Traditional Business Cards Get High Tech Tweaks

In Japan, business executives study each other’s cards intently as soon as they are exchanged. In that part of the world, it would be rude not to do so.

Patrick Bateman, the main character of the satirical novel American Psycho, paid an almost-perverse attention to his peers’ business cards, marveling at the “subtle off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness,” and of course, the watermark.

But when was the last time you looked at your business card with fresh eyes, reading your name and work extension as if you were seeing that information for the very first time? What other information does your business card reveal about you? Does the logo show that you work for a national firm or that you’re self-employed? Is your fax number, more than likely a number nearly identical to your work number, still listed? Does your website have a www in front of it, or is it even on your business card at all?

A more challenging question to ask would be, when was the last time someone paid close attention to what your card says?

The days of having a plastic rolodex on your desk with hundreds of cards inside are diminishing. In 2013, the contacts you keep are instead listed on your smart phone or other mobile device.

A business card is only worth the paper it’s printed upon. Unless your new contact bothers to transcribe your card details into his phone, your information is likely going to spend most of its time squeezed into a wallet between some lunch receipts or shoved into a desk drawer at the end of the day.

However, there are now ways to exchange information without any transcription and you can still swap calling cards.

You’ve seen Quick Response codes all over the place lately, from movie posters to billboards to, yes, business cards. QR codes, those square barcodes that look like Atari video game explosions, can feed your professional profile directly into a user’s contacts folder. It can direct them to your website. You could even embed inside that code a video of you introducing yourself.

The disadvantages to QR codes are becoming more apparent. First, neither Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android comes from the factory with a QR code reader already in place. Users still must go to an app store to find the one of many that fits their needs. Scanning the codes is problematic, for you must have plenty of light and little motion to correctly snap the picture (never mind how you’re supposed to take a scan of a billboard from a moving car).

QR codes have their place, but the trend doesn’t seem to be catching on to the degree that they replace the traditional information found on a business card.

In that case, the next big thing could be “Near Field Communication” cards. NFC cards contain an actual data chip inside of them, containing your professional profile. They’re thicker than ordinary cards and definitely much more expensive.

All one has to do with an NFC card is to tap against a mobile device that has an NFC reader inside it. In that simple tap, all of the card’s information jumps inside its new home.

The points against NFC cards sound similar to the cons for QR codes. The device needs to already have an app installed before it can read data. Besides, you wouldn’t just download anything on to your phone or tablet, right? A potential client or networking partner is going to have to trust you when you hand them your card that you’re not offering a damaging virus or something else malicious.

So we’re back to business cards. They might not be the most technically advanced piece of office machinery out there, but there are plenty of reasons why they’ve been around so long and are still used.

Instead of a QR code, put an easy-to-remember web address in your profile. That way, the recipient can visit your website without having to open up an extra app. If you want to work your way to the inside of their contacts folder, exchange cards and then later send them a vCard, a virtual card format file that will automatically add your card profile with the click of a button, no scanning or tapping needed.

Keeping it simple and traditional with your business cards isn’t going to hurt you when it comes to networking outside of Silicon Valley. Besides, that buffet restaurant is never going to be award you a free lunch when the manager pulls that QR code out of the fishbowl.