The Traditional Paper Business Card is Not Dead

I recently made an overseas business trip to Singapore and India. I exchanged over 50 business cards with people I met at meetings and events.

Yet, many people have proclaimed that the traditional paper business card is obsolete. They predict the shift to an all-digital society is inevitable. Their evidence is considerable:

  • The e-book phenomenon has been a game-changer. Paper book sales are declining, e-book reading devices like the Kindle, Nook and iPads are on the rise and the Borders bookstore chain went out of business.
  • Newspapers and magazines have seen their circulation drop because print reading is shifting to online options, like tablets and smartphones. Their remaining options are to go digital or go out of business.
  • The explosion of social media and the emergence of social business. More people and more companies are online…and it is growing every day.

While they make a strong argument, personal relationships will remain a large part of the marketing and commerce equation. As customers, we gravitate toward people and companies we know, like and trust.

While there is a great movement to automate many aspects of commerce, companies, executives and business owners must not overlook opportunities to humanize and personalize their brand. A business card remains a trusted and effective tool to build those important personal relationships.

“May I have Your Card?”

Photo credit: Tricia Wang

How many times have you been at an event, conference or meeting and met someone who could be someone you wanted to add to your circle of contacts? They ask you for your business card, and you sheepishly reply, “I don’t have one.”

You may have just lost an important connection.

What are the odds this person is going to go back to their office, remember your name and try to look you up on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to connect?

A simple business card helps to build those personal connections. Why dismiss and eliminate a channel that enables you to connect and communicate with others? You immediately put yourself at a disadvantage.

Big Stats Do Not Guarantee Strong Engagement

It is easy to succumb to the allure of “sexy” statistics in social media. After all, who does not want to have the most number of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends? But those metrics are meaningless if those followers, connections and friends are not engaged.

Yes, you can easily build a community of connections by sending mass e-invites to strangers or semi-strangers by dropping the name of a mutual acquaintance. But how connected will those people be to you, your brand or your cause?

When I have handled direct-mail campaigns, I always insisted the list broker provide us with a high-quality, targeted mailing list. The same approach should apply when it comes to building your professional network.

My recent business trip to India and Singapore is an example of the power of paper business cards. The 50 business cards I exchanged immediately resulted in eight new Linkedin connections and discussions on how we might be able to work together in the future.

Experience shows that the personal exchange of business cards paves the way for stronger online connections and business relationships. I know that I would not have been as successful in building these new connections without the business card to help open those doors.

Best Practices for Business Card Marketing

Having business cards, in my opinion, should be table stakes for any executive or business owner. But it’s vital that they be fully optimized to help drive the engagement you seek. Here are some business card strategies you should be thinking about before your card template is sent to the printer:

  • Make sure it’s creative. Treat your business card like a roadside billboard for your company. When you’re driving down a highway, that billboard only has a few seconds to use copy and design to capture your attention and make an impression. Your business card needs to do the same thing.
  • Include social media contact info. If you’re online, make sure your card includes your social media contact information so people can connect with you on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
  • Stick to standard sizes. I know it’s tempting to try and stand out with a different size business card, but resist the temptation.

    A Quick Response (QR) Code can build engagment. Photo credit: Chandra Marsono.

  • Utilize a QR code. Is your business equipped to do mobile marketing? If so, consider embedding a QR (Quick Response) bar code on your business card. The recipient can scan the QR code on their smart phone or tablet and it can take them to a special page on your website to access additional information.
  • Provide a valuable offer. What is the biggest pain point your customers have? Create a special white paper or special report on the topic and promote its availability on your business card. Very few business cards promote free downloads of white papers and special reports; take advantage of the real estate on your business card to get prospects and followers into your sales funnel.
  • Hand-selling yourself. When I shop, I always remember the store owners and staff who take the time to personally assist me. I often become a loyal customer and enthusiastically recommend that business to others. Do the same when you receive or exchange a business card. A follow-up e-mail, phone call or personal note builds enormous goodwill and engagement. It is another way to make a memorable impression.

Do not believe the premature obituaries for the good old-fashioned business card. It is alive and well. It remains the perfect way to build strong, personal connections that help you advocate your brand or cause. And isn’t that what marketing is all about?

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