Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

In Praise of the Lowly Yellow Pages

If you asked my clients and colleagues whether I’m a lo-tech or hi-tech kind of marketer, they’d all say the latter.  It’s a rare strategy session that I don’t find some way to suggest search, or content syndication, or blogging, or widgets, or behavioral, or email, or… well, you get the picture.

But the fact is, like my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, I am actually channel neutral.  If a tactic works, I say, use it.  Not blindly — you need a strategy, and the tactic has to have a measurable chance at achieving your strategic goals, but if it does, I say, go for it.

And that’s why I’m writing about Yellow Page Directory advertising. And no, not the online local search kind. I’m talking yellow cardstock cover, dead tree, “pile three of them on a chair so your 4-year old can see the monitor” kind of yellow pages.

You see, it seems that the lowly, lo-tech yellow pages has a ridiculous click thru rate.  According to a recent study, 78% of directory users contact an average of 2 businesses after referencing a directory.  The most popular action taken is picking up the phone, which happens 93% of the time.  But it’s not limited to a phone call: 31% show up in person, 10% go online, and 1% get in touch through the mail.

Those are monster numbers.  And when you consider that for many categories, there is far less noise and competition than Google, they’re even more compelling.

We all love search because we know that anyone who is in the act of searching is in some stage of the buying cycle.  (According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 81% of all internet users “look online for information about a product or service they are thinking of buying.”)

Local search is growing because it turns out that people who search online sometimes shop locally. (The increasing adoption and use of mobile phones and the growing utility and quality of mobile search isn’t hurting, either.)

Unlike most other forms of advertising, both types of search are non-intrusive and non-interruptive.  They are, in fact, requested and highly desired services.

The same logic holds true with yellow pages.  In fact, didn’t search really start with the yellow pages?  (This reminds me a little of how television advertising is beginning to return to it’s sponsor-driven, branded content and product placement roots)

The study was conducted by Knowledge Networks for the Association of Directory Publishers, so it’s lucky for them that the numbers came out as positive as they did.  But I don’t doubt their findings.  After all, how many times have you reached for the yellow pages in the last few months?  Not many, perhaps.  But, when you did, what did you do next?  See what I mean.

That’s the point.  We all still use the yellow pages sometimes, some of us more than others.  And when we do, we take action.  (Of course, that action isn’t always positive.  I’ve never thrown my computer across the room while cursing Google the way I have my local yellow pages because I can’t figure out in which poorly defined and barely indexed category my local movie 10-Plex is to be found.  Hint: It’s not movie theaters or cinemas, which aren’t mentioned at all.  And if you’re silly enough to look up  “Movies” you’ll be rewarded with “See: CDs, Records and Tapes, Retail; Video Tapes & DVDs Rental & Sales.”  Nope, it’s under Theatres, along with the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Greenwich Shakespeare Co. , New Canaan Playhouse, Stamford Center for the Arts, etc.)

Now, I’m not suggesting we shift our entire budgets out of AdWords and into printed yellow pages directories.  But given the ridiculously low comparative cost of yellow pages advertisements, the extremely long ad life/placement persistence and the comparatively high level of response surrounding their use, can someone please explain to me why more businesses aren’t including them in their media mix?