What customers love – and loathe – in a business card

In an increasingly digital age, some might wonder whether business cards were getting a little old school. At the same time, online tools now offer infinite options for designing cards that can virtually sing and dance. But what impact does your business card really have on your success and how do you know if yours is doing the trick?

We asked 2,000 people for their honest views on business cards and making a first impression – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Do business cards still have an impact?

According to our survey, yes, they do. 63% of the people we asked said that having a quality business card helps make a good impression on them. Additionally, 60% would be more likely to use a business that has a unique or memorable card.

So, what makes a quality business card and how do you get noticed in a way that’s positive for your business?

The art of standing out

It’s all well and good to stand out from the crowd, but you want to be sure it’s for the right reasons and in a way that elevates – rather than undermines – your brand. Here are some valuable insights from our survey on ways to make your business card stand out (or fall down!) .

Thinking outside the card holder

There are certainly opportunities to get noticed by being a little different with your card design. Here are some original approaches that worked well for their owners:

  • Alternative materials: Chocolate, wood, etched metal, Lego, a tin of mints and transparent business cards were all remembered for their uniqueness.
  • Quirky shapes: Chalkboards, hearts, cats, cupcakes, butterflies, triangles, photo frames and luggage tags served as custom-shaped cards for businesses whose purpose matched their designs.
  • Multi-purpose: USB sticks, fridge magnets, spanners, coasters, bottle openers were seen doubled up as business cards. Another standout was an origami card containing seeds to be planted.
  • Special effects: Glow-in-the-dark and thermographic cards earned points for being different, while subtler effects such as gold foil or raised text also got a mention for their uniqueness.

If your business naturally lends itself to a creative approach, it could certainly help you stand out and gain recognition if done well. But, if it doesn’t feel right for your brand, don’t force it. As someone put it, too much effort to get noticed can also create the impression of “trying too hard”.

“Unique” things to avoid

Standing out shouldn’t be for its own sake, and there are certainly ways it can backfire. For example, a survey participant once received a round business card that opened to reveal a joke inside. He did remember it, but only as being “incredibly lame”, while another recalled an overly complex design that was “awful but interesting.” Not quite the desired effects!

Of the 2000 people we surveyed, among the top things they did not want to see on a business card were:

  • a cheesy strapline or pun
  • pictures of unicorns or quirky animals
  • wacky facts about the business owner

It may be tempting to do something original to stand out, but uniqueness should never come at the cost of your brand integrity. Always think about the message you may be sending and check that you’re being authentic, rather than just gimmicky.

So, if being creative can get attention for your business but also comes with risks, what does this mean if you’re stuck for ideas? There’s good news. While people do admire a unique card when done right, our results show that the number one way to ace your business card design is to embrace simplicity.

Simplicity wins

While original, quirky designs can certainly enhance your brand and get you noticed; overall the majority of people favour the clean, classic card. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have personality. Quality speaks volumes, and by focusing on the finer details, you can create a winning card the simple way.

Back to basics

So, when it comes to the basics of a business card, what do people actually prefer? Well, it’s quite simple:

Card feature Preference
Shape 72% prefer the standard rectangular shape that fits in a wallet, although comments included “an uncommon shape is advantageous for being noticed and remembered”.
Background colour 50% prefer a white background, while several people mentioned that other colours can work – “it depends on the business”. If you have a brand colour, you may want to use it as your background as long as it’s not too overpowering.
Text colour 54% think black text works best, or “anything that contrasts with the background colour so that it can be read easily”.
Font While the vast majority didn’t favour a particular font, 56% agreed fonts that make text hard to read should be avoided. Many also commented that the most important thing is that the font matches what the company uses elsewhere.
Essential info In order of importance: name (86%) company (84%), email address (84%), office number (63%), mobile number (61%), job title (56%) and office address (41%).

So as a starting point, keep your card clean, easy to read and consistent with your brand style.

Quality check

When it comes to the content, be sure to proofread every word – especially on such a small item, typos show a lack of care which you don’t want to be associated with your brand. Also, keep a critical eye and apply a “less is more” approach to make sure there isn’t too much going on visually. Here are some of the top card turn-offs for people who took our survey: 

Things to avoid Importance
Typos or misspellings 59.2%
Text that’s too small to read 54.25%
Too much clutter 54.05%
A poor colour scheme 40.3%
Clip art images 30.6%

A few dos and don’ts

  • Logo: 24% of survey participants mentioned that they value a unique logo on a business card. If you have a logo you’re proud of, use it – it’ll help set you apart.
  • Designer look: 22% appreciate a card that looks created by a designer, but that doesn’t mean you have to hire one. Just try to keep things clean and minimal for a professional look and perhaps browse examples of designs online as a point of comparison. Also, remember to avoid that clip art!
  • Mugshot: While your card may often serve as a reminder of who you are after meeting someone face to face, 38.5% of people preferred not to see a picture of the card’s owner. Apparently, they aren’t always worth a thousand words!
  • Social media: 27.2% expressed a dislike for social media information on people’s cards. While it may feel on-trend, Facebook and other social media handles should only be included if they really are relevant to your customers and form an active part of your business.

Brand vs bland

A simple business card doesn’t have to be bland. Just make sure it represents your brand by matching it with your other marketing materials, signage or website and showcasing your logo to highlight your unique identity. By providing only the most important info, simplicity also shows that you value the customer’s time and attention. If you do want to add something extra, consider selecting just one simple effect – such as a spot gloss or special paper stock – to give your card a subtle lift without feeling over the top.

Staying true

Often your business card is a follow-up to the first impression you’ve already made in person. And even when they’re on display for customers you’ve yet to meet, your card essentially serves as a representation of you. So, create something that feels true to you and your brand – and hand it out with confidence.

First impressions and faux pas

We all know that first impressions count. We asked our survey participants to share some insights and experiences of making and forming first impressions, for better or worse.

Say cheese!

  • When meeting someone for the first time, these are the things people observe in the first few moments:  smile, eyes, clothes, hair, voice, general body language, handshake, smell, shoes. Many also specifically mentioned teeth, so don’t forget to floss!
  • The majority of people form an impression of someone in 5-10 seconds.
  • As mentioned earlier, 63% of people say a quality business card helps someone make a good impression on them.

Moving swiftly on

Though we’d all wish to avoid them, there’s often nothing funnier than a faux pas. And when breaking the ice is replaced with breaking wind, it certainly makes for a memorable encounter! Here are some of the top meeting clangers from our survey participants’ own stories:

  • Asking if someone was pregnant when they weren’t
  • Forgetting someone’s name or constantly saying it wrong
  • Making a bad joke or saying something inappropriate
  • Spilling a drink (over someone)
  • Breaking wind

Chances are they didn’t want to be remembered after those meetings, but at least their business cards may still raise a smile!