Your Personal Billboard

by | Sep 24, 2018


There is a branding tool being used today which, to some, started over 500 years ago. Yes the business card has a bit of confusion surrounding its origins. The confusion or disagreement among some historians, comes from how business cards originated. Let take a moment to understand where they come from so we can see their significance. There are two historic items that are commonly regarded as precursors to modern business cards.

Visiting Cards

To many, business cards are a progression from “visiting cards,” which were introduced in China in the 15thcentury. Visiting cards were used in a slightly different manner than business cards used today. This is nothing new, as branding items evolve over time. During this time period when elite members of Chinese society went to visit with a friend or colleague, and that person was away or not taking visitors, the hand-written visiting card would be left behind, with the person’s name and reason for the visit.

Visiting Card of Ludwig van Beethoven’s’ brother, Johann

By the 17thcentury these visiting cards had fully reached European society. Around the time of King Louis XIV, visiting cards had become a part of the upper class. Rules and were created pertaining to the proper usage of these cards. The cards had started to be used before a visit. Engraved with ornaments and coat of arms, they were used to introduce and announce the visitor.

Trade Cards

By the end of the 17thcentury, European businesses began to exchange small decorative cards that served two main purposes—they provided location and services. The location, due to the modern address system not being invented, often contained location phrases telling the person a general idea of where they could be found.

Trade card for John Maria Farina

Trade card for John Maria Farina

Visit Cards + Trade Cards = Business Cards

Ever since the introduction of visit and trade cards the creation, information, and method of distributing them has progressed. The printing press allowed for mass production of business cards and how they are presented today. With as long as business cards have been around, there has been a growing belief that business cards have become obsolete. The thought that ‘I can just send someone my information’ or ‘they can find me online,’ has caused a misguided approach to the benefits of business cards. If you look at just these two beliefs the business card always comes out ahead. Your business card allows for the fastest way to provide someone with your information in person. Also, it allows the person to decide if they will take it, rather than just forcing it on them. When your conversation is over, the person you’ve given your card to now has your brand in their hand—something to physically remind them of who you are and how to find you. You eliminate the need to depend on their memory to look you up later, because they have one of your brand’s touchpoints in their hand.

Rules for Business Cards

Just like their 17thcentury predecessors, today’s business cards have rules and etiquette associated with them, as wild as that may seem.

Designing Your Business Card

When you set out to design your card keep the following points in mind. If you already have a business card, make sure that you have these items in place.

  1. Keep it on-brand
  2. Company name
  3. First name and surname
  4. Make sure it is legible
  5. Get them professionally printed
  6. Keep it simple; don’t include information that is not relevant
  7. Stand out

There are a few things you may want to consider adding, as they’ve had a surge in recent years. However, they should be used only if it ties in with your brand and does not detract from the brand-centric message you want the card to convey.

  1. Your picture. Only include your picture if having it works with your brand message. Pictures can come across as cheesy or even date your card quickly.
  2. Social media handles. While there is nothing wrong with including your brand’s social media handles, don’t include personal social media handles. You don’t want an employee’s wild weekend being what a customer sees when they look up the information from that employee’s business card.
  3. Abnormal business card sizes. There is always this idea that if you design a card that is cut differently that it will “literally” stand out. While true, it can become frustrating with the person who receives your card, who can’t put it with their regular cards or in their card holder. Be sure you have a valid reason to deviate from standard card sizes that is consistent with your brand and acceptable in your industry.

Receiving and Giving Business Cards

Here are some of the top etiquette rules to remember:

  1. Never leave home without your business card. You never want to be caught off guard and not have your card ready when the time arises.
  2. Properly care for your card. Use a case to carry your card, and know where it is on your person at all times. This also applies to receiving a card—don’t accept a card and promptly place it in your back pocket.
  3. Always hand out your cards with your right hand, or both hands, never with just your left hand. In some regions throughout the world the hand or hands you use matter. In India, it is taboo to use your left hand. In Japan, you use both hands when handing out your card.
  4. Hand \your card to the other person so they can read it without turning it.
  5. Know when to hand out a card. Business cards should be handed out at the beginning or end of a meeting, not in the middle.
  6. Be discerning with your cards. If you meet with a large group of people, give the cards to the senior people only. Start with the senior person first. Don’t just throw a handful of cards on the table, it diminishes your brand, and give the appearance you don’t care.
  7. Always have cards with correct and up-to-date information. Never pass out cards with crossed out information. This causes others to think you’re not worried enough about your own business to keep your information up-to-date.
  8. Don’t write notes on the other person’s card, unless it is relevant to the conversation or you ask first. Provide the other person the respect that their card is more than just a Post-it® note. If you do write information, it needs to pertain to the conversation. Information like “send sample” or “call Monday” works, but don’t write information such as “can get me in contact with Jim.”

So now you know that as you pass along your business card you should realize that you are performing two actions. First is that you are passing along important information related to your brand, but you’re also continuing a historic activity.

Ideas To Make Your Brand Better Now:

  • Review your business card to see if your information needs an update or refresh
  • If you don’t have a business card, design one and get it professionally printed
  • Carry your cards with you at all times

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