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Business Card Marketing: Titles Don’t Matter Except When They Do

By September 18, 2014November 23rd, 2017Marketing Insights & Strategy, Podcast, Readings
Business Card Marketing: Titles Don't Matter Except When They Do


That’s a title I saw on a business card once.

As it turns out the owner of the card was the Sales Manager at a software development company.

Did that title help him or hurt him?

The Business Card

I can never have a discussion about business cards without thinking of that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman presents his bone colored business card to two colleagues only to be outdone by an eggshell colored card and then by an even better card that is – gasp – off white.

The joke of course is that the three cards are almost identical and are simply reflections of the hubris of these men.

We even learn that the three men have the exact same title on their cards: Vice president.

Later in the scene a fourth card is presented. The title on that one? Vice President.

In the context of the film, the business cards are nothing more than an extension of the maniacal self love each of these men have for themselves.

But there is a lesson here for us.

As with all of marketing, the business card doesn’t exist for us. It exists for our customers.

Should You Have A Business Card?

I’m sure your answer to this question is, “Yes.” And I’d agree except that sometimes the question isn’t, “Should you have a business card?” but, “Should you have more than one business card?”

Consider a landscaper that I know. He sells two different services to two different audiences. He sells landscaping services to consumers and commercial snow removal services to businesses.

What title should his business card have? What images – if any – should be on it? What colors should he use?

The questions become easier to answer if we treat the business card using one of the same strategies that we would apply to any other marketing: segmentation.

They say that less is more and sometimes that’s true for business cards as well. It’s easy to get carried away and try to publish lots of details on a business card. I say you should shy away from that because a confusing card might find itself at the bottom of a waste bin.

The rule that should be followed for quality business cards is to not publish one word more than necessary to make the card a valuable tool for a targeted recipient.

Titles: Should They Be Edgy?

So let’s dig into titles. At the small business level, titles are less relevant than at big corporations because in small businesses employees often wear different hats and perform different functions.

In the past few years there has been a movement towards edgier titles in order to catch the recipient’s attention. The idea of course is that someone will be more responsive to a card that says “Firestarter” than “Sales Manager.”

I don’t know if this is a good practice or not, but I often hear people ask “What does that mean?” when they’ve been handed a card with an edgy title.

We can accept this as a positive since it leads to a conversation or we can see it as a negative because confusion may lead to disinterest.

While it might seem like a great way to create engagement, I’d ask you to think about the long game. When someone digs up your “Firestarter” card several days, weeks or months after speaking with you, you’d better hope they remember your elevator pitch and not the fact that they can’t figure out your title.

Either way, when I’m with a client and they want to test the “edgy” waters, I always recommend printing two cards; one with the edgy title and one with a more traditional title.

This way, you can “read the room” so to speak and make a gut decision on how receptive the recipient will be to either card. Coffee during a 9pm poetry reading at a hipster coffee shop may be ideal for the edgy card, but 8am breakfast with a group of older bankers may not.

If cost is an issue, then skipping the edgy cards may be your best bet because a card with an edgy title presents more risk.

I’ve omitted one condition that is relevant to this discussion which is “industry.” What industry are you in? If you’re a banker, a card with an edgy title may meet with disapproval. If you are a visual effects engineer, then a card with an edgy title may be expected.

With any marketing, it’s always a good idea to focus group. Whether you’re designing your cards yourself or through a designer, print a few out on your own printer; even if it’s on 8.5 by 11 inch paper. Then show that card to a few people – maybe even a few clients – and get some feedback.

There’s no such thing as bad feedback.

Designing The Perfect Card

Where should you start with your next business card?

I’d say that the traditional model of giving a designer your name, address, phone number and email is the wrong place to start. Start with, “Who are my customers?”

What information do they need? What can you give them on a 3 by 5 inch piece of paper that would make you and your business valuable to them?

Here are a few closing thoughts related to your business card as a marketing tool.

Consider dispensing with the title. You want your customers to feel that you’re going to give them value regardless of their need. If there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your customer then there may not be a need for a title.

Dispense with the QR codes. QR codes are those funny little graphics that printers and designers love to put on business cards that can be scanned by a smart phone. Practically speaking, people rarely scan them. If you decide to dedicate real estate on your card to a QR code make sure it’s big enough to be scanned and that the resulting content is mobile friendly.

Provide contact information that’s meaningful. If you print your land line on your card, but you’re never at your desk, then you’ve given your customer or potential customer bad information.

Your name is important. Ok, so this is a pet peeve of mine. If you go by “John,” why would you print “Jonathan” on your business card? That makes no sense to me at all. I understand that sometimes people want to be formal, but having to correct someone when they say your name is an unnecessary bump in the road. And from a purely conversational standpoint, people don’t like to be corrected.

Proofread your card before it goes to a printer. I don’t mean let someone else proofread it. When you hand someone a card with a typo, it’ll reflect on you regardless of who made the typo. I was recently handed a card by a senior level employee at Univision that had a typo. For a company that generates 2.4 billion dollars in annual revenue, that’s entirely unacceptable.

Finally, change your card. I know they cost money, but there’s no good reason to keep handing out business cards that are outdated. If your card has an old logo, get rid of it. If you have to cross out the phone number and write the correct one with a pen, get rid of it. If this is you, go get all of your remaining cards and throw them out.

While you’re at it, the next time you order cards, don’t order them in a large volume. You’ll have to pay a few pennies more to have a lower quantity, but you’ll incentive yourself to update your cards more frequently and also spare a few trees. It’s worth it. For you and the trees.

Now I want to hear your business card story. Do love or hate your business card? How long have you been using them? Are you due for new ones?

And most importantly, are you giving your customers value.

Since I can’t hand you my business card, here’s how you can connect with me:
Skype: RalphMRivera