Brave New Business Cards

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American Psycho Business Card Scene (Lip-Sync) from Joel Mellström on Vimeo.

When Heather Morse recently asked, “Is the business card dead?” my initial thought was, “Yes, for many years now — but a tough zombie, likely to endure for a long time.” Her point — and I think she’s spot on — is that physical addresses printed on physical media are increasingly irrelevant at business gatherings now dominated by mobile devices and online social networking.

It got me thinking, though: We now have the technology to cure that form of zombie-ism. But not only that, the new incarnation would be even better than before, able to do much more than transmit contact information.

The flavor of the moment is QR codes — those pixellated postage stamp-looking violators (i.e. graphical elements that “break” the overall design) increasingly showing up in printed and online advertising. Originally developed as an alternative to bar codes for supply chain and other commercial tracking applications, QR codes have metastasized into social media.

When photographed by smartphones loaded with reader software, QR codes automatically link to Web-based information. While massively useful, in most advertising for professional services QR codes look like weird, unsightly gimmicks. But in simple layouts — like business cards — they make perfect sense.

While the first impulse for may would be to embed vCard info on the business card QR code and call it good, I think that leaves too much opportunity on the table — like using a PC as a typewriter. Why not use the business card QR code to access a purpose-built microsite that includes links to the cardholder’s bio, white papers, presentations and videos?

Here’s what patent attorney Steve O’Donnell has done:

“My business card has a QR code on it. If someone wants the card, they’re more than welcome to keep it, but I’ve also had people scan the code (which takes them to a small mobile site created just for this purpose where they can send me an email, get a vCard, visit my full site or see my AVVO and LinkedIn profiles) and hand it back to me.”

And think about the money you could save — production costs, shipping, storage — if you eliminated printed collateral by creating an online .pdf library that could be accessed through a business card QR code. Your business card becomes a virtual trade show display that you carry in your pocket. No more worrying about expensive brochures getting thrown away before they leave the exhibit hall.

Put another way, the printed business card was the world’s first mobile branding application. Why not bring it into the digital age?

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