Over the last few decades, technology has advanced at an unprecedented rate. This level of advancement is a wonderful thing. It’s been disruptive to many industries, but I still think its an incredibly good thing. You might be surprised to hear that from me (as a printer in NYC who has experienced a huge level of disruption) given my industry, but I absolutely love change when its for the better. In this case, for the everyday consumer its definitely been for the better (i.e. going paperless).
Furthermore, you would think in this day and age that using small pieces of paper with your contact information on them for networking purposes would be slightly outdated. After all, almost everything in our lives has gone digital to some extent, particularly the things that used to be printed on paper. So why are business cards still so widely used?
There are many explanations for why business cards remain relevant today. Some reasons might be more obvious to most people, while there are others that might be very difficult to notice. We will start with the obvious ones and move on to the other, more substantial ones after.
Perhaps the most obvious explanation for why business cards are still so widely used could be convenience. As far as convenience goes, it would be difficult to imagine a faster way to provide someone with your contact information. Even with smartphone apps that allow users to share information wirelessesly by holding their phones together, there are still multiple steps that would need to be taken for the process to be completed. The user has to unlock their phone, open the app, wait for the phone to discover the other person, then store the information. It doesn’t take terribly long, but there are multiple steps that need to be taken before you get what you want. With a business card you can just reach in your wallet and hand it over, thats it.
Another understandable explanation would be tradition. It has long been customary to exchange business cards in a business setting. This might not be the case with consumers, but its definitely the case for corporate culture. This is ever more apparent in many countries outside of the United States. In many cases, exchanging of business cards is actually part of the protocol during meetings. Viewing the exchanging of business cards as a custom could easily justify their existence in corporate culture.
The last explanation that I would consider to be obvious would be that business cards allow for more information to be transferred. An example would be a business card that has a product and service list on the back of the card. If you were to try and do this on a smartphone using a wireless contact sharing app, you would be limited to the confines of what that particular app allows. By this I mean there may not be an area for products or services at all, or possibly only allowing you to display a paragraph versus a table. With a business card, you can make that information look however you want. The only limitation would be space, which you could even customize or use folding business cards in increase the surface area. The bottom line is that you can have freedom to add whatever you want to the card after your contact information.
An important but less understood reason that business cards are still around would be ability to convey a status. Now I mean this in a very specific way. Business cards are one of those things that people consider to be a milestone in their development as a professional in any industry. I can remember when I received my first business cards while working at my first real job. I felt a lot of pride in the fact that I actually had business cards. This is one of those things that almost everyone feels. I’ve seen many friends and customers get business cards even though they didn’t necessarily need them at that time. For example, many startups and small business customers have ordered from me, but when asked if they needed more, they mentioned that they hadn’t used any yet. When they elaborate, they usually explain that “when you go into business, you need to have business cards” even though you really didn’t need business cards. So my point here is that business cards seem to mark your entry to the professional landscape.
Another important explanation that could be hard to spot would be that business cards offer someone the opportunity to impress. This is one of those things that only apply to business cards that either carry a prestigious name, or are very creative / high quality. For example, I was networking with someone at an event. He was very nice and complimented me on something, but immediately gave me his business card without me asking. It turns out that he was the CEO of a fortune 500 company. He wanted me to know that his statements carried weight (at least some people would consider that to be the case) and giving me his card was supposed to impress me, which I must admit did to some degree. As for the creative and high quality component, I have an example of this as well. I was once at a trade show in NYC for the optical industry (my old field) and I had taken a bunch of business cards from local opticians attending the show. When considering who to reach out to first, I prioritized my efforts directly based on the quality of their business cards. After all, I didn’t have time to take notes on each person that I spoke to (I spoke to hundreds of people), so my best option was to rank the people based on how legitimate their business card looked. This is a very basic example, but I can tell you first hand, people do judge a book by its cover, and some people get that.
Finally, the most important reason that business cards are still relevant, in my opinion, is privacy. Earlier, I mentioned smartphones as an alternative to business cards for exchanging contact information. Although its not as fast as giving someone a business card, its still definitely a usable solution. The biggest issue with the smartphone solution is that people are very protective of their mobile devices. Many people consider them to be the most important piece of equipment that they own. Its almost an extension of the person. Herein lies the problem. Most business cards that collected are not necessarily asked for. You may politely take one now and toss it in the garbage when the person walks away. However, if someone offered to bump phones to exchange contact information, and you didn’t want it, you may be annoyed. If I bumped phones with every sales person that gave me a business card, my phone would be full of unwanted contacts, which I would then have to delete manually. If I turned them down when they offered to bump, it would be awkward because they would probably keep trying to sell me until I tell them to leave me alone. The main point here is that business cards allow that level of separation that is required for people to accept your information on their terms. With a business card, you can still benefit in the sense that you gave someone your business card, even if they were not interested. This way, you still stand a shot of getting their attention if your business card is really nice, or you have some promotion on it, or you listed a service that happens to catch their eye. By comparison, it is highly unlikely that someone will even take your contact information into their phone if they aren’t interested.
As you can see, business cards definitely do have a place in society today, and in the foreseeable future. I think most other printed products will be almost non-existent within the next 5 years. Business cards however, I think will last far longer.