I came across a discussion recently on whether business cards are a thing of the past and should join the obsolete items along with telex machines and comptometers. Anyone remember them? Or hand-written personal letters. You don’t see many of those now either, apart from the thankyou letter you may send your granny when she’s knitted you a balaclava or a pair of gloves during a cold snap. That’s called ‘good manners’. Although these days Granny may now be too busy surfing the net!
If business cards were banned, (I’m asking you to use your imagination here), would you miss them? I can guess that many of you will claim that technology has replaced the need to hand out cards when the contact details can be scanned into an iphone, blue tooth etc. This leaves me out in the cold then with my basic mobile phone, an ancient Nokia that I’m as comfortable with as an old pair of slippers. So for those of us who can’t scan or input and download, how professional are we going to appear if we scribble our details down on a scrap of paper or the back of a cigarette packet? Thinking about it, there aren’t many cigarette packets around now to scribble on either!
The visiting card began its life in 15th Century China and arrived in Europe in the 17th Century in the form of trade cards, usually with a map showing directions to the business address due to the fact that buildings generally weren’t numbered. The Japanese still treat business cards with time-honoured respect and consider them to be a sign of professional credibility. If Japan is seen as one of the most advanced in modern technology, maybe it’s significant that the Japanese never attend a meeting without them. They accept the card you’ve offered them with both hands, ceremonially. You’ll never see them scribble on it, flip it across the table or fiddle and fidget with it while they’re talking to you. If you stuff the card they’ve given you into your back pocket it’s considered the equivalent of sitting on them. This card represents their standing within the company. Disrespect the card and you disrespect them.
I believe that we’re missing an important point when we talk about business cards being redundant. Above all, I believe they should be treated as a valuable marketing tool and an extension of the brand message. If we trust the law of seven touches or points of contact before a brand is registered subconsciously for future recognition, then surely the business card must play an important part, together with emails, direct mail, other advertising mediums and social media etc. This is assuming the design is appealing and clearly says what you do and who you are, giving all points of reference. Is your card memorable and does it stand out from the rest?
I’m a tactile person. I like to hold the card I’ve been given and refer to it when I’m back in the office. If the design on the card is distinctive, I can instantly recall the meeting, when it was given to me and who it belonged to. If you leave me with your business card I’ll treat it with respect and although the collection may be growing rapidly, I promise it won’t end up in the bin. You don’t even have to be Japanese!