You may very well want to apply those marketing dollars to creating outstanding online content on your website or on a related blog.
I’ve been researching lately whether it makes sense today to invest marketing dollars in the Yellow Pages, particularly when you have a limited advertising budget.
This decision is critical because a strong Internet presence is fundamental to successful marketing strategies for even small businesses. If you have limited dollars, you must choose wisely by understanding some powerful trends that are rearranging the Yellow Pages landscape.
What’s happening to the print Yellow Pages?
To get a sense of usage and results trends, I started to dig into the state of the Yellow Pages, by looking at available online research. I also conducted an informal survey among some very active business colleagues, believing they are representative of the kinds of people who are supposed to be using the Yellow Pages.
When I poked around Yellow Pages related sites, the first thing that I noticed was that much of the research quoted was outdated. If this was 1998 rather than 2008, that might not make much difference. But buyer behavior is changing so quickly that outdated research designed to prove Yellow Pages’ effectiveness is suspect.
Outdated or not, it’s quite clear that usage of the print Yellow Pages is declining. For example, a 2002 article in the American demographics in 2002 suggested that users in 1996 referred to the Yellow Pages an average of 1.8 times per week. By 2000 that had declined to 1.4. That’s a drop of 22% in four years.
Industry biggie, R. H. Donnelly, cites a number of research studies on its website, most of them from CRM Associates, whose research is quoted frequently on the websites of different Yellow Pages vendors. Although this is a current website as of January 2008, none of the research is more recent than 2005–and two thirds of the references are from 2004 or earlier. In any case, they state that “Since 1985, 50% of the population uses Yellow Pages more than one time per week.”
Not only does this mean that half the population doesn’t use the Yellow Pages more than one time per week but it also suggests that researchers are averaging data over the past 20+ years to come up with a number that may well overstate usage levels.
In fact, I could not find current data for actual buyer behavior on any of the Yellow Pages online media kits. That is, although they may site industry studies, they are not telling us what their own directory users are doing. Therefore, I decided to do an e-mail poll of business colleagues to determine their usage of the Yellow Pages . Here are key data points from the informal study:
- Average age of the respondents is 44; 84% are 50 years old or younger.
- There is essentially no correlation between age of respondents and Yellow Pages usage.
- not a single respondent is using the Yellow Pages more than one time per week.
- 24% never use the Yellow Pages.
- The average usage is 5.4 times per year–that is a far cry even from the 1.4 times per week cited above.
- 71% of respondents use the Yellow Pages five times per year or less.
- Only three respondents are using the Yellow Pages more than one time per month.
Of course, this is a small sample and is not statistically projectable. however, I am confident that it is representative of current buyer behavior. The data is clear: Yellow Pages usage among this set of active business people is way below the numbers being cited in older research data.
This tracks with recent articles talking about the threatened existence of the print Yellow Pages directory. Here’s what one industry expert had to say:
“For Yellow Pages, the key question is whether the print product will emerge as healthily as it has after previous downturns,” Charles Laughlin, senior vice president, the Kelsey Report (as quoted in Forbes.com).
He went on to suggest ominously:
“In the past, small and medium-sized businesses have protected their print Yellow Pages investment at the expense of other media. Given the structural changes in the local ad market, we believe the next downturn will favor media choices that are more flexible and provide a lower cost per lead than print directories, which would signal a profound shift.”
Where will all those Yellow Pages advertisers go?
In a December 20, 2007 Wall Street Journal blog about whether advertising and Yellow Pages still works for small businesses, they quoted a recent study which said, “About one in five (21%) of respondents cited it as the source that produces the most calls from potential customers. Word-of-mouth is a close second, cited by 19% of respondents, and company Web sites are next, cited by 12%.”
Here’s what I think is really interesting about these statistics: although the Yellow Pages came out number one, they were only slightly ahead of word-of-mouth–and company websites came in at a strong number three, not that far behind the Yellow Pages. When you consider that the respondents were all businesses with 25 or fewer employees, this statistic is even more meaningful. Why? Because the majority of small businesses don’t have websites. And even if they do, most of them probably are not very good. That makes his third-place finish astonishing.
Imagine if these same small businesses were devoting very Yellow Pages advertising dollars to creating great websites! Imagine, too, that they were driving traffic to those websites through the use of excellent content and intelligent search engine marketing! You can be certain that what is already a good source of leads would be a phenomenal source of leads. Moreover, once the website is up and running, the annual maintenance cost is a small fraction of what Yellow Pages advertising would be costing. This has dire implications for the traditional print Yellow Pages.
In a 2006 study by the CMR Associates as cited on the BellSouth directory site, they said, “The last advertising impression has the greatest impact on consumer decisions.”
There was a time when the Yellow Pages represented the “last advertising impression” but today company websites and blogs represent the last advertising impression. Even better, if you have a content rich website that’s easy to find, that website may be both the first and the last impression on your customers.
Should you abandon your print Yellow Pages advertising?
If you can trace profitable business that exceeds your annual cost of advertising in the Yellow Pages, you should probably continue.
But, if you’re advertising there simply because you’ve always done it or because you heard that you “have to be in the Yellow Pages,” it’s time to rethink how you invest limited funds. Your marketing dollars can generate a much better return when you focus on providing relevant and valuable content that turns your visitors into customers.
Stay tuned for a follow-up post on online Yellow Pages. You may be able to generate profitable results with the right approach by advertising in the online cousin of the venerable directory. Unfortunately for the Yellow Pages providers, they will have a tough time surviving in direct competition with Google and other well-established search engines.