Why Business Cards Will Never Go Away
Last year was a great one for sales of hardback books, I was reading recently. After several years of decline, sales bounced back and more than 18 million hardbacks were sold in 2017. There is a similar trend in music, where despite the continued growth of streaming music, sales of vinyl records made up 14 percent of all physical albums sold in 2017.
It's not a trend that surprises me. I love technology, but for some experiences, physical products beat digital ones because they allow us to form an emotional connection.
I would bet that those vinyl buyers listen to streaming music, but the records they really care about are the ones they want to add to their physical music collection. Likewise, I wouldn't be surprised to see those hardback buyers reading a Kindle on the beach this summer; but when it comes to a book they love, they want to display a copy on the shelf. They want their friends to be able to take it down, flick through it and maybe even borrow it.
I understand that emotional connection because in the world of business cards it has never gone away. There have been numerous attempts to replace business cards with digital tools, from QR codes to "bumping" phones together. And yet 27 million business cards are printed daily.
Business cards originated in 15th-century China, where they were used to let locals know that a dignitary was due to visit. In 17th-century France, the upper classes used them to announce themselves when visiting. A particular etiquette grew up to govern their use and most large houses had a card tray where visitors could leave their cards.
As the industrial revolution progressed, tradesmen used them as portable advertisements and, while their use in society declined, they became an essential business tool. Today, in Japan, business cards are still subject to precise etiquette that dictates how they should be delivered, received and read.
Today, people are still investing in their business cards, and while obviously extreme, the most expensive business card in the world costs $1,500 per card. While handing out cards may not happen as frequently -- for example, when everyone in the room is on the same email thread -- when one is handed out, we want it to be memorable. That's because business cards play an important role as a memento of a physical meeting.
A contact in your phone might come from an email, a social media site or a text message. If you have someone's business card, however, then it's likely that you met them in person, and the card will jog your memory.
It might not be the name that does it -- sometimes it's the logo or the color of the font. Contacts on your smartphone are styled by the app you use, rather than reflecting a personality. There are other physical cues that an on-screen contact list doesn't have -- different paper types, for example, or unusual sizes and shapes.
Even the state of the card can tell you something. Those dog-eared cards you still keep? They're the contacts that you keep coming back to. In a digital world of ever-increasing noise, business cards cut through.
Related: Why You Still Need Business Cards
The impression that your cards make might be more important than the information on them. After all, if given only your name and job title, most of your contacts could probably Google you and still get in touch. Your card should provide more than that, of course, but don't overload it. Does anyone need your company fax number? They might not even need your postal address.
It's tempting to add things like social media channels so that new contacts can follow you there, but consider whether that's appropriate. If your business is very formal and your Twitter feed is anything but, then leave that off. On the other hand, if your feed demonstrates how deeply you think about your work, then, by all means, include it.
Unique touches on a business card also make people more memorable -- as technology has advanced, it has allowed consumers to individualize their cards. A card with color and designs tends to be held onto 10 times longer than a standard white card. That means that if you're a designer, for example, you can showcase your work and share your details.
Business will always be about establishing relationships. Those relationships rely on personal contact and emotional connections -- and physical objects reflect those better than digital ones. That's why there will always be room for some books and records on our shelves and a few important business cards in the drawer.