Business cards have been around forever, yet with all the emphasis on the digital space, they have endured as a meaningful part of our brand communications.
If you’ve ever been to a conference, education, or networking event, you’ve likely exchanged cards with other advocates. This one printed piece in a digital space is such a great foundation – it’s often a first impression that carries a relatively long life span.
Considering some elements to your card can help to set you apart, make you memorable, and drive future action – whether someone’s looking for valuable content from that one MS advocate they once met, or booking the keynote speaker for their next event.
The tempting thing about designing a business card is to make it into a resume. People tend to start gathering information to include, starting with topics and titles such as ‘blogger’ or ‘speaker’ or ‘advocate’, then throw in that one time they wrote for a big name publication, their semi-regular stint as a Twitter chat host, and every TEDx talk they’ve ever given. They include their email, phone number, personal social channels, and then add on additional social channels from orgs or pubs, their home address, and their mother’s maiden name. (kidding. I hope.)
If we take a step back and consider the function and purpose of a tool like this, it’s much easier to sort through your essential information, and generate a card design that is much more effective, and frankly, nicer and easier to look at.
The purpose of a business card is to serve as the link between meeting someone in person, and having them interact in some regard, after the fact.
The function of a business card is to provide a brand impression, and give people an idea of a potential next step.
Business cards aren’t your entire marketing plan. They are simply one piece that fits into a larger picture, and when you start thinking about their function in a larger audience journey, it really can help to frame this as an effective tool. We’ll examine things that you may want to include, and other elements such as sizing and paper choices. Follow along.
Information to Consider
Let’s sort through some of the pieces of information that are typically included on a business card, so you can put together something that really works for you.
Your Name/Your Platform Name/An Organization Name
Typically, business cards are issued on an individual basis. If you think of a corporation, cards will have both company and individual information. In the health advocate space, this line may blur a bit. In most cases, it makes sense to include your own name. This generally aligns with what people expect to find on a business card, and as a human, how you will typically introduce yourself.
If you emphasize both your personal name and your platform, include both. Amber Wallace-Ogle is Ostomy Diaries, she is the face, and the only face, of her platform, so it would make sense for her to wrap both up into one brand impression on a single card.
In some cases, to perhaps maintain a bit of a privacy line, you might only put your platform name, or your online advocacy identity. This makes sense if your goal is to drive people to your platforms, but avoid directly contacting you as an individual.
What about more formal organizations? If you run your own org, or work under a single org where you spend the majority of your advocacy efforts, it makes sense to include this. If you believe this is typically how you want people to know or remember you, there’s an argument for it. If you’re part of a larger organization, well, they probably take care of this for you. If you’re a consultant at a larger organization, you may not be an appropriate person to hold cards, as these are likely reserved for formal employees, and subject to brand standards. For example, an advocate wouldn’t make their own card to reflect working as a “Consultant for Smithson Pharmaceuticals”.
Finally, if you do some part time in a number of organizations, or maybe health platforms, try to sum this up into a single, overreaching title statement. Remember, this isn’t your resume, it’s your singular brand impression. Same goes if you participate in a range of activities – maybe speaking, consulting, copywriting. If you find yourself beginning to line list, take a step back and find the common string between them, and remind yourself that you’ll probably list a website – where you can and should list those, and show off your work and contributions.
A Tagline or Title
On a corporate card, a title is a typical piece of information. In advocacy, most of us function without formal titles and a corporate structure. In this case, thinking about more of a ‘brand statement’ style tagline can sum up what you do and who you are, without having to list specific accomplishments or placements (cough cough see above). Without having gone through any branding exercises, this might take some time to refine and really nail down.
It’s easy to list something like this as Sally Smithers, Diabetes Advocate, or Jim Johnson, Inspirational Speaker. If you had come across either of those titles, would you be motivated to find out more about them? Probably not, they are a bit generic and not audience-facing. Alternatively, advocates go back to the temptation to turning a tagline into a resume. Ethan Ethridge, Cancer Survivor, Public Speaker, Lobbyist, YouTube Star, Brother, Son, Cat Lover. On a business card, that’s a paragraph – a disjointed paragraph.
