Business Card Marketing: Evolution of the Smallest, Most Versatile Marketing Tool

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Quick: Which single piece of marketing collateral combines two old adages — “first impressions are the most important” and “a picture is worth a thousand words” — and proves them both true?

 

It’s the trusty business card, of course! Given the wealth of information this compact little marketing tool holds and delivers in just a few inches of space, it’s no surprise they’ve been popular since the 1400s. Today, business cards are still evolving, with ever-more creative designs and options. 

 

A Rich Past: The Social History of the Business Card

 

The forerunner of the business card stretches back to 15th century China. At that time, royals and aristocrats would send their servants to the homes of other members of the upper classes, bearing “visiting cards,” announcing their intent to pay a visit. 

 

Two centuries later, the practice caught on in France. During Louis XIV’s reign, visiting cards became all the rage in high society circles. Proper gentlemen and ladies handed out “calling cards” as a means of social introduction and as a way to request a meeting. Over time, the practice became more formal, and many rules surrounding the use of calling cards came into play. 

 

The practice made its way to England and across the pond to the U.S. in the mid-19th century, bringing a strict etiquette along. For instance, a married woman had to hand out her husband’s cards along with her own, in order to avoid seeming risque. Also, the way a card was folded conveyed a message. These early cards were usually engraved on glossy paper and, along with the caller’s name, often featured a design such as a family coat of arms, flowers, or hearts.

 

Reaching Into the Business World

 

Around the same time, calling cards began making their way into the world of commerce. Known as trade cards, these early business cards were used both as advertisements for businesses and as maps to point the way to stores. Trade cards were usually printed using woodcuts or engraving and used monotones. They featured the name of a merchant, their address, directions to the business, and often a reproduction of the store’s sign.

 

Unlike social calling cards, the use of trade cards wasn’t limited to the upper classes. After the widespread use of the printing press created a boom in print advertising, trade cards became less of an advertisement and more of a way to introduce oneself and one’s business. Most were printed on white card stock with black ink, a trend that continued until recent decades. 

 

Today, business cards are just as ubiquitous as ever — but much more creative in design.

 

The Boom of the Creative, Innovative Business Card

 

As digital and printing technologies continue to improve, so do business card designs. Long gone are the days of monotone cards with little to no personality. Instead, many people choose to create business cards that truly reflect their business and their own unique personality. In doing so, they make their company stand out to potential customers. 

 

Some of the most innovative and clever cards integrate functionality into the card itself; for instance, a jeweler might create a card that folds into a ring sizer, a tire company might print a tread gauge on the bottom of the card, or a tailor might choose a folded card that can be unfolded and cut into a measuring tape. 

 

Some modern business cards are just plain fun, such as restaurant cards that can be folded to look like little menus, or cards with cut-outs in the middle to create finger puppets.

 

Of course, your business cards don’t have to be over the top to show creativity. Just a little something different can make them stand out in a sea of traditional (boring) cards.

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Connect With Your Customers

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No matter how great your product or service is — and we know it’s great — customers still make buying decisions based on emotions. Sadly, most businesses don’t strive to create that personal connection that influences buying behavior. When it comes to effective sales and marketing approaches, building relationships with customers is key. But how can you bring that all-important personal touch to every transaction and really make your business stand out?

 

These best practices will help you nurture personal connections with customers and build brand loyalty. 

 

Ask First, Sell Later

 

Before you jump right into a standard sales pitch, take the time to ask your customers a few questions. More importantly, really listen to their answers. A bit of gentle probing will help your customer articulate exactly what it is they need. That, in turn, will allow you to clearly explain exactly how your products or services will solve their problems. 

 

This way, you’re not simply pushing something that they may or may not really need or want. Instead, you’re taking their unique situation into account and providing a personalized, customized solution. At the same time, you’re building rapport by creating a personal interaction that’s so important.

 

Again, really listening is key. While your customer is speaking, stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and simply listen. Don’t attempt to think ahead and formulate answers before they’re finished talking. Remain in the moment, and place your full attention on them. They’ll notice the difference!

 

Quid Pro Quo

 

Keep on building that relationship by offering some personal information about yourself, too. Don’t worry. You don’t have to give out your Social Security number or your home address. In fact, avoid TMI at all costs. Sharing just a bit will humanize you to your customer. Talking about where you where born, a common hobby, a sports team, or even a recent movie you watched or book you read can make a real impact.

 

Scientific studies support this strategy. A 2009 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that customers were more likely to buy — and to be happy about their purchase — when a salesperson shared personal info like a birthday or a birthplace. But don’t fake it; the study also found that creating similarities where none really exist simply to make a connection tended to backfire, especially if the customer found out later that the salesperson wasn’t being forthcoming.

 

Keep in Touch

 

Regular newsletters are a great way to keep in touch with your customers — with the added benefit of keeping your brand in the forefront of their minds. CIO recommends sending a newsletter at least 10 times per year. Make it simple to scan and read, with short, concise articles and a prominent table of contents so customers can find what they’re looking for with ease. Focus on relevant content that your customers can use, making your newsletter something to look forward to. 

 

That Personal Touch

 

Sending a handwritten note or postcard is a great way to ensure that your business stands out. Handwritten communication proves beyond a doubt that you’ve taken the time to sit down and make an effort, which makes your customer feel valued. Try to include personalized content in each note to really make an impact. 

 

These simple steps will help you build that human connection that’s so key to driving sales and customer loyalty.