First Impressions: How Business Cards Can Set You Apart

“Thanks Lola, it was a pleasure meeting you. Here’s my card. Let’s stay in touch!” Variations of this conversation can be heard at most business networking events. And, this card too is likely to join the carelessly abandoned stack of business cards in your drawer. With an unending stream of networking events and meetings, most first-time conversations have taken the shape of a template e-mail; not to mention, an exercise in memory to remember each name and face.

Yet, as an entrepreneur, it’s critical to cut through this clutter, and create a first impression strong enough to survive the onslaught of business cards and faces. So say hello to unconventional, quirky business cards that could help introduce you in a way that is fun, clever and most importantly, leaves an impression.

“It takes about 30 seconds to a minute to register all details about every new person you meet. It’s in this time that one makes a judgment about whether you’d get in touch with them again or not,” says Kiruba Shankar, founder, F5ive Technologies, a Chennai-based web development company, who has designed 11 different sets of business cards for himself. “The way you speak, dress and walk create the first impression while your business card creates the lasting impression.”

Shankar has multiple personalities — he’s an entrepreneur who runs a web development company and a social media consultancy. He’s also authored four books, has been a speaker at several management colleges, and is a weekend farmer at his venture Vaksana Farms.

To customise his communication to the varied groups of people Shankar would typically run into, he has a unique set of business cards to go with each of his identity. His four Facebook-themed cards appeal more to the college audience he speaks to while his more formal corporate CEO cards are perfect for meeting potential clients, or pitching for work. (See photos for a peak into some of his designs. An open source advocate, he’s put his portfolio of cards under the Creative Commons licence).

Not just that, he even differentiates his visiting cards by creating custom ones for separate events. For instance, when he was invited for the Malaysia International Tourism Bloggers Conference & Awards, Shankar thought it was “worthwhile” to print 200 business cards especially for the event. One side of the card had his photograph in monochrome along with his contact details, and the flip side had a huge colourful logo of the event itself with a small “We met at” on the top to remind people of the context of their meeting.

However, the most ludicrous card from Shankar’s collection is his “Google Card” which might actually mislead you to believe that Shankar works for the search giant. There is no designation or contact information on this card except a Google search box in the centre that contains “Kiruba” as the keywords, and the entrepreneur’s photograph on the back.

What is the point of a business card if you don’t wish to share any important information about you or your company with others? “Well, this is the most popular business cards of all the ones I have used so far. It just makes a statement. If you sincerely want to know more about me, you’ll go look me up on Google later and will find all relevant information in the first few links that pop up,” Shankar says with confidence.

Kuber Chopra, founder of a Gurgaon-based marketing start-up Rasta, wanted cards that would appeal to his target audience without being boring. Barely used in that way, business cards can also offer a window into the owner’s personality. Chopra says he wanted to strike a balance with his company’s business cards. Although he wanted to appeal to his target audience, and not be considered as boring “men in suits”, it was important to cut a professional image as well when pitching to clients. So, Rasta’s team designed, squareish “mini Polaroid-like” visiting cards for themselves, that are a departure from the regular 3.5 x 2 inch rectangular company cards.

Each Rasta visiting card has a photograph of the employee on one side, and contact details of the person as well as the company on the other. These photographs not only resolved the perpetual issue of forgetting people’s names or faces when you meet them for the first time, but gave a sense of ownership to the company’s employees.

“Our team loves using these cards and their friends often tell them that they would like to work for us just to get these cards,” he laughs. The cards also carry funky designations such as the “brand trooper”, “brand steward” and “youth-bag” right under the employees’ photographs that add an element of intrigue and fun, reflecting the company’s culture. “These designations may not be self explanatory but they help communicate youthfulness and hint that our work has something to do with brands,” Chopra says.

In fact, business cards are a great opportunity to provide a sneak peek into the company’s work culture and core talent of the team. A case in point is the award-winning business card designed by well-known designer Ashutosh Karkhanis in 2009. It was basically several batches of vanilla- and chocolate-flavoured biscuits made by The Bombay Bakery (now known as Food Boutique) with the name and phone number of the owner embossed into it.

Even though the cards had a very low shelf life and were “backbreaking” to make and store, they proved to be a great way to do some effective marketing for the bakery. “These cards told a story. They talked about perfection and innovation that our bakery stood for,” says Pia Promina, the owner of the bakery, who carried the biscuits in an air-tight box to distribute samples among people.

“People asked me — do I eat it or do I keep it?” But the idea was never to store these edible cards anyway as people were meant to save the number quickly and eat the card instead of storing it somewhere and never looking at it again. The best part? You don’t have to shell out tonnes of money for these extremely effective networking and marketing tools. Shankar paid Rs 1,000 for a batch of 100 cards while Chopra got an even cheaper deal with Rs 500 for 500 cards.

Unsurprisingly, Promina refused to disclose how much the biscuit business cards cost her. Shankar sums it up well though. “If designing and printing a bland, white card takes the same amount of effort, time and money as a colourful, creative one, why not go for the latter and stand apart?

This post was originally published in Inc. India magazine.

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