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Oct 04, 2004
How To

Is Your Yellow Pages Ad Working? Top 4 Most Common Advertiser Mistakes

SUMMARY: Did you know 57% of Americans don't use online search engines on a regular basis? Turns out 15 billion searches per year are still conducted via the printed Yellow Pages. Yes, that's 15 billion searches. Unfortunately, most Yellow Pages ads are ... lousy. Your ad probably could be getting a much better response rate. Discover the typical mistakes and how to fix them:
"15 billion look-ups are conducted using print yellow pages in the US annually," says Christopher Bacey, Director Business Communications at the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association.

Search may be the hot marketing flavor du jour, but bear in mind, according to Nielsen/NetRatings only 43% of the US population use online search engines regularly. Not everyone has a computer, and even those who do often prefer finding local businesses via the printed Yellow Pages.

How can you make sure your ad stands out when these active searchers are looking for it?

We asked Dick Larkin, publisher of the Yellow Pages Commando News, for advice. He says although Yellow Pages users are predisposed to buy, many advertisers blow the opportunity by making one of four fatal mistakes:

Mistake #1. Bad placement choices

Because Yellow Pages directories use a confusing array of classifications to organize their listings, choosing where to place your ad is not the slam-dunk it may seem.

For example, air conditioning services might be found under: Heating & Cooling Contractors, Air Conditioning Contractors & Systems, Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems-Repairing, and more.

Many advertisers choose one heading and run the biggest ad they can afford, but that's not the most effective use of advertising dollars. Instead:

a. Take advantage of trademark ads

These are perhaps the most cost-effective way to advertise in the Yellow Pages. They are in-column ads that appear alphabetically by the trademark name. Under the national brand and logo is the list of local businesses, noted as "Authorized Dealers" or "Authorized Sales and Service."

To take advantage of trademark ads, an advertiser who can prove he's an authorized dealer of, say, John Deere tractors, simply tells the sales rep they want one.

All the advertiser pays for is a bold listing, but the ad appears under the John Deere name and logo. This is especially effective if no other advertisers are taking advantage of that brand name -- but even if there's a whole list of authorized dealers under the brand, the advertiser benefits from the name recognition.

Trademark ads work well because consumers tend to search for products by brand name: if they're looking for tractors, they're likely to search under John Deere rather than browsing through the largest display ads.

Consider placing listings under every possible national brand you're authorized to sell, but be aware that sales reps try to steer advertisers away from trademark ads. "It's easier to sell a double spread rather than putting [advertisers] in 15 or 20 trademark ads," he explains.

b. Advertise horizontally

Can't decide which heading to advertise under? Choose