Are physical business cards still relevant in the digital age?

A business card is an extension of you, even if you’re a Wall Street investment banker committing frantic murders in your spare time. We’re referring to a piece of fiction, of course – the black comedy horror satire. American psychopath, in which Christian Bale plays a suavely solipsistic Patrick Bateman.

“It’s bone,” he describes the color of his new printed card, while trying to impress his materially wealthy but culturally bankrupt executive colleagues. “And the lettering is something called Silian Rail.”

The scene is surprisingly iconic because the status-obsessed Bateman is immediately disheartened when the other men all come out equally fanciful. It turns into a male ego showdown as they flaunt their expensive, but largely indistinguishable cards. While most viewed this pop culture moment as a total display of absurd male competition, printing presses around the world saw it as an aha moment that sparked more creative approaches to their craft. Ultimately, a humble business card can reveal a lot about yourself, more than you might think.

This cornerstone of business stationery, which we casually shove in our pockets and consider little more than its face value, has been around for a long time in one way or another. Visiting cards were invented in China in the 15th century to announce the imminent arrival of a guest. English merchants used them as miniature advertisements in the 17th century. In present-day Japan, the card-trading ritual called 名 刺 交換 (meishi-koukan) is as strict as a tea ceremony. Rather than a simple gesture of courtesy, it should be done before any formal discussion.

The exchange of business cards is as close to a universal custom as one can find in the corporate world. But with more people exchanging social media shakes than handshakes these days, is the long-standing business etiquette really out of place?

As we move towards a world of digital goods and virtual interfaces, the DNA of a tactile business card is rapidly unraveling. Augmented Reality (AR) beacons are affixed to maps so that 3D objects – either the employee’s face or the products being promoted – emerge when viewed with an app. In China, the practice of exchanging cards is almost obsolete, as businessmen now scan each other’s QR codes, pointing one to the profile of their WeChat app, which can also be used. to book hotels and transfer money. The professional social networking service LinkedIn makes it easy to share contacts in person using Bluetooth while newer sites like Hi hello and Contxts allow users to create virtual business cards.

The pandemic has opened as many doors as it has closed. Team meetings and industry conventions can be held anytime in the world, but face-to-face networking has been reduced to a social exchange on a screen with a fake backdrop of our dream vacation. . As white-collar workers flee to their home offices, global printing companies suffer a setback – Dutch e-commerce Vistaprint has admitted that its sales fell 70% earlier this year and are yet to fully recover. A post-pandemic scenario does not look promising either. Is it safe to hand out cards to potential customers? How to disinfect them? What would the well-behaved Japanese think?

Contrary to tradition, “It’s time to change your mind,” says Sansan Global Pte Ltd Regional CEO Edward Senju, who was born to Japanese parents but raised in Mexico. Tech start-up Unicorn Sansan (whose name is a play on the honorary title of Mr. or Mrs. in Japanese) is creating a larger digital infrastructure to fully utilize the connections businesses make. Founded by Chikahiro Terada, Sansan designed a hybrid system that scans physical business cards with a scanner or mobile app. Your contact data will be uploaded securely to a cloud database, and it becomes a permanent resource that can be shared internally with colleagues. In addition to capturing basic contact information that can be integrated with other online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Google Calendar, the Sansan app records a contact’s hobbies and even preferences that can be used. to strengthen future relationships.

While customers no longer get the physical business cards they can scan and add to the system in this age of social distancing, Sansan adapted and launched virtual versions in the middle of last year. More than 4,300 businesses have signed up for its QR code-based system, which can be easily placed next to your face during a video call. Your recipient just needs to scan the code on your screen for the details to appear.

Gen Z is already helping C suite managers close more deals than they anticipate from potential leads. Start-up based in Los Angeles Popl, designed just before the pandemic, leveraged Tik Tok users to promote its modern alternative to business cards. Instead of a scanner, the Popl device is a near-field communication (NFC) -compatible hardware tag that sticks to your phone to make contact sharing as seamless as using Apple Pay or AirDrop. According to co-founder and CEO Jason Alvarez-Cohen, a UCLA graduate with a computer background, Popl has sold more than 700,000 units and generated $ 2.7 million in sales for his digital business card technology.

Like Popl, there are more inventors who think they have the solution to transform the traditional model of business card docked. TouchBase Technologies, which makes paper maps with a “conductive ink” that stores another person’s information by touching it on a device, maintains the presence of an actual map while using current touch screen technologies. There are also other affordable wireless exchange apps that don’t require the purchase of a phone capable of reading NFC tags, such as the scan feature in Evernote (it costs $ 45 per year for unlimited scanning. ) and CamCard (free for a limited number of scans) but they don’t provide exact customer information or work beyond recording your business meetings.

Even though a digital revolution provided for the paperless office, the rotating map file – the best known is from leading brand Rolodex – is a trophy case to show off its connectivity and the size of the corporate network in the eyes of the world. If Steve Carell’s onscreen character Michael Scott in Office taught us something is that the physical business card has a logistical advantage as it is much easier to squeeze the paper towards the palm as not everyone is equipped with the same funky apps that will invariably send an email on site to share their contact details.

Technology has reinvented the (spinning) wheel by linking analog and digital, but new age innovations usually come at a high price. Even if you can’t afford fancy stationery (again, the color isn’t white, but “bone”), seriously offering a physical card with both hands is a no-cost strategy that will always make a difference. lasting first impression.

This article first appeared on November 1, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.

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