Marketing Bites: The Business Card

February 3, 2015 Finola Howard

One might think that in this technologically obsessed world in which we live that the Business Card is now defunct. One might even assume that people aren’t interested in collecting business cards at all. They’ll just bump phones with you and get your contacts that way. Alternatively they might connect with you on LinkedIn before you even meet and collect your details that way.

In her article titled ‘Business Cards are Dead and Here’s WhyJ Maureen Henderson  discusses how the working world has changed. She states that

‘Business cards don’t reflect the increasingly transient nature of employment and the iterative nature of our career identities. Tenure at a given job is decreasing, especially for Millennials, who have already earned a rep as notorious job hoppers. The card someone hands you today could lead to a disconnected phone line or a dead email address tomorrow.

Have business cards from startups in your rolodex that are more than six months old? If that company is still in business (and that’s a big if), it’s likely pivoted three times and changed its name at least twice.’

She goes on to discuss the changing and more tenuous nature of work these days where people contract themselves out, they freelance, they lease their apartment to AirBnB for a couple of weeks, drive for Uber and so on. So how could a single business card possibly sum up all that?

These are all valid points but we are forgetting one simple thing here. However much we’ve progressed and evolved over the last while we are still tactile, human beings and we still live in a physical world. And as such physical things still have a place. As much as the virtual world has taken an increasingly important role in society so too has the interest in all things experiential. People are attending concerts more than ever, they are going to the movies, the interest in the outdoors has replaced the preoccupation with gyms and so on and so forth.

Richard Moross, the CEO of mini business-card maker MOO, told Fast Company last year that

“the more connected to the web we are, the more precious the real world is, so it is important to make a connection.”

I tend to agree.

And there’s also a practical need for a business card and Chip Cutter, Senior Editor at LinkedIn tells it best in his article TED 2013: Here, the Business Card Is Not Dead .

Business Card Stack

TED Speaker Amanda Palmer shared this photo of the event on instagram

Even at a TED event where technology is akin to breathing, people still wanted to get in and exchange cards. When we connect we don’t want to fumble with phones and apps etc. We want to look the person in the eye and make a human connection with them.

The business card facilitates that process. It’s an icebreaker. It’s a door opener. ‘Let me give you my business card’ is an opportunity to discuss who you are and your story. J Maureen Henderson believes that ‘Too many people use business cards as a proxy for actually being an interesting person’.

That is too harsh. We should simply tweak our thinking around business cards. For me a business card is not about the data on the card nor is it for communicating ‘all you are’ with endless lists of what you can do or sell someone on the back.

A Business Card is about communicating a glimpse of who you are. A glimpse that will entice someone to ask a little more and get to know you. If you do it right, that will happen.

I love the stories we’ve all heard about when Western businessmen first went to Japan to do business. They were met with great cultural differences and the business card was an example of one of those differences.

Offering the Business Card

In Western society at that time it was often common place to slide a business card across a table with very little thought. It was after all just a small piece of card with your name on it. In stark contrast the Japanese businessman would carefully receive the business card, noting something of interest on the card such as the job title or location referenced. They would then carefully place it some place safe for later reference.

The belief was simply this, that how you treat the card was how you would treat the person. One can just imagine the response when a card was carelessly thrown into a bag, bin or a back pocket by the westerner in the room.

There is still a strong business etiquette around giving and receiving business cards in Japan today. The card serves the important purpose of identifying your position within the corporate hierarchy.

The Business Card is and can be more than that. To me business cards have never been about the data stored on them. They are firstly a gift to introduce yourself. They are a statement that says

‘Here I am. I’d like to get to know you.’

More than this, business cards are brand opportunities. Brand opportunities for your company, your business and even you and your personal brand. The business card is often the first physical evidence of your brand. And its a beautiful test of whether your brand is right. If the brand is right you’ll love giving your card out at every opportunity and you’ll run out. And if it isn’t right you’ll be left with stacks of them that even you don’t like.

As our working lives change we will use the card differently but we will always do business with people. And people need introductions. Let’s make them interesting.

Creative Business Cards

Creative Business Card Designs from Bored Panda – click for more examples

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Finola Howard

Finola Howard is a brand and marketing strategist who is passionate about the impact that great marketing can have on business success. She sees marketing in a broader more strategic sense and works with businesses and entrepreneurs who want to grow. You can find her on Twitter (@FinolaHoward) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/HowGreatMarketingWorks).