What’s the point of business cards?
Do you still carry them and give them out at meetings?
Do you ever look at the business cards you’ve collected?
I don’t think they’re needed anymore. If they’re not actually dead, at the very least they’re on life support, offered only during those brief encounters on the plane or train that we hope might turn into a multi-million deal (which never happened to me, even when I did have my business cards to hand).
Surely it’s more useful, nowadays, to embroider your email address on your clothes (rather than wearing Hugo’s, or Giorgio’s or Gianni’s name), or to tattoo your email address on your forehead. An email address is everything, the be all and end all of identity. It’s both necessary and sufficient in the business world, and it doesn’t need to be printed on a card.
In any case I keep forgetting to carry my business cards (I’m useless with accessories and have never been able to hang on to an umbrella for more than a week) but no one seems to mind if I don’t have one.
It was different two or three decades ago, and I remember how much it meant to me when I was given my first pack of smooth white cards. I’d just been promoted from programmer to consultant at Hoskyns, back in the mid 1980s, and one of the privileges of this promotion was the printing of a pack of business cards bearing name and job title. Perhaps for me, given that I cannot drive, it was more alluring a benefit that the company car that I could expect two promotions later. I was suddenly someone and I had a small rectangle of stiff white card to prove it. And the company was endorsing me by putting my name next to their logo and their place of business. I belonged.
Over the years I learnt to carry them wherever I went. You never knew when it might be sensible to hand one out. In Asia I learned to offer them (as one must offer anything of value) with two hands rather than one, and in the Germanic world I learned to bow slightly and click my heels. Card giving was the prelude or coda to every important business meeting.
When I started my own company in 1992 I remember being told by a wiser older entrepreneur that you should never throw away a business card, so I kept them in their hundreds and thousands, and once a year I used to organise them alphabetically into business card folders or rolls, but I have never looked inside them since. I regularly passed on the same advice and am still, out of habit, prone to mutter to my junior colleagues, ‘Don’t forget your business cards’, as we set out for a meeting.
Twenty-three years of hoarding business cards
But I don’t think they matter anymore. And they don’t have the same status-conferring appeal. Or if they do, I still don’t see the point of them. They were principally a means of conveying name, address and telephone number, then fax number, then in more recent times email address and website. They had brand implications too. You could choose a heavier, more expensive card, or try to do something imaginative and cool. But everyone I nowadays meet already knows who I am, what my name is, and how to get hold of me, or can very easily find out without adding my card to their dusty stack.
There are Apps, too, for the harvesting of identities at conferences (reading data from those tags you’re forced to hang from your neck) and there are a dozen other ways of keeping track of the people you’ve met. Cards play a minor, disappearing role.
But still, I won’t be throwing away my pile. I am a hoarder by nature, and, who knows, one day there’s a card in the pile that might prove useful.