Why do business cards still exist?

gaping voidI don’t have business cards. I don’t want business cards. And I don’t need them.

Business cards are a remnant of a bygone age. Where people stayed with the same company, with the same job title, for many years. Where business was analogue rather than digital. Where the Rolodex were a staple of the office stationary order.

That era has passed. Job titles are forever changing and increasingly meaningless. Taking self-aggrandizement/irreverence (delete according to personal opinion) to a new level, some companies even allow employees to make up their title. In some cases they act as a useful barometer of seniority. But how long has it been since a manager actually had serious business authority? How many levels of hierarchy call themselves Director? (NB: The old ITV hierarchy was particularly confusing; I reported into a Head who reported into a Head who reported into a Director).

If someone wants to contact me, there is:

  • Contact details on my email signature
  • My company website
  • A general Google search (I’m not the best example as I’m not the first entry)
  • A specific Google search (e.g. incorporating blog or twitter)
  • Asking for my phone number and entering it into a mobile phone (assuming you don’t have one of these)

The exchange of business cards may be a ritual in some cultures, but it is increasingly wasteful. If I am given a business card, it goes into a drawer never to be seen again (no offence). I have piles of unused business cards from previous employment and job titles.

Business cards may provide fodder for optimistic websites or aspiring artists, but what other reasons are there for needing them? I’m stumped.

sk

Image credit: Gaping Void

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15 Responses

  1. I think its because if I meet someone, it is the most straightforward and practical way of exchanging information.

    Taking your methods point by point:

    Contact details on my email signature – I’ve just met them, I haven’t sent them an email yet. And in any case, I don’t know their email address if we’ve just met.

    My company website – fine if you work for a small company. My company employs 55,000 people. Employee contact details are not contained anywhere on the site.

    A general Google search (I’m not the best example as I’m not the first entry) – and thus you are a prime example of why this isn’t ideal – if there are many people who share my name, leaving it up to someone you’ve met to track you down via the internet might be making life unnecessarily difficult for them

    A specific Google search (e.g. incorporating blog or twitter) – ok, I accept this, but not everyone has a blog or twitter, and even then, they still have to write down the name of your blog, or its address, or your Twitter username

    Asking for my phone number and entering it into a mobile phone (assuming you don’t have one of these) – yes, but if the meeting is ending, why stand there typing numbers into phones, when you can just exchange business cards and type the number in at a later date

    There’s an additional point, which is that giving a physical card with your company name and details, as well as your own name and contact details feels like much more of a personal touch than saying “oh, don’t worry, you can find me on Google/Twitter/Facebook”.

    I love getting business cards, and I always carry some on me to give out if the need arises. I keep cards I am given in a drawer, much like you, but I frequently find myself reaching for that drawer when someone mentions a specific person or company name, and I can’t recall their details off the top of my head, but know that I have their business card.

  2. I agree Simon, However, there is still room for them, particularly the ones I saw printed on meat recently.

    If you take away business cards though, how will media types be able to drop them in a bowl in their local pub and win a meal for two?

  3. http://www.cardsofchange.com/
    http://meatcards.com/

    Check this out…although I still agree with you

  4. Hi Ben

    Thanks for your perspective – good to hear from those in different industries as media types (though I don’t classify myself as one) do tend to get caught up in the “new” things.

    I take your points but if you are in a position where your “reputation” matters, it is important to have some sort of google presence linked to either your industry or job (LinkedIn, at the very least).

    In terms of not having time to enter/remember someone’s details; perhaps at some sort of speed-networking event some cards may come in handy, but I get really annoyed by those at scheduled meetings who circle the room handing everyone their card. If they were important enough, I’d know their details in advance.

    Cheers
    Simon

  5. Mat – I linked to cards of change but like the meat cards! Other unusual ones are here

    Nowadays, what’s more valuable for a restaurant: a business card or an email address? Arguably, they only need the card to get the address, so some sort of sign-up circumvents that…

    Cheers
    Simon

  6. I like business cards myself. I prefer to have something tangible. If I meet someone, I’d rather take someone’s business card than enter their details into my mobile phone. A couple of reasons;

    1) I might not actually like them or want to hear from them again, but not necessarily want them to know that.
    2) I might not want a business contact’s details on my own mobile phone (or to give them my personal number- and I can’t ever remember my work number off the top of my head.)
    3) I might want to drop them a line when I get back to the office, but not want to spend a minute or so fiddling around with my phone entering their name, number, email address, company name, office number, inside leg measurement etc. etc. while I’m talking to them.
    4) If I do want their phone number/email address, I might enter it wrong and not be able to contact them again.

    And finally, a big one;

    5) I might have already been told their name and forgotten it.

    Basically, cards I get fall into two categories- the ones I put in my wallet that I don’t want to forget about, and the ones I put in my pocket, which then migrate to a drawer where there is an outside chance I might retrieve one day. (About a 1 in 50 chance, I’d guess.)

    And if I want to give someone my contact details, I’d rather do it with a business card- for most of the same reasons as above, but with the added detail that if it’s someone I actually like and want to talk to again then I can scribble my personal mobile number/email address on it as well. I think that simple act communicates something that simply bluetoothing your details into their mobile handset doesn’t really do. (Which is kind of handy in a world where saying “I actually like you and would like to talk to you again some time” is not only terribly un-British, but can also be impossible to distinguish from a “it would be professionally useful for me to stay in contact with you, so I’d like you to think of me as a friend even though I don’t really like you at all.)

  7. I basically agree – especially if you’re a writer/journalist, you ought to be easy find find via Twitter/Google; it’s a poor advert for a freelancer if I can’t find them within a few clicks (unless they’ve just started out or have a generic name). Although perhaps they perform a useful function for those with easily misspelled names?

  8. Do you consider moo cards as business cards? Because whilst I’m not a huge fan of corporate business cards, I adore personalised moo cards. The chance for someone to give me a small roundup of their details (incl. email, phone, twitter handle, URL plus any other relevant fun stuff) as well as share some lovely photography or design – something that says something about themselves

    What’s not to love?

  9. Thanks all for the comments. Building on from what Ben says, I can see the benefits that a card can have, particularly if they are personalised, as an icebreaker and as a tangible “gift” (I also like the point on the opacity of what you do with the card after the exchange).

    But for me, tangibility isn’t necessary for business contacts, and cards are clutter. A searchable address book (Outlook or otherwise) and an online presence are far more useful for me than a bit of tree and ink.

  10. Business cards can be a bridge between the meeting and the desktop. When I meet someone I want to build a relationship with, I ask for his/her card and jot on its back where we met and how I want to follow up, e.g., by sending a thank you note or a copy of an article I think s/he’ll be interested in. That way, we can spend our conversation time conversing, rather than focusing on entering data into our Blackberries. And I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything if I get waylaid on my way back to the office by errands, voicemails, or a million other miscellaneous distractions.

    As a marketer, I subscribe to the philosophy that, wherever someone looks for us, s/he ought to be able to find us. We should make it as easy as possible to be found, whether s/he looks for uson the internet, in the telephone directory, or Blackberry. A business card makes looking for me easy for those people who look in their wallets.

  11. Thanks Vicky, and a good point about choice…

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