3 Myths About Business Cards — And 3 Online Tools You Should Consider Instead

There was a time not long ago when business cards had almost talismanic qualities for lawyers and other professionals.  They were professionally designed and produced. Expensive. Markers of legitimacy, status, taste, authority, seriousness of purpose. An essential one-to-one marketing tool. Business cards were distributed liberally, and retained by recipients in Rolodexes, Filofaxes and drawers.

Enter Outlook, Google and LinkedIn. We no longer need micro-billboards to help contacts log, organize and retrieve our contact information.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Although they no longer command attention and respect, we still need business cards for utilitarian purposes like:

    1. Demonstrating you are prepared.
    2. Quickly and easily passing along basic contact information.
    3. Helping participants in large meetings keep track of who’s who.
    4. Conducting business in Asia.
    5. Placing in fish bowls at restaurant host stations for a chance at a free meal.

And yet, certain myths about business cards endure and cause lawyers to over-think and over-spend on what is now a low-value commodity.
  1. They make you look professional – Having a business card isn’t rare or special anymore. With online services like Moo and Vistaprint, anyone can get a veritable lifetime’s supply of high-quality, customized, color-image, double-sided business cards for less than the cost of a business lunch.
  2. They are necessary for a good first impression – If someone asks for your business card, you’ve already made a good impression. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s now rare for anyone to do more than glance at a business card before putting it in a pocket or handbag. Just being prepared and having a business card readily available makes a strong first impression. The craftsmanship and composition of the card is mostly irrelevant.
  3. Adding a QR code to a business card makes you look techno-savvy, and it will drive traffic to the linked landing page, webpage, microsite, etc. – Ugly, cryptic, space-eating, pixelated squares are just as likely to look gimmicky on a professional card. Indeed, other than novelty, there’s no compelling reason for recipients to access the code’s content on a mobile device when they have the information they need in their hand already.
Better Options for Optimizing Your Contact Information
  1. Add useful personal and company links to your e-mail signature.
  2. Create personalized landing pages through services like  Flavors.me and About.me.
  3. Invest in Google search curation tools like Vizibility.
I know that lawyer coaches, graphic designers, printers, and the irrationally image-obsessed, among others, still venerate businesses cards, so I hope to hear some lively counterpoints.

News from the LexisNexis Social Media Survey That Didn’t Make Headlines

The recent LexisNexis/Vizibility survey of social media for law firms deservedly generated a lot of headlines, buzz and discussion in the blawgosphere. While many legal bloggers identified a pending deluge of new legal blogs as the key takeaway, some of the most interesting information in the study has been overlooked.

Worth Considering More Closely

  • Video – Despite being an even more nettlesome and expensive enterprise than blogging, nearly half of respondents indicated they plan to incorporate video into their marketing mix — a percentage more or less consistent across firms of all sizes.
  • QR Codes – To be honest, I don’t think Vizibility was a good partner for this survey because QR is a mobile technology for accessing online content through physical media. Despite Vizibility’s pitch, QR is not a social media networking or marketing platform. But the bigger issue is that even if you consider mobile applications to be social media marketing, there is no compelling data to indicate QR technology has staying power, let alone growth potential. The infographic distributed with the survey results announcement misleadingly correlates QR code growth with smartphone market growth, when its future is more directly tied to advertiser choices. While QR code-based gaming and discounting applications were popular with consumer product marketers over the past year, smartphone users themselves have not enthusiastically embraced their use, and the future of QR is uncertain.  Notwithstanding, the survey suggests that 80 percent of law firms will have QR codes in their marketing mix by the end of 2012, predominantly for mobile access to online marketing materials and business card data. So are legal marketers riding the tail end of a gimmick?

Notable for Their Absence

  • Budget and Resourcing Plans – A single five-minute branding video can cost as much or more than the out-of-pocket expenses for an entire year of blogging. Even low-budget productions can cost several thousand dollars apiece. Combined with aggressive movement into blogging and social networking engagement, does that mean marketing budgets will be increasing, or will it be funded through cuts to other marketing tactics? Which ones? Will there be new marketing hires, or a greater reliance on outside contractors?
  • Non-Blog Content Marketing – Content distribution and SEO optimization platforms like JD Supra and SlideShare are bona fide forces in content marketing for law firms. However, the survey did not mention them by name, nor include content marketing as a category.

Worthy of Its Own Category

  • The infographics accompanying the survey results press release literally and figuratively animated the narrative, and elevated the overall impact of the announcement. It would be great to see adoption and utilization of infographics in law firm marketing explored in a future survey.

What did you think of the survey results? Anything surprising? What kinds of questions would you have asked?

Brave New Business Cards

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/19183704 w=400&h=295]

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?