If you haven’t looked into branding at all, now is a good time to invest the effort to do so. If you need a shortcut, take the list of taglines or titles you think you may include, pare it down to what you consider essentials, find the common thread as to how they all benefit your audience, and wrap it up neatly.
What if you made videos with ostomy tips and product reviews, but also worked with politicians and national advocacy groups to influence policy? Betsy Beckford, Educating both Ostomates and Politicans for Better Outcomes of Care. Bam.
*all names are made up.
This is a controversial one. A headshot on a business card can help people identify you because they met you at a conference. They can give people an impression of who you are, which may help them relate to you. This can be especially true in marginalized communities, where it’s important for patients to feel like there are others out there just like them.
On the other hand, including your photo can come across as narcissistic, while taking up valuable real estate on a 3.5×2″ card.
This can ring true for all elements, but especially for photos – ask yourself if it’s purposeful to include this. Is it going to change the way people engage with your brand after the fact? Is it going to communicate something that’s essential? Are you including it because your mother likes to see your face?
Visuals, Logos, and Brand Impressions
Lastly, your brand impressions such as your logo, icons, visual symbols or accents, or maybe simply a pattern or background can be included. The key here is to not let visuals override the communication impact of your card. Having a visually appealing card will certainly make an impact, but if your recipients lose the message in the clutter, you might be wasting an opportunity.
Whatever visuals you do include, defend them against your brand guidelines. This is a key piece to your overall brand impression, so another opportunity to enforce that consistency between yourself, your website, your social channels, etc is important. This is the last place you want to go playing with colors, fonts, or anything else that detract from your visual brand.
Here’s an Example
Let’s break down my card for my own advocacy organization, The Great Bowel Movement.
The front of the card is bold, yet approachable. Our brand values include bringing bowel-related topics into everyday conversation. We don’t need to apologize for this – we’re setting the tone for our audience’s own conversations. Our larger logo consists of an icon + text that we empower to stand alone.
We include our social channels through icons, and our handle, which is consistent across channels, a humble invitation for people to interact with us on a brand and community level.
The card backs are individualized, but retain the simplicity of the front – keeping that consistency and harmony. “Hi, I’m Megan Starshak and I have Ulcerative Colitis” introduces my name and condition effectively and concisely. But it’s also inherently conversational – it’s saying ‘It’s ok to talk about UC’. It immediately breaks down barriers for the IBD conversation.
I’ve only included my email address, as that’s my preferred method of contact. It’s a singular and clear next step to connect with me. And that’s it, on purpose.
Your Contact Details
If you’ve ever used an online business card template, there are loads of fields for contact information. This certainly does not mean you have to include them all, and I would argue that you shouldn’t include most.
Before you automatically throw something on there, define the goal of your brand and card. If your goal is to drive people to your site or social platforms, I would argue that personal contact information can be omitted altogether. If you are looking to build opportunities for consulting or speaking, you definitely want to give people a direct line to your inbox. Most of us may end up somewhere in the middle, and this is where, again, being very purposeful can help funnel actions to their most effective channels, while reducing clutter on the actual card.
Additionally, as health advocates, many people find the need to draw lines of privacy in the sand, and this is a real issue for people that put themselves and their stories out there in a sensitive space such as disease. So not only is it okay, it’s often better and safer to withhold much of these.
Some specifics to consider:
If phone or texting is your primary and/or preferred method of communication, include this. For many advocates, this is a piece of information that’s kept under wraps, and only shared on a need-to-know basis. As we covered further up, your business card is one step in a communication journey. Some people may need your number, but you can give it to them after they reach out through another channel.
Bottom line, if you want strangers texting you, include this. If not, leave it off.
