1st Dec 2014

Build a Better Business Card

Networking is the new black – again. The rise in digital networking has shifted the emphasis of a physical network to a virtual one. It seems if you require anything these days the most effective way of securing success is to post it on social media – and it does work, it works well – but as long as there will be humans on this planet, there will be human interaction. Face to face meetings are a very different social encounter from an email or text and are run on unique rules of etiquette that will never go out of style, more so for business meetings. Part of this etiquette is to leave an impression on the participants so that you will be remembered, so why on earth has the business card got such a jaded reputation? Is it just because it’s been around for such a long time? Cars have been around for a long time and no-one has become bored with them. Is there something to learn from that? Yes, there is.

The reason cars are still around being loved, even worshipped, is because the cars we have today are a very different beast from the ‘Velo’ Karl Benz invented in 1886. They have evolved from functional, self-propelled 4 passenger ‘boxes’ on large carriage wheels to sleek, attractive, luxury vehicles that impress as well as cater to every whim. ‘I have five dogs’ – there’s a car for that. ‘I drive up mountains a lot’, – there’s an SUV for that. ‘I have 5 children’, – there’s a bus for that. Whatever you need, there’s a vehicle that ‘fits’ your requirements, and your personality. The first business cards came out in China in the 15th century and were described by DesignFloat as a, ‘…promotion tool, a personal advertisement and a basis of forging an introduction.’ Which still pretty much describes the role of the business card in the 21st century. So familiarity really does breed contempt.

The digital age really has made a difference in marketing and promotion, but some things will never go out of style, the use has been adjusted to suit the need. Social media sites like LinkedIn and apps like EverNote Hello and FullContact may be able to store the contact details, but that is all they can do. They can’t communicate quality, be placed somewhere prominent or offer visual reminders that so often make the impression strong enough that people act. Instead of purely being a polite reminder of contact details, they have become the extension of the company brand.

Practicality is another reason that business cards are essential to any serious business person. If you only have the details on LinkedIn how are you going to remember who it was you spoke to in 7 months’ time? Was it David at ABC or Diana I spoke to? Some companies have more than one contact, so you need the right name to search for them, and to remember what you spoke about. Was it ABS components I talked to, or ABC contracts? Is it THE Doctors Group, or just Doctors Group? It can get pretty messy when you have only a vague idea of who it was you spoke to and which company they belonged to. You can waste valuable time trying to get the right persons details out of the computer (you know they’re in there!) if you can’t remember nearly all the details yourself. And if you could remember all the details without a business card, why do you need LinkedIn anyway? Nothing beats the business card for having a physical reminder of the right details when you need them. It’s good to be able to hold it in your hands.

Touch is one of the five senses and no one can adequately explain why we need to feel something to bond more quickly with it, but we do. There is something reassuring about a handshake, the certain feel of a texture or the exchange of physical material that cannot be replicated by adding the contact to a virtual address book. That face to face contact creates a more positive, memorable connection and a small reminder of that meeting brings that bond and impression straight back to mind whenever it is referenced. It may be small, but your business card not only represents your brand, it represents you and can persuade people that you are the one to contact. The fact the contact details are all on the card in front of them is a mere convenience, not the point of the card itself.

Modern business cards could take a leaf out of the automobile book. To keep being desirable you have to adapt and evolve. A Model T Ford would never suit the needs a family today, so the traditional business card may not be as effective today as they were in China in 1466. Let me read your mind – think of your business card. You ready? You have its image firmly in your mind? I can see it! It’s a … 3.5 x 2 inch rectangle of white card with your logo in the top left hand side, your name in bold (with any qualifications in letters afterwards) halfway down the card in black, and your address, phone numbers and email address in small text at the bottom equally balanced with edge to edge registration, and the back is blank. Am I right? Don’t tell me, pretty much! Why did you do that? Again, don’t tell me, your business card was designed in 1980 and you just keep reordering them. And is your company car also a Ford Model T? Business cards have evolved since then and in this case – retro cards are not cool.

Putting aside concrete business cards (I kid you not, there is such a thing!) you can max out your ‘unique’ business side by creating business card that oozes your brand ethos. You can get heavy, luxurious linen card, ornate letterpress designs, clever plastic business cards you can hold up to the light to read, beautiful die cut business cards and even business cards impregnated with seeds so have a second life as a pumpkin. These are the things that are remembered, so why not take advantage of them. As long as they reflect your brand and your business, why not lead where the rest can only follow?

To see how business cards are viewed I set off to my next networking social and asked for some opinions. My question was, ‘Is the business card dead due to digital media?’, and I wasn’t really ready for the results. Here is some of the feedback which highlights the majority of the feeling:

‘If anything there has been a renaissance of the tangible, and the tactile. With so much virtuality and pseudo-personalisation, society seems to crave some real contact. The business card lives and breathes in tandem with the business world. The values change, the style and materials come in and go out of fashion again.’ Neil

‘Networking sites and apps have their connection, but the quality, style and content of a business card tell me everything I need to know about people, and their handshake either confirms it or tells me to throw the card away. LinkedIn can’t do that.’ Rogan

Companies are all different in scope, size and magnitude and what might not be relevant to you, might be to the guy starting out etc….I work internationally, and they are very relevant and many places do not have technology to scan the bar code etc…Some people cannot read language, but understand the phone number to call. (International).’ Andriijan

‘I’m not quite old folk yet, but I prefer someone hand me a card. I’ll decide later how I want to connect to them.’ Lori

‘Disagree! DISAGREE! I still hand a new client or prospect several cards. Referrals still build business. When a client shares their story and pass on the extra card, I get qualified and motivated prospects who are already “sold” on working with me for training or nutritional supplements.’ Freddie

‘Love a good business card. Still gives off a nice vibe of professionalism’. Alex

‘BUSINESS CARDS ARE HERE TO STAY…. I have been in business for 30 years gave away 10000 of them but there is that person who still finds me and calls me One thing I must say from seeing 1000 of business card some people make some major mistakes on their business cards… 1. Print way too small to read the card the email or the website must be legible and no fancy writing… 2. Make sure there is information on what you are about I receive so many cards and have no idea what it is for.. Yes you may have your business name okay but that does not tell me what you are about……. a photo of your work or what you are about is worth a 1000 words….. these are some of the things I have seen over the years of business cards…….. Keep it simple’. Debbie

I wasn’t expecting business people to love and respect business cards as much as they do, the role of business cards evoked real emotion and strong feelings. Only one person favored a digital business card, but as someone else pointed out – what happens when the person you are connecting with doesn’t have a compatible device or program? We discussed it and decided it would be better to put a bar code or QR code on the back of your physical business card and they could then decide what to do with it.

Business cards are here to stay. The connection with the tactile approach is still highly attractive to business people so take your business card and make it into something memorable. Don’t settle just for the exchange of information. Be unique, but bold. Your sales will thank you for it.

There was one comment that really struck me from the evening and I couldn’t let go. The role of the business card in brand and company image was really put into perspective by Tommy:

‘Business cards may be dead, but if you don’t have one, no one will take you seriously.’

Now there’s a man that knows business.