[IMGCAP(1)]I have a confession to make: I love business cards. Let me explain.

Yes, I am all over social media and the benefits it provides. We run a nearly paperless office environment and make excellent use of our scanner on a regular basis. We even enter all of our business cards into our customer relationship management system as soon as we get back to the office so all team members can access any needed information. And there are times where I nearly run my business from my iPhone and iPad for meeting-filled days at a stretch. All in all, I’d say we are at least average in our use of technology, if not a bit ahead of the curve. So why the attachment to 2 x 3.5” pieces of paper? It’s a fondness based on several things.

First, while we spend a great deal more time developing Web sites and other online communications for our clients than we do designing print collateral, I still love hard copy. Yes, I’m the tree-hugging woman who recycles toilet paper tubes, grows her own tomatoes and composts all formerly living things that come through our office or house, but there’s still something truly exquisite about great print design.

I can kill an entire afternoon looking through paper swatch books and love it when I see beautifully executed application of ink on paper. I know, I’m a paper geek for sure, and I certainly notice things that most would totally overlook, but there’s something tangibly pleasurable about great print work. On some level, you are probably a print geek too. When handed a business card, do you notice the weight of the paper, whether it’s printed on both sides and the use of color and symmetry? I’m convinced that you too find visual and tactile satisfaction in these lovely artifacts.

Did you ever imagine you could build a successful company only to have someone make a split second judgment about it based on a small piece of paper? It happens all the time, folks. If your business card is hard to read, designed poorly, on cheap paper, lacking pertinent information or simply isn’t appealing to the eye, you aren’t sending the message you want.

I realize I’m on the far end of the spectrum here, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly everyone jumps to some conclusion based on that wee slip of cardstock. (They do the same thing with your Web site too, you know.) If you can’t take the time to create a professional business card, will you take the time to pay attention to my needs as a client?

If your card is hard to read or out of date, how knowledgeable are you going to be about your industry and applying its latest rules to my case? If your card is printed on cheap paper by an online source, where else are you cutting corners? Trust me, I’ve had conversations with people about just this topic, and you are being judged. Business cards represent you and your firm in far more subtle ways than the factual information they bear.

Finally, there’s something intimate about the ritual of giving and receiving cards. It’s like a nod of approval, an invitation into your semi-private world. When handled gracefully, exchanging cards is confirmation that you find each other interesting and are willing to have contact in the future. And while we in the U.S. aren’t quite as formal about it as some other cultures, particularly the Japanese, the implied acceptance still exists.

The assumption is that you don’t just give your cards to anyone and everyone. We’ve all seen the guy at a networking event that rushes up, shoves a card in your face and then moves on to his next victim. And yes, we sort of hate that guy and definitely speak unflatteringly about him when he’s gone. But having been to more networking events than I can count, I can assure you that the paper-exchanging ritual exists and will continue to do so for a long time.

What brought on all this analysis is the slew of gushing articles I keep reading about mobile apps that are going to eliminate the need for business cards. It’s true that there are more and more of these options, and yet many of them are dying on the vine. I recently read about the demise of Hashable, which promised “to replace business cards with mobile and web apps that help people meet and exchange information” after less than two years.

There’s Bump, which I have and never use. A few years ago, I co-presented at an event with a couple of guys from MobileZen, but I have yet to see anyone using this app in the real world. (A quick Google search indicated that they are still out there, but a lot of other companies are using the same name or a similar one for their dissimilar products.) With all the nifty, super-efficient, all-digital ways to exchange contact information, people still cling to the primitive fiber and color objects that clutter up our desks, wallets and purses.

Maybe it’s the fact that my clients, professional services providers, aren’t necessarily on the bleeding edge of most technology. My interpretation, however, is that like me, the world simply isn’t ready to give up their business cards because they convey a personal touch and depth of expression that virtual methods utterly lack.

What do you think? Am I overstating the case here or just scratching the surface?

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of BBR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, training and tactical implementation for professional services firms. She can be contacted at www.bbrmarketing.com.

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