Why business cards still beat 'the bump'

Marketing consultant Mark Schaefer recently published a blog post headlined: "The best digital business idea that just never worked." It's about being at the SXSW conference recently and noticing that even that collection of digerati remains stubbornly dependent upon paper: paper programs, paper posters, paper flyers and paper name tags.

And then he gets to his main paper point: "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. ... 'Bumping' a business card is such a great idea. But it never worked. Why?"

He posed the question to a Facebook group and received a bunch of plausible answers, most boiling down to habit and the fact that paper cards offer subtle benefits that the bump just can't match.

But here's another reason: Human nature.

Never having exchanged cards electronically, I'm going to nonetheless assume that offering a "bump" requires a conversation between the parties to ascertain that a) the receiver is amenable to this method, and b) that he or she possesses the necessary technology (yes, people still carry not-so-smart phones).

That bother alone is enough to dissuade this non-bumper, who has had occasion to be at a conference room table with a half-dozen previously unknown vendor representatives.

But there are also other considerations. Some new contacts may acquiesce to and accept your bump even though they really would prefer a physical card; too polite to ask, they leave the encounter slightly unfulfilled if not irritated. And should you make the offer to someone who either doesn't bump or lacks the technology, well, you've added the possibility of embarrassment to the possibility of irritation.

But, wait, you say: What about the bumpers who hate paper cards and are irritated by the collective failure of most of us to get with the bump program?

That's their problem. And the irritation they experience, unlike the type they risk causing, cannot be directed at specific individuals or else they'd be irritated with virtually everyone.

When I made these points on Buzzblog, readers chimed in:

 "Business cards are handy as you can quickly write notes on the back as to what you need to do for the customer."

 "Add to the equation the potential for BTDs or Bump Transmitted Diseases. Consider the mortification from spreading some form of zero-day specially-malformed bump-transmitted viral packet that spreads malware from phone to phone via those friendly 'bumps'. "

 "Often when I am in a meeting with a group of people, I hand out my business card and they all hand me theirs. I then put the cards in front of me on the table in the same relative order as the people sitting at the table. As each person talks to me I can call them by their name and cement into my mind which person is which. ... When 'bump' can to that, I will consider it."

Business cards are going to be around for a long, long time.

(Care to disagree? The address is buzz@nww.com.)

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