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The friendly business card has a new foe: Digitalization

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  • | 5:00 a.m. August 7, 2023
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When a client asked Rob Lederhilger, founder and CEO of Bradenton-based Soluency, about producing an NFC smart business card, he said no. 

NFC business cards, which stands for near-field communication, allow professionals to send their contact information to a smartphone through a chip embedded in the card.

“I had seen one of those about a year ago and didn’t think much of it,” says Lederhilger, whose company specializes in web hosting. But then he did some research. Within a week of that client’s request, Lederhilger had begun learning how to print them. Within a few weeks of the inquiry, he launched the product as a proof of concept. 

“They were very popular right from the beginning,” he says, noting the cards launched in March. As an example, Lederhilger points to a Realtor who had bought one from Soluency. When the sales manager saw it, Lederhilger had to make another. Eventually, after a few more in the office noticed it, he was invited in to demonstrate the cards to the rest of the office, which led to a significant number of orders, he says. 

Soluency started in 2021 as a web hosting company for digital agencies and eventually added web and mobile app development to the mix.  

Lederhilger was searching for a solution or product to bring customers into Soluency earlier in the sales cycle when the NFC business card idea came around. Using the same technology as contactless payments, the business cards feature a QR code that users can have others scan when they want to give out their information. 

A screenshot of what pulls up after clicking the QR code link on a Soluency smart business card.

Instead of relying on paper business cards, and having to buy new ones every time there’s an update, the NFC business cards are programmed to an app where users can change or update their information whenever. The information included with these business cards can include links to websites, social media profiles and portfolios. 

As technology grows, the use for disposable paper business cards wane. 

“While smart business cards are indeed the future of business cards, they are not necessarily an immediate replacement,” Lederhilger writes in an email to the Business Observer. “Rather, the transition will happen as more users fully adopt and understand NFC technology. In the same way, paper business cards will eventually become like what a Rolodex was before computers and smartphones — a thing of the past.” 

Still, he says there are instances where paper business cards are still needed — like at networking events where a bowl is present for drawings and giveaways or when someone hasn’t adopted the technology to accept a smart business card. Lederhilger says he still carries around three paper cards for those scenarios. 

Going extinct? 

Lederhilger might be onto something. 

A McKinsey Global Survey of executives found that the pandemic pushed digital technologies forward by seven years in global markets and six years in North America. Paper business cards were no exception.

It’s becoming a more well-known industry — with companies like Beaconstac, HiHello, Knowee, Dibiz and more recently entering the market to make digital cards. 

The biggest challenge facing the industry right now? Scaling before things get saturated. 

“There’s going to be a point in the future where, maybe in three (or) five years from now, this does become very popular,” Lederhilger says. “If I don’t get it to market fast enough, there’s going to reach a concentration point where you try to sell to someone and they say ‘oh, I already have one.’” 

Trying to get ahead of any competition, Lederhilger has a number of products under development, including the expansion of his NFC business cards. He’s trying to solve the problem of swapping contact information, even if the receiver isn’t a Soluency cardholder. 

Lederhilger expects the industry to grow as people become more accustomed to the technology surrounding the cards. 

“That’s going to really drive a lot of the growth in the smart business card market,” he says. To help with that growth, Soluency provides product education on where the NFC chip is located and he designs the smart business cards on a Zoom call with clients. 

According to a Market Research Future report, the digital business card industry was valued at $148.35 million in 2022. This year, it's projected to grow to $164.95 million — up 11.19%. And by 2032, the industry is projected to reach $379.3 million.

Asked if there's a future where paper business cards no longer exist, David Etheredge, the CEO and co-founder of SavvyCard, a St. Petersburg-based firm that develops digital business cards, says, “Yes, absolutely. People have been predicting that paper business cards were going to go away for a long time now.” 

His reasoning is that paper business cards are expensive, not environmentally friendly and they create an obstacle for referrals. He says with virtual meetings and more people working remotely, it’s easier to send someone your information with a digital card. He also notes the risk of having a prospective client lose a business card, in which case that client couldn’t reach out.  

Lederhilger shares some of those sentiments.

“Every year, billions of paper business cards are printed — a majority of which end up in landfills,” he says. “Smart business cards are designed to be reusable and durable, which means they significantly reduce the waste produced by traditional paper business cards.”

He also had a client situation where the paper business card was misplaced. 

“The client prospect, like we all do, lost the paper business card,” he says. But because the client had also used a smart card, the information needed was on the phone. “He ended up getting that home inspection job.” 

A screenshot of the Soluency smart business card dashboard.

There's also another point to consider with smart business cards: artificial intelligence. 

Etheredge, for one, predicts AI will get to a point where digital business card applications will be able to swap cards automatically while providing contextual information so parties involved will be able to find that contact information easily. 

“AI should be able to analyze that we’re talking and figure out if I have your contact information,” he says. “If not, in the background, it could swap business cards.” 

Hang on

While paper-free business cards look like they are here to stay, some in the legacy/print business card industry aren't lining up in front of shredder just yet to call it quits. 

Renee Phinney, vice president of sales at Palm Printing in Sarasota, for example, says paper is still important. (While the company doesn’t offer digital business cards, Phinney says she has helped customers incorporate QR codes onto their print business cards.)

“I feel like the more post-COVID we get, the more appreciation people have in meeting in person,” she says, adding that handing someone a business card, she believes, remains the best way to start that conversation. “It’s still a great first impression, especially in a business setting.”

Phinney notes that more of her recent day-to-day conversations have tuned into paper business cards. “I wouldn’t be getting as many inquiries about business cards as I have been lately, unless it was something to take note of,” she says. 

One segment of business cards that may be on its way out, though, are boring cards. 

As an executive at a printing company, Phinney says there are many different variables that make paper business cards unique and keep someone's attention. Rounded corners and UV codings, to cite two examples. 

“Print business cards seem to be taking on a life of their own in a way,” she says of the business, “and are becoming more cared about, noticed and appreciated for what they are.”


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