Occasionally, people say surprising things in the comments section below this column, but the other day, a statement stood out. It was from a reader who wanted me to do something about the condition of the business card.
“I’m tired of young professionals at meetings making all sorts of excuses as to why they won’t give me a card,” this person angrily said. “What I mean is, if you want me to remember you were at this meeting, you can give me a card. By the time you see it, you will no longer exist.
“What’s in these lanky slobs? Why don’t their bosses insist? Why didn’t their parents tell them?”
Phew, I thought. I never come across such people in my daily work. Except I do.
A week later, I went to a business meeting and, as usual, arrived without one of the hundreds of business cards that had been sitting behind my desk drawer since the outbreak of the pandemic.
This seemed like a good place for them to stay. Long before the pandemic, we felt card usage was on the decline in the age of LinkedIn and airdrops. Just because the physical mix is back, people really don’t want to go home and replace the germ-laden pieces of cardboard containing data that took hours of tedious labor to type into their phones. did you want to go back?
After all, at this meeting they did a great deal. Each one had a business card out there. male. Woman. young. Year. Everyone seemed to have one. When I feebly apologized for not having my card, a middle-aged man curtly asked, “Why?”
It was disappointing that another man, slightly older (and more famous), didn’t leave the card at home. I watched for a while as he thrust into the hands of each and every man he met, but no matter how haughty he was, he didn’t reach out to the woman he was introduced to.
So did the business cards come back? yes and no.
As the pandemic eases, sales are picking up for Vista, the parent company of one of the world’s largest manufacturers of traditional business cards, VistaPrint.
Business card sales increased 10% in the year ending June 30, the company told me last week. But one particular type of product is really flourishing. It’s a card with a QR code or some other kind of technology that allows you to digitally download contact details.
“When we introduced digital business cards (physical cards with a digital element) in April, it became the fastest growing new product introduction in the category and we expect it to continue to grow.” said Emily Whittaker, Executive Vice President of Commerce for Vista.
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This trend was evident at the conferences I attended. In the middle of another card distribution circle, one man waved his iPhone at me and said, “Aim the camera at this.” Scanning the QR code instantly sent his contact details to my phone’s address book.
Another took a hybrid approach, flourishing a bamboo card with a QR code printed on the back and keeping it after others snapped it.
Clearly, technological advances are changing business cards. They include NFC, or near-field communication chips that people stick to their phones or in some (hopefully rare) hands.
I’m not sure how crazy FT readers will appreciate this change, but I’m personally hooked.
I liked the physical certainty of the printed card, and it’s true that when I got home, the card reminded me more of who I had met than the details of an invisible phone. It could also be a problem for the QR clan.
But I’ve spent hours at work transferring finely printed contact details to my phone and messing around with camera apps that promise the same thing but rarely do, so someone’s details are instantly in my contact list. Jumping is bliss.
I think the nice printed FT card that sits on my desk actually lasts a very long time.