The best digital business idea that just never worked


By Mark Schaefer

A paperless society? Not if the recent SXSW conference was any indicator.

I know this sounds crazy, but paper is still the preferred communication method at the world’s biggest interactive gathering.  Every attendee is handed a printed program guide as big as a phone book.  Start-ups and filmmakers paste posters on every column and leave flyers on all the tables. Everybody still wears a paper name tag.

But the strangest hold out of all is the business card.

I probably passed out (and received) 250 business cards at the event. Nobody offered a “digital” card and nobody asked for one, even though that “bump” technology of transferring from one mobile device to another has been around for a few years.

I found this so odd … especially when I returned home and manually had to enter all that information into my contact list. Doesn’t that just seem like the biggest waste of time? “Bumping” a business card is such a great idea. But it never worked.  Why?

It interested me to the point that I posted the issue on Facebook. Some of the responses were illuminating.  Here is what a few {grow} community members had to say about the obvious staying power of business cards:

Gary Schirr YEARS ago businesspeople used to exchange info electronically using their Palm organizers…what happened???

Ahna Rebekah Hendrix I prefer business cards at this point because they remind me of the individual versus just putting a number/name in my phone. The apps where you take a picture are still odd to me – I’m not trying to snap the picture of a new contact just to remember them.. We are somewhere in the middle, but I much prefer b-cards still.

Jason Falls I actually prefer going through the cards I collect when I get home. Helps me remember who the people are and to follow up with them. (Just finished doing that a few minutes ago!

Kristen Margo Daukas At least with physical cards, you can flip thru them and if you don’t know the person, if you’ve written a note it will jog your memory. Once you put it in the phone and trash the card, it’s even more lost in a sea of data. Personally, I like that are one or two things that are still tangible.

Brian Vickery I’ve mentioned just getting a custom QR code for the phone that folks could scan – but it would be so foreign to most people. Secondary consideration is to then include one on the business card to at least save the tech-savvy folks from having to type in the information.

Craig Lindberg Wonder how the etiquette for the card exchange like that in Japan can be updated to mobile? Or maybe they have already. Important rituals sometimes don’t translate into digital.

When I think about the future, I usually assume we will be surrounded by a digital layer that we will literally be able to absorb and record at will with some device. But I wonder if we will always have business cards?

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via