Recently, when I knew that I was going to begin a full-time job search, I knew that getting my personal website and branding back up and running was a top priority. Part of that branding involved getting some new business cards that would help me get a job as well as reactivate my network.
What is the goal of a business card?
Ultimately, it’s a piece of paper that has all of your contact information on it. So, you could say that one goal is to convince the other person to contact you. However, the business card swap has become such a rote piece of the business interaction to the point that there are comedy skits about it. Don’t think, though, that I’m suggesting you become so critical of business cards that you think about them like Patrick Bateman.
To explain what I’m talking about, I need to talk about a past interaction, during an organizational change project with DHL. I had a conversation with an executive from DHL surrounding a new program they’d recently implemented. That program had its own logo and branding, and this executive had decided to have that logo placed on the back of his business card. He also chose to hand his card to people with that logo face up as a symbol of his dedication to that program’s success. As he said, “When I hand my card to people like this, I’m saying, ‘this is who I am’.”
When that executive takes that action, he’s taking advantage of a valuable psychological process. Our minds love to classify things quickly and easily. When he does this, he’s causing his name to be labelled and categorized differently in the other person’s mind. He’s causing that person to have to be more connected to him because of his investment to the action.
Here are my new business cards. You can see that across the back of them, I’ve inscribed a question, “What is a cogniphany?” and below that is inscribed, “Discover.” That calls a person to action and just below that is an easy way to satisfy the answer to that question. While I may not cause someone to spend a great amount of time looking at my website, I’ve created a way for that person to more easily remember who I am, when next we meet.
Thus, that’s what I am saying. Look at your business cards and ask yourself, “What am I saying about who I am when I hand this to someone?” Are you just taking place in a rote business ritual that ends up being forgotten moments later? Or are you saying something critical and important about yourself and taking advantage of a rapid person-to-person interaction to grab his or her attention?
My question is how best to handle the business card scenario when you work for a company that dictates to the nth degree what your business card must look like? Do I write something on the back, put a label on each with something unique? What options could I utilize? Most of the organizations I’ve worked for haven’t taken advantage of two-sided printing on their cards citing cost as the issue. Silly as two-sided printing on a business card is super cheap and a great investment if used strategically. Thus, I have a blank slate on the back of my boring corporate card that I can perhaps use to my advantage.
That’s a conversation I wish I could have with every single business out there.
There’s a concept called signal theory, and it’s incredibly strong in things like this. Basically, since we have our automatic mind handling a huge amount of our sensory perception, it picks up on and processes a lot of information that we never even register consciously. That’s why you can influence a conversation toward sports by putting something like a “Sports Illustrated” magazine in a room without anyone even noticing its there. Thus, the mind picks up on themes very strongly. So, when a business does something like makes every single business card look the same, except for the contact information, it is transmitting the impression of stability, permanence, etc. But, it’s also causing the business card–a networking tool–to be completely short-circuited, because they’re all too similar. There is no way to distinguish one from the other. That’s why the best businesses at this give employees some measure of choice about what they hold. Some will allow for different colors or different positioning of the name, or different things on the back. they keep it all within their brand manual, but they allow for some flexibility to make their employees able to stand out in the minds of the people they interact with.
And all of that doesn’t really answer your question well, but here’s an attempt. Yes, use the back of your card to your advantage. But, make sure that you’re doing it within the same branding that your organization dictates you should. Many orgs will have a brand manual that will help direct you to what you can and can’t do. If you don’t have that, do you best to match the font, colors, etc. on the front of your card. Failing that, you can also write something on the back of your card–if you’ve got good handwriting–that will catch the other person’s attention. If you know you’re going to a networking event, write something pertinent to that event…
“It was great meeting you at the Hotel Ignacio!”
…just to catch that person’s attention and make them remember who you were. When you’re networking, it’s like speed-dating. You’ve got only a couple of minutes to make someone remember who you are. Your words do that. The business card is the physical representation to link the memory of what you said to how to get in touch with you. The stronger you can make that connection in another person’s mind, the better.
For some reason, it seems that most organizations, especially large ones, have gotten away from apply marketing concepts for branding and strategy to their business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc. and simply made everything generic and cookie-cutter in their quest for control over the brand. As a result, they completely betray the entire concept of branding that we learn in Marketing 101. Very frustrating to those of us who are charged with marketing/sales/promotion/ fundraising, etc.
Mostly, I’ve used the back to write something on my cards before I go to a luncheon/conference or to at least do it in front of the individual before I hand it to them. At a big event that isn’t always practical, but if I write it while with the person, they are so curious they have to read it and I hope it feels personal and like it’s meant just for them.