Business Card Strategy
The O Pine

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© 2003 Brian F. Schreurs
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Have you test-driven the Hyundai Sosumi yet?
You may have noticed that business cards are very popular. Seems like everyone's got one. In an effort to stand out from all other business cards, some have gotten quite fancy: full color graphics, glossy, double-sided, even folding to double the surface area.

All of these innovations, while making for a really nice business card, completely defeat the purpose of the card in the first place.

The intent with a full-color, graphic-intensive business card is to impress the recipient. And that it will do, for the 15 seconds between when he receives it and when he sticks it in his wallet or desk. But it has an unintended consequence: it makes the cards expensive, and when business cards are expensive they become a resource to be handled carefully.

Turning a business card into an expensive resource defeats the very value that a business card has for the employee and for the company. Business cards should be so cheap that they can be used as scrap paper. This may seem counterintuitive but there is a reason behind it.

A business card may seem like an opportunity to sell the company, to really knock their socks off. After all, it's the one piece of paper a potential client is likely to keep... right? The problem with this theory is that most of the time the recipient of the card has already met the person whose name appears on the card. First-impression has come and gone. It's too late for that. People won't say, "Wow, look at this card, these guys must be a really with-it high tech company." No, what they'll likely say is, "Dang, Jeff sure has a pretty business card." And that's good, as far as it goes; it never hurts to look good. The cost tradeoff, however, negates any benefit from looking good because it causes the cardholder to be careful about who he gives the card to -- these things are too expensive to give to just anybody!

And that right there is the problem. A business card can never sell the company. The bearer sells the company; the card's sole role is a memory-jogger; people bump into the card and say "hey, I remember Jeff, I wonder if he can help me with..." That is why business cards need to be so cheap that they can be distributed like candy. They need to be so cheap that you've got a big box of them on your desk and when anyone asks for your extension or your e-mail or even how to spell your last name, you reach for a business card rather than a sticky note.

"Here you go; hang on to that so you can always spell it."

The name of the game for business cards is to serve as a reminder to people that you're there, ready to help, and you want that reminder in the hands of as many people as possible -- especially people you don't see often enough for them to naturally recall your extension, e-mail, or last name. Business cards can reach a level of saturation far beyond anything a promo kit will ever see, for the simple reason that they have a greater value to the recipient (for keeping track of that e-mail address) than they do to the bearer (dirt cheap to produce).

The back of the business card must also be blank so that it can be used as notepaper in place of sticky notes. Someone needs a document number? "Here, I'll write it on the back of this card." A reminder of the time and place of a team meeting? "Here you go, I've put it on the back of this card." (now they're bringing your card to a meeting you weren't invited to!) Saturation is key. Keep jogging those memories.

An ideal business card has a clean front design, with the company logo, the employee name and title, and all relevant contact information. The back should stay blank. Printing full-color cards is nice, but should not interfere with the fundamental concept of the business card as dirt cheap and disposable.

Going through my own wallet, I see I have the following cards:

  • A gun shop, because it has the phone number of an antique arms restoration guy hand-written on the back of it (but now I also have a reminder of who gave me the recommendation).
  • An old manila business card of a business associate, because it has his phone number penned on it (this is a nearly ideal card).
  • A car dealer's card with other dealer points-of-contact written on the back.
  • A graphic artist's card with her personal contact information penned on the back.
  • A computer store's card so I remember to send a letter to the owner.

Five business cards, and four of them have information hand-written on them. If it weren't for that information, they would have been discarded long ago. Business cards as scrap paper enhance their value to the recipient.

So, while Mr. Full Color Glossy Double Sided Folding Business Card sweats as he hands his card to a recipient who may not be worthy of it, I'll be taping my cards to "fun size" Snickers bars and passing them out on Halloween. You never know; their parents may need my services.