Your Back of the Business Card Brief

What is a “back of the business card” brief?  It’s one of the earliest lessons I learned in marketing:  if you can’t capture the ultimate goal of a project succinctly on the back of a business card then you’re doing something wrong.

I’ve been a big fan of this approach for many years.  It’s an effective tool for cutting through complexities and getting right to the heart of the matter.  Not only is it helpful for developing marketing campaigns, it also is an invaluable way to think about communicating our unique value proposition as professionals to the marketplace. (Even if we haven’t been using business cards much recently. But they’re coming back!)

The back of the business card approach is not meant to replace the longer, more traditional structure of marketing briefs.  Internal and external partners working on a campaign need a lot more information to be successful than can possibly fit on the back of a business card.  You’d rightly get laughed out of the room if you presented a brief for a new product launch that was only 10 words long.  (The same holds true for your resume.)  The best briefs usually save the back of the business card section to the end.  A sort of drop the mic moment of simplicity once all the complexities have been covered.

But I have to admit that over the years my back of the business card briefs have tended towards the rational.  “Drive sales by XX%” or “Establish XYZ brand as the market leader.”  In essence what you’re doing in that case is really restating or simplifying the core objective.  That can be helpful, especially if the larger brief articulates several goals.

Recently though I’ve come to see this approach as unnecessarily lazy.  I don’t know who invented the back of the business card brief concept, but my guess is the idea wasn’t about simplifying the objective.  It’s too rational.  The best marketers know that the art of persuasion, changing people’s minds – which is the ultimate goal of marketing – is grounded much more in the heart than the head.

Yes, rational arguments – price, product benefits, etc – are important parts of how people make decisions.  Still, I keep coming back to the famous Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We change people by making them feel something.  The bonds of loyalty we establish with brands, or clients or employers, are not without rational justifications, but they don’t become truly enduring unless they move us in some way emotionally.

I like to think that this is what the inventor of the back of the business card brief had in mind.  The best examples describe how we want the target for this campaign to feel when they are exposed to it.  If you state that simply your partners will be much better equipped to deliver great work.

This is especially true for our personal back of the business card briefs as professionals.  Our resumes, mine too, are loaded with facts about our careers.  But when you sit down with a prospective employer or client for the first time, have you given thought to how you want that person to feel at the end of the conversation?  Capturing the emotional essence of your personal value prop is in one sentence will help you think about strategies to optimally present yourself.

Believe me, I know thinking this way can be challenging, especially if you’ve been in business for many years and consider yourself a strong interviewer/presenter.  But ignoring it is the greater risk.  Even the simplest, clearest articulation of campaign objectives or our personal strengths, will be quickly forgotten if we don’t consider the feeling we want our audience to have.

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