See above. Unless you have a specific reason for not just certain people, but anyone, to be able to show up at your doorstep, do your privacy a favor and leave this off your card. As mentioned, if someone needs to send you a contract, sample, or gift, you’ll have a chance to share this information after you’ve opened up other communication channels.
Email is a main channel for communication, especially on a more formal level – pharmaceutical companies may prefer, or even be required to use this as a first contact channel. If you really focus on social media and prefer to keep your communication through there, that’s totally fine. Drive it there by only giving people that information. If email makes sense, this is typically a logical thing to include.
Social Channels and Website
Being in the health advocate space, it’s probably assumed that you’ve got multiple digital spaces. You can certainly include some or all of these, and it makes sense to, especially if your primary goal is getting your content consumed and building those digital communities. As far as what and how to include these – you can include all of them or just focus on your primary ones. If you have a Twitter account but don’t use it regularly, you can certainly leave it off of here. Send people to where you’re going to shine brightest. You can also consider saving space on your business card by using social media icons, and grouping consistent social channels into one visual piece of information.
Design, Sizing, and Printing Details
Now that you’ve optimized your card communications and brand impression, how do you bring it to reality?
There are a number of ways you can create the visual design of your card. Beyond the heavy hitters such as Adobe Illustrator, there are free tools available such as Canva or Gimp that you can use. Most online card printers, such as Vistaprint, Moo.com, and Uprinting offer design tools within the site. You can also work with a professional designer to bring your ideas to life, and probably even add some upgrades of their own.
When you’re working on your design and layout, there are a few specifications you can consider.
A standard business card in the US is 3.5 x 2″. Using a standard size is familiar to your audience and will fit nicely in physical spaces – card holders, folder slots, and the like. You can do a little change up to this by doing a vertical design. This is a way to allow yourself to stand out among cards, while still maintaining the dimensions that your recipient is likely used to. Alternatively, 2×2″ cards are becoming more common. This size still fits in well with the height of other cards, yet is even more unique. For a price, you can get die-cut cards that are custom to your brand or advocacy space. Cards that have a dimension beyond 2″, or a very unique shape can certainly stand out even more, but may risk being an inconvenient thing for your recipient to handle.
A certain size or shape can help you draw the line between being approachable and relateable, and being bold and unique. Both are fine, it’s just a matter of deciding where your brand identity falls along this scale. Additionally, the information you include may simply work better, from a layout perspective, on a certain size and dimension. And that’s fine too. Give your audience a desirable experience with your card, don’t force things, and don’t create a card full of cluttered anxiety. (unless that’s your specific goal.)
You can print just the front, or the front and back of your card. Two sides offers more real estate to include information without clutter, and typically, it doesn’t cost too much more to print both sides, but the key here is finding the balance between having each side make sense for its respectively included information, while having both sides work in harmony. A card that has a different look and feel on each side, or doesn’t give thought to how information is organized and dividied, can provide a disjointed sense of brand identity to your audience.
Material and things like foil, spot coating, or colored edges can also be used to add to the experience of your business card, and the communication of your brand. Budget printing options on thinner cardstock aren’t necessarily bad, they say ‘I’m conscious of my expenses, and I’m not wasting valuable funding’. Thicker paper or standout features should be considered carefully and purposefully. When done right, they say ‘I’m thoughtful of the balance of how I present myself. I stand out in specific ways, but I’m not excessive’. However, a material or accent, or combination of too many of these can have a negative effect. They might detract from a sense of solid priorities, or show a lack of humility. If you’re selling luxury vehicles, this may be entirely appropriate. When you’re fighting for patients to have voices and resources, maybe not so much.
Ultimately, choosing your information, layout, and printing details with thought and purpose will help you create a highly effective marketing tool in your business card. If it helps you, go back and use this post as a checklist to guide your decision making on card information and design.
What Did You Learn?
✔ Business cards are a link between an in-person interaction and a follow up action.
✔ Less is often more – it’s not a resume, it’s a brand impression and nod towards a future connection.
✔ Choose the information you include and your design choices with purpose.