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Business cards play more of a marketing role in digital era

BY Grant Welker

3/19/2018

When Cathy DiPilato started her new organic produce bag line this month, she took advantage of a branding opportunity few in other fields would have. When she came up with a business card, she made it not a card at all.
DiPilato's business cards are, in fact, miniature versions of her cotton bags, complete with ner name, phone number, website and a description of her business, B-Organic.
The Worcester resident researched creative marketing opportunities and landed on the small bags, which are about twice the size of a typical business card.

“I thought it would really have an impact on people,” DiPilato said. “This is my business card, so you won't forget what I do.”
Business cards once had to serve as Rolodex-filling necessities if someone wanted to remember how to reach an important or distant contact. In the digital age, that's not as necessary.
But at a time when anyone can make more unique business cards than ever before, these longtime work desk staples have moved from simple how-to-reach-me objects to marketing opportunities.

“We have to differentiate ourselves. We want to make sure people take us seriously,” said Kham Inthirath, the founder of InThink, a Worcester marketing company.

Inthirath, of Northbridge, is choosy when he decides when to give out his business cards. He has to be. The thick metal cards cost him $5 to $6 each.
“If I'm at a networking event meeting 30 people, I'm not going to bring the metal cards,” he said.
Still, Inthirath is sticking with expensive-but-impressive plan. The business has rebranded since he first launched it, and he's ordering more metal cards. He said he's given his cards to people and found out a year later they kept his card on their desk.
Features today aren't just a choice between gloss or no gloss, two-sided or one. Dozens of variety of designs are available, a wide range of textures or materials, even metal or plastic.

Some cards are meant to stand out when they're part of a stack on a desk or in a drawer either by being thicker or a little bit wider and taller. Some actually take the opposite approach. The website MOO, which prints its cards in Lincoln, R.I., makes cards that are half the size of traditional ones.
One California company, My Metal Business Cards, makes cards that double as bottle openers. They don't come cheap, though: They start at nearly $6 each.
“You can ask any of our clients – there's something about handing someone a business card made of metal that stuns most people and instantly strikes up a conversation,” said Ashley Sandoval, a client support specialist at the firm. “When you give someone a metal business card, their perception of you is instantly elevated.”
But not everyone thinks cards should be so daring.

Pagano Media, a Worcester marketing, design and media production company, advises clients on designs with various types or finishes. Joe Pagano, the president and creative director, said he likes cards that leave room to write in a cell phone number or other information, and a surface type that makes writing possible.

“I'm a big fan of white space,” he said.

One Pagano Media client, a New Hampshire firm making padding for MRI machines, has a business card with a USB drive to be plugged into a computer. But Pagano's clients tend to be traditional, choosing cards with bright colors or catchy designs, said CEO Kathleen Pagano.

“Usually, they will go with something a little less traditional than they first thought because they see the value of the design of it,” she said.

Joshua Croke, the founder and chief strategist of Worcester consulting and strategy company Origin Consulting, has found style can't be done at the expense of being useful.

“Design is art that meets function,” Croke said. “Good designers have to consider the function and make the form applicable to that, and also aesthetically beautiful.”

Croke, whose own business cards have a standout design, knows cards well.

He said he's kept 500 from those he's met and keeps in touch better with those whose cards stand out.

“If the card stands out when you make that transaction, it's a way to inject a little more memory into that experience,” said Croke, also a co-founder of the Worcester Idea Lab.

“I give my business cards out like candy,” he added. “I think the use of them is still extremely relevant.”

There's also a next wave of business cards that could either kill the business card as people know it or save it.

MOO offers cards embedded with small chips that, when the card is tapped against cellphones carrying the technology, trigger a website or portfolio to pop up.

By June, Pagano Media plans to start offering a new card using what's known as augmented reality. A person could use a phone app to scan, say, a real estate agent's card, and the agent's listings could pop up on the phone.

“We do see this exploding soon,” Joe Pagano said.