Your online reputation is becoming increasingly more important than your business card and ignoring this trend will not make it go away.
But it may impact you in ways you don’t intend.
Business cards are clutter
Traditionally, business cards have served two main functions:
- provide a snapshot of how to reach you
- enhance the credibility of your role, function or business
I used to have a large collection of business cards because every time I met a new person, that was the best way to retain a quick snapshot of who they were and how to get in touch with them.
I also printed up business cards whenever I started up a new venture to give myself ‘credibility’ and make sure people could reach me. At one point, I carried around three business cards because I was working on three unrelated ventures at the same time.
Between carrying my own cards to give out and holding onto business cards from others, I often had a George Costanza wallet.
Today, this kind of wallet clutter is unnecessary. Instead, when I meet someone new, I ask them for an email address and/or cell phone number and enter them straight into my smartphone where the information automatically syncs up to all my communication devices. If somebody asks how to reach me, I give them my email address which is a more reliable way to reach me than my phone number.
With the ubiquity of digital ways to exchange contact information, the first function of the business card is becoming obsolete.
Your online presence is a competitive advantage
The second function of a business card, credibility, is easily trumped by your online presence.
Consider the following scenario:
You are trying to settle on a contractor to finish your basement. Your budget is $20,000 and the two remaining candidates both have great ideas – their quotes are a only few hundred dollars apart.
Because this is a significant investment, you meet with each of the contractors separately and tell them you need a few days to make your decision.
On departure, the first contractor hands you a business card and tells you to call him or email anytime if you have questions. He has an attractive, glossy business card with his cell phone number and an AOL email address. There is no url for a website but he gives you a few names of references to call.
The second contractor also hands you a business card and tells you to call or email. The business card is less attractive but still professional. It has his cell phone number, a website url and an email address that matches the website. He doesn’t volunteer any references but tells you to ‘check out his website’.
When you visit the second contractor’s website, you find a gallery page with ‘before and after’ pictures of several other basements he has completed. You also find a page of testimonials from satisfied customers.
But the place you spend the most time is the YouTube channel you get to from a link on his website; it contains short videos of him demonstrating several home improvement tips and tricks. One of the videos helps you fix a small problem in your house that has been bugging you for a few weeks.
You call him up and ask if its okay for you to speak to some of the past customers that left testimonials on the website. He gives you some names which you call and they all talk about what a great job he did and how much they learned from him and his videos.
Because you don’t have a url for the first contractor, you google his name and his company name to see what comes up. You find a few yellow pages entries that contain the same contact information on the business card.
You call the references he gave you and they all say he did a great job.
At this point, are you still conflicted about which contractor to choose?
Despite the similarity of their ideas and quotes, the second contractor would have significantly more credibility with me than the first even if the first one had the better business card and just as many references.
The first contractor’s approach to credibility is through the attractiveness of his business card and the list of references he provides. The business card is a signpost of his services.
But the second contractor uses his business card as a doorway to enchanting you even before you pay him a single dollar. His approach to credibility is through the engagement and generosity that is enabled by his online presence – he not only tells you about his services, he ‘gives away’ his expertise to you for free.
I believe the second approach will win in the majority of situations because it goes beyond a transaction and focuses on building a relationship. The second contractor is leveraging the power of a platform to differentiate himself and build a tribe of followers that will act as an extension of his marketing.
Market by connecting and engaging
I’ve used the example of a business card but this concept applies to any of the traditional pieces of collateral that we use for credibility and marketing.
It applies to brochures, postcards, billboards, posters, giveaways.
It applies to your resume.
All this collateral is not an end in itself – it should be used as a doorway to invite your prospects into a connection and relationship with you.
It is this connection that will yield the most fulfilling and impactful results in your career and business.