they hate the product, they're advertising it for free!
Turning that passion into sales is easy enough once people see the cards. For the moment we need to work on getting them out to be seen.

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