Between a rock and a card place - the changing nature of professional introductions
To what extent is the humble business card being affected by changes in how professional introductions are made? With details of our professional lives now often available online, there are fewer opportunities to introduce ourselves through our business cards
There is an allure to business cards; they carry with it our professional life and personal branding. Font, colour, size, positioning and thickness are all key design considerations in how a card should represent both the individual and their organisation. What some may call vanity in fretting over something so small, others would describe as taking pride in their profession.
Exchanging information with new contacts is a business necessity. Tracking your contacts and marketing yourself are also important. When faced with an ever-expanding network, what is the most efficient way to promote yourself and keep track of relationships?
Business cards appear to have limited usefulness in an era where it is easy to research and contact specific individuals that an organisation wishes to establish a relationship with. However, having more opportunities to network is not the same as having better opportunities to network.
Convenience trumps all
LinkedIn and its competitors provide potential contacts with a convenient avenue for getting in touch with strangers, eliminating the need for both parties to be in the same place. A user can research people of interest and establish a connection without any prior meeting. In a situation like this, a business card would not appear to add much value and would arguably complicate the process.
We can define ourselves online. We have the benefit of greater control over how we display our personal brand and discretion over the information we choose to associate ourselves with. We can carefully sculpt an image of ourselves in a way that a face-to-face meeting cannot. When individuals receive greater freedom to self-market, it may seem like an evolutionary step backwards to place reliance on anything other than an online profile.
In comparison, cards seem limiting and outdated. A piece of paper can only carry a certain amount of information and an individual is reliant on surrounding conversation in determining whether to establish a relationship with someone.
It's a card life
On the other hand, the act of giving and receiving business cards has greater interactivity than the one-sided nature of an online introduction. Faces, mannerisms and cards leave an impression between parties, whereas a digital connection alone has little personality behind it. A digital connection may have no prior physical interaction and may even be unwarranted.
Cards are useful to establish an instantaneous physical link and to provide a memento in a situation where access to professional social media is restricted. They provide an avenue for future contact at busy events with lots of potential contacts. Cards are more personal than a digital connection alone, but it may be thought that their uses have become increasingly niche.
A business card generally presents four pieces of information: name, role, contact details and organisation. It does not provide any information about what an individual does or what their background is like. It is a bit of a gamble choosing to invest time with a contact that you ultimately do not know that much about. It appears that a card's best use is as a physical memento, not as a means of introduction in itself.
An ace up your sleeve
Technology could make business cards more relevant, by combining the physical interactivity of classical media with the benefits and convenience of digitisation.
3D printers could provide greater opportunities for business cards to be tailored towards their holder. Literally adding another dimension to a card opens doors to varied branding and the potential for a stronger first impression. Different materials, colours, depths and even smells can work as a boon for a business looking to make an introduction.
Other big ideas which may change how we use business cards include the use of near-field communication ("NFC"), which can allow paper cards to exchange electronic information; cards with internal clocks, which can be used to set alerts and reminders for the receiving party; and with the aid of apps on phones, even augmented reality, which can create a unique impression on the recipient.
For those looking to exploit technology trends (or fads) to create a memorable introduction, it must be noted that exchanging business cards ought to be a simple and quick process. The more cumbersome and complicated this process becomes, the less enthusiastic the reception is likely to be.
ConclusionPersonal marketing does not come down to an arbitrary binary choice between business cards and professional social media. The two can work in tandem, but cards face the danger of gradually becoming more irrelevant if not used in more modern ways.