Personal Branding: Business cards are obsolete

Business cards are obsolete, fast losing their value in a virtual, green world. Our security blanket is disappearing. Scary thought! Especially since that little card plays a powerful role in creating our professional identity (at least in our minds).

Long a symbol of professionalism, a business card was your ticket to the conference table, to get in the door, to give you instant credibility, maybe even free sandwiches. Not so much anymore.

As everything and everyone moves online, into the clouds, your virtual identity will be your business card. Yes, the printed card will linger for some time as an artifact of our pre-internet work life. But don’t rely on those dinosaurs to help you build your personal brand. This applies whether you work inside an agency or as a contractor. It is especially relevant if you are in transition (thanks to our current economy) and you are trying to start a business, subcontracting or consulting.

Follow the Mad Men

A key element of your personal brand is your tagline. The Mad Men on Madison Avenue have known about the power of the tagline for years…

* Disney World: the happiest place on Earth
* Ringling Brothers: the greatest show on Earth
* Pepsi: taste of a new generation
* Apple: think different

Taglines are not just for big business. I bet you already have a tagline, but don’t think of it as part of your personal brand. Consider the taglines you use with people you work with: the web guy, the numbers guy, the go-to person. In my consulting work, as part of my data collection to learn about an executive’s leadership, I ask the people who work with and for him/her: “What’s his/her tagline?” It is always on the tip of their tongues (especially if I’m asking about their boss) and what I hear is amazingly consistent. A few leaders understand this and manage their personal brand effectively. I don’t meet those too often.

Your Personal Tagline: sell the sizzle, not the steak

Taglines are the haiku of branding. For personal branding, taglines are the shortcut descriptions for what people do. You are selling your sizzle (how you do your job, who you are), not your job title. Rather than answer the question “what do you do?” with a noun like “I’m an artist” or “I’m a teacher,” generate a descriptive statement.

Start by collecting your own data. Ask others to give you, top of mind, a tagline that best describes you at work. Cull out the best and start writing your own haiku, the phrase that describes what you do. Not your job title, not the role you play, but what you actually do.

For example, my personal tagline is “I help smart people be better leaders and decision makers.” I selected this tagline because I do many things. I write books, articles and blogs. I teach executives, leaders and managers. I consult on change management for organizations. I coach executives. But underlying all the things I do is the fundamental activity of helping others be better at what is important to them.

[Note: There is so much business in the world of branding and taglines that there is even a TaglineGuru.]

Remember: the goal of your tagline is: 1) to quickly explain what you do, 2) to remind yourself that you are a brand, and 3) to get and keep control of your personal brand.

Next time somebody asks you what you do – use your Personal Tagline!

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Terry Kester

Great notion. A tagline gives us something we can live into, rather than that static “thing” represented by the business card that calls us to live up to something. It’s a subtle, but significant change in thinking.

Paulette Neal-Allen

Another clue to your own tag line might be your answer to the “why do you work in government” question for the profile. I realized that, when I answered that question, I used a variation on my usual answer to “what do you do” – enabling people to do their jobs more efficiently. If I had to pick a tag line for myself, for my work, that would be it. With catchier wording, of course.

Alice M. Fisher

Thanks Nancy, this is great discussion, and conversation starter.

I am now burning all those wonderful paper business cards, I have yet to add to my Plaxo account from Gov Camp 2.0 which I obtained in March ( I am kidding-it is an action item not yet completed and I need to update my virtual address book/account there) Hmm, the tag line can go there on Plaxo? On Facebook, Twitter? Here on GovLoop across all the new media platforms.

But, if you all want to save me some time….anyone/everyone who wants to connect please send me your personal tagline and info so that I can log them all into my virtual address book at http://alicefisher.myplaxo.com 🙂

No more pencils, no more books, no more paper business cards to get lost in the books…maybe I am being a bit too perky….with all that sunshine and all.

@ Adriel are you handing out business cards with your campaign?
What is the other alternative(s) when face to face, on the ground, in the meetings, on the street for you?
On the metro? At a conference?

This is a huge potential cost savings actually for business and agencies, if they no longer use paper business cards, and for the environmental impact as well.

So now, I am even more curious what will you all creatively do with those boxes and boxes and boxes of business cards? Card houses? Framed Biz-card art? The trash can?

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

Thanks, Adriel. Paulette, great thought. Alice, I find, these days, that people ask me first “what do you do?” then ask for my email address or my twitter name. With iTouchs, iPhones, Blackberries, etc. folks just want to enter the info and I encourage that (cause once I’m in their system, I’m more likely to reconnect with them). I generally only hand out a card if someone asks me for one. Or, I ask if they’d like me to text them my info, on the spot. However, it will be some time before printed business cards disappear….

Rob Ahern

What a novel idea- describing yourself as opposed to flshing some paper credential! I didn’t make new cards when I changed jobs and I’m pleased to be operating card-free… it shifts the onus of self-promotion onto me a bit more but that shouldn’t be difficult, right? I’ve worked hard to cultivate a web presence and I’m pleased to hear the effort likely wasn’t wasted! Great post-

Liz Rainey

What a marvelous idea. Ive had my tag line for a year now – just didn’t know how to use it LOL Now I do. Watch out world, watch out Plaxo. Nancy, Thank you! As for the boxes of various business card designs I came up with over time : scribble pads? tooth picks? padding for rattling doors? take two for coasters? shove under wobbling tables?

Patrick Allmond

Business cards are FAR from obsolete. True long lasting relationships are built on personal trust and connections. Personal trust and long term relationships are really built once you meet a person and you can learn alot about them. As long as we have in person meetings socializing we will have business cards. This does not preclude have a tag line.

Next time you go to a networking event or you casually meet someone you want to build a relationship with tell them “I am not going to give you a business card because I don’t believe in them, and I don’t want yours. But remember this cool tagline about me and then give me a call”. I don’t think it will work out all that well for contacting each other once you leave the room.


And I finally got my business cards the way I liked! Very interesting post, Nancy. Thanks! I’ve been thinking about the tagline concept (though not necessarily in those words) as I continue to explore the world of social networking, and as I work toward establishing myself as a local artist. Great food for thought!

Steve Freedman

I’m in agreement with Mr. Allmond. Being in transition, even with a whizzbang tag line, the business card is still the currency of the networking meeting. Until we reach the state of technology where we can bump (perhaps virtually) smart phones together, across all platforms, technologies, and carriers, to pass each others information back and forth, then this is just a fanciful idea whose time has not yet come. I’m sure some smart app developer is working on it, but we’re not there yet, so, snappy headline, but reality check time.

Rob O'Keefe

I am on the same page as Patrick, that cards still hold a place. But to jump on the original post, create business cards that have the tagline and email address.

My card is very unique (you will have to meet me in person to see it!) and about 90% of the time causes a big reaction, usually favorable but always memorable. It starts a dialog about what I am about and what my company is about.

I do dislike the generic business card exchange — the issue is not the card, but the behavior. A business card from someone that has interesting things to say is much better than the same card from a boring person.

I read an article about taglines before and it did resonate with me, but not at the expense of business cards.

Kristy Dalton

I’m always wary of business cards or tag lines with fluffy language like “Creative thinker and problem solver”. To me that says “I really don’t specialize in anything – But I’m smart and I’ll be happy to take your money for stuff you could probably do yourself”. I just started a side business (a website development company that dabbles in social media), and my business cards are essential for networking and for driving people to my online presence. I must be missing something…

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

Liz, they make great note cards! I use mine (from the boxes left unused over the years) all the time.

Patrick, I agree, business cards will not fade quickly. Next time at a networking event, watch to see how many people are using their iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry, etc. to collect data. Their numbers will only increase. Why not say “I’m trying something new in our green, virtual world. Can we exchange info via our PDAs?” So far, I’ve not had someone I wanted to build a relationship with say no (but I acknowledge I’m not in sales where leads, collecting cards, is often a metric).

Ken Mac Garrigle

I always used to feel funny about government employees having business cards (Who’s paying for these???) but they occasionally come in handy. On card they wanted me to put FAX # (haven’t had anything FAXed to me in years) and they couldn’t understand why I wanted my web page there (http://www.oefoif.va.gov/). Saw one clever email sig block the other day that included linkedin.com URL of person – which shows their resume (plus other info). Now, back to my tagline………. (-:

D. Rizzo

Hi Nancy, I had been thinking about the same thing recently about having a tagline for myself as well as branding & tagline for my daughter Allison who is trying to start up her own business. I haven’t put too much time/effort into the creation of my tagline yet, but I have been playing with things like “I’m the kid who used to ask why & how?” I also had thought about the idea of having my contact Info. as a text message that I could send to someones phone or email as an e-card so I’ll have to put those things together & into use. Thank you very much for bringing those ideas up.


John 8:32, De Oppresso Liber

Kevin Lanahan

If it is about marketing, and personal marketing at that, then a business card will continue to be part of your marketing mix for some time to come. It’s great to have an electronic option, but it will only reach part of your market.

As a state worker, and a web guy, I communicate mostly with email, twitter, and other electronic media. When I meet with the public, I’ve yet to have anyone ask for contact info electronically. Maybe that’s just Missouri, but it looks like it will be a while before every hunter and angler carries around a PDA in the field.

As for my card at work, if it has a tagline, it will be my agency’s tagline (currently “Serving nature and you”). The business card is for me to use as a representative of my agency, not for my personal goals or ideals. My personal card (if I had one) could definitely use a tagline, but I’m afraid it may be “Dang kids, get off my lawn.”

Dennis Edward Byrne

I like it. I think I will use the words on my family crest as my tagline since they are so appropro of my career . . .Certavi Et Vici . . . I Have Fought and Conquered!
It’s a tough world out there . . . :):)

Dennis McDonald

Too much symbolism here. Business cards are little pieces of paper you give to people who need a quick way to get your contact information, be it phone, email, Twitter ID, or web page. They are also useful to scribble notes on after a quick meeting, so don’t get so fancy that someone can’t use a pen in a dim room to write stuff about a possible follow up. In my opinion, the really fancy designer cards that contain logos, shiny pen-proof layers, and difficult to read text indicate that the card owner is more interested in “branding” than in making a connection.

Barbara Karn

**Green Nanotechnology–moving into the future sustainably** That’s what goes below my signature and above my contact information in every email. I tried quotes–which can reflect a mood or promote an idea du jour–but find using the same slogan consistently better brands me. However, when I meet people who ask me what I do–I save the planet through nanotechnology. I definitely agree sound bites and slogans need to be carefully thought out, rehearsed, and consistently used. Thanks for your blog.

Lesa Scott

I suspect this is another generational item. I do wonder what the younger generation will put in the fishbowl for the free drawings at events and restaurants ?

Al Fullbright

The business cards of the future will simply take the reader to the person’s Facebook, gov/loop site or personal website. Careful what you let the public know. Dont embarass yourself. Right now, there are a lot of people scratching the (R) off their web-site and wondering what to put there. People want to know what you are, your interests and capabilities, not your past political life. They want everybody in the game regardless of party. I think political affiliations on your site just lay you open to criticism – if not now, then later as the tide continually shifts. The real question is what do you do? What do you really think?

Amanda Blount

Nancy – great discussion. A business card is such a simple little thing (coming from the days of Ladies and Gentlemen handing out calling cards – “May I call on you.”), but it is such and important little tool. I love the tagline idea. I have one hanging in my little cubicle. Just never knew what to call it.

Alice – Decaf. 🙂 No JK – I loved reading you posts. You posts tend to always make me smile.

As for ideas for the old ones – Humm little frisbees?
BTW – On the back of my Business card I have a label with my facebook name, and my resume website address on it. (I will order them this way next time) I encourage people to look me up and see my background.

As for now, I will use the cards. But, the other day someone asked me what I did for a living, and I joking replied that “I am a good steward of the taxpayers money.” I don’t think that is the tagline I want to use, but it gives me a starting point.