From time to time people say unexpected things in the comments section below this column, but one comment stood out the other day. It came from a reader asking that something be done about the sorry state of the business card.
“I’m sick of younger professionals giving me all kinds of excuses at meetings why they don’t have a card to give me,” said this person. “I’m just saying, if you want me to remember you were at this meeting, you can give me a card: otherwise, in a week’s time, when I look at my cards from this trip, you’ll have ceased to exist.
“What’s with those sheepish lips? Why don’t their bosses insist? Why didn’t their parents teach them?”
Phew, I thought. Thank God I don’t run into people like that in my day job. Except I do.
A week later, I went to a business conference where, as usual, I arrived without any of the hundreds of business cards that have been sitting at the bottom of my desk drawer since the pandemic broke out.
This seemed like a good place to stay. Long before the pandemic, there was a sense that the use of cards was fading in an age of LinkedIn and airdropping. Just because physical mixing was back, did people really want to go back to exchanging data-germ-laden pieces of cardboard that took hours of tedious work to type into a phone at home?
As a result, at this conference they did a lot. Every second person there was pulling out a business card. men Women. young man old. Everyone seemed to have one except me. The third or fourth time I feebly apologized for not having a card, a middle-aged man curtly asked, “Why not?”
It was a shame that another slightly older (and more famous) man didn’t leave his cards at home. I watched for a long time as one after another was put into the hand of every man I knew, but I could not offer one to a single woman to whom it was presented, no matter how high.
So the business card is back? yes and no
As the pandemic eases, sales are picking up at Vista, parent of VistaPrint, one of the world’s largest makers of traditional business cards.
Business card revenue grew 10 percent in the year to June 30, the company told me last week. But one type of product in particular is really thriving: cards with a QR code or some other type of technology that lets you download contact data digitally.
“When we introduced digital business cards (physical cards with a digital element) in April, it became our fastest-growing new product introduction in the category and we expect continued growth,” says Emily Whittaker, Vista’s executive vice president of commerce.
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The trend was evident at the conference I went to where, in the middle of another card-handing circle, a man brandished his iPhone at me and said, “Point your camera at this.” A QR code, once scanned, instantly sent their contact details to my phone’s address book.
Another person took a hybrid approach, flourishing a bamboo card with a QR code printed on the back that he kept after others had torn it.
Clearly, an advancing army of technologies is transforming the business card. They include NFC, or near-field communication chips that people are attaching to their phones or in the (hopefully rare) case implanting in their hand.
I’m not sure what the FT reader would make of this change, but personally I’m hooked.
I like the physical security of a printed card, and admittedly, when I got home, the cards reminded me more of who I’d met than the invisibly transferred phone data. Dead batteries can also be a problem for the QR clan.
But after spending hours of my working life transferring well-printed contact details to my phone and fiddling with camera apps that promise to do the same but rarely do, it’s nice to have someone’s details jump to instantly to your contact list.
I think the beautiful printed FT cards on my desk will last a long time.