The stationery sector has more depth than what is visible to consumers. From an impacted COVID-19 world, to soaring inflation, geopolitical tensions, population growth, amongst many other geo-political factors, consumer demands have changed, and mindsets have shifted.

Increasingly, people are looking to express themselves, engage with the physical world, and create a balance between online and offline activity, seeking nostalgic comfort in throwback entertainment with a newfound respect for the tangible.

The need to reconnect with physical play and childhood creative hobbies is expected to spur a new generation of ‘Kid-ults’.

People across the world are celebrating their identities and looking for ways to express their personalities. They are questioning who they really are, re-assessing their priorities, and seeking individuality – moving away from unrealistic norms and ‘universally accepted standards’.

The move towards authenticity pushes stationery manufacturers to provide a larger range of tools to inspire self-expression.

COVID-19 has opened peoples’ eyes to crucial elements including the concepts of holistic wellbeing, harmonious surroundings, and a hybrid lifestyle. Consumers have developed an increased awareness of nurturing both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

They are becoming more informed and aware of the environmental challenges faced and are collaboratively engaging to make a difference and expect the same from brands.

Stationery brands have the opportunity to leverage writing and coloring tools to provide a platform to disconnect and improve mood, encourage self-expression, help reduce stress, combat boredom, and offer sustainable solutions through product innovations and recycling.

With a hybrid and remote landscape, which has elevated the importance of digitalization and created blurred lines between work, home, and school, the stationery sector has a responsibility to adapt to the change and offer complementary solutions.

Digitization is certainly increasing across the world, and while it’s beneficial, for collaboration, information sharing, and storage, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of handwriting, particularly for better memorization, critical thinking, customizability, tactile feel, and simplicity.

The impact of putting pen to paper is invaluable and irreplaceable. Digital tools can certainly complement writing tools though. In East Africa, including Kenya, around 99% of educational institutions are still predominantly dependent on pen and paper.

The impact of digital tools on consumers will require more time and will be slower than that in developed countries.

Interestingly, it is evident that stationery needs evolve by stage of economic development. In developing countries, the focus is on functional and necessary writing tools, while in developed markets markers, highlighters, and gel pens are important.

Recently, there’s been a growing interest for smooth and fluid writing tools in developing countries.

While the stationery sector in Kenya continues to focus on traditional self-expression – putting pen to paper – it remains driven by global trends and insights and implements them in the local market where relevant.

Brands today, more than ever, must remain true to their purpose and clearly communicate the values that drive them. Today’s informed consumer makes conscious purchase decisions that go beyond the product to include social and environmental factors.

Smart strategies must focus on innovation, sustainable development, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

Michael Sinclair is the General Manager at BIC East Africa