Pushing the Digital Envelope

Joseph Yanoska moves American Greetings beyond paper into the vast possibilities of the digital realm

A greeting-card company may not conjure images of the high-tech world, but American Greetings is generating new digital possibilities for a paper-based industry. As the executive director of technology and operations at American Greetings subsidiary AG Interactive, Joseph Yanoska employs technology to keep ahead of the competition.

“Each time a new phone comes out, more and more capabilities are there that we didn’t have before, and the best thing we can do is always put our customer first,” Yanoska says. “We find out what the new technology gives us and make sure that we are leveraging these new technologies in ways that service our customers’ needs.”

Yanoska has seen the traditional greeting card industry move further online over the past fifteen years. People still use paper, of course, but large numbers are using devices to connect and communicate in ways that greeting cards used to facilitate. That’s the area that Yanoska focuses on. “When our customer wants to send that perfect greeting, we make sure that we have the right content in the right place at the right time to satisfy that need for our customer, whether it is paper or a digital product.”

When our customer wants to send that perfect greeting, we make sure that we have the right content in the right place at the right time to satisfy that need for our customer, whether it is paper or a digital product.”

The advent of smartphones and tablets brought with it the world of apps—which hasn’t spared greeting cards on the list of industries that it’s revolutionized—but Yanoska finds that mobile browser experiences are catching up with app experiences. “It really starts with what capabilities you have on a mobile browser versus an app,” he says. “In some cases, the app can give you direct connectivity to services on the phone, in which case the experiences you’re going to give your customer can be better.”

Beyond Paper

Here’s how the American Greetings Interactive app works:

1. Download and open the free app on a phone or tablet.

2. Pick a category, like Birthday, Just Because, Congratulations, Easter, etc.

3. Choose from premade templates featuring videos and interactive images, or create a card with different options available for backgrounds, text, font, and imagery. You can also add a photo to custom e-cards.

4. Add a custom message that will appear in the recipient’s email with the link to the e-card.

5. Add a recipient right from your device’s contacts, or type in a new one.

6. Hit send!

“As we have seen mobile browsers evolve, even in the short four, five years that we’ve been developing apps, they’ve caught up with where apps are now,” Yanoska says. “So we’re looking at our current apps to say, ‘Now what can I move back to the browser?’ Because that might be the place where more people are, and maybe they won’t want to download an app anymore.”

In tracking the behavior of American Greetings’ customers, Yanoska has noticed a trend toward mobile browsers. “Over the last couple of years, we definitely have seen that pickup of e-greetings is shifting more to a mobile or tablet device because that’s where people are picking up their email, which is generally how the sender sends it to the receiver,” he says.

Now that consumers have the option to make purchases on social media, too, Yanoska is focused on adapting. Cards sent via Facebook or Twitter are spiking, he notes, and he tracks these sales in order to stay on top of the right platforms to allow for the best possible sending experience. In the end, it all comes back to the customers’ needs and expectations.

“It’s about looking at each platform, realizing where our customers are on that platform, what they like to do, and then developing the technology that, if we do it right, fades into the background and lets our creativity shine,” Yanoska says. “What I really mean is, the emotion of the card that the sender’s trying to give shines. Whether you’re sending something that’s going to make them laugh or something that’s going to make them cry—in a good way—we make sure that experience pops. Looking at how we achieve that in each platform is really the challenge.”

All this is perhaps best exemplified in one of Yanoska’s favorite sayings: “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” He stresses that it applies to more than just the IT industry. “Whether it is a technical play with new technology or just a new responsibility you might get, I think this statement helps you move toward success,” he says.

“If a new technology launches, can you be the person in the company to learn that technology and help your company master it?” Yanoska asks. “You might not be comfortable in that space because it’s something you’ve never done before, but getting comfortable putting yourself in that spot and knowing you can succeed is important. That’s how we grow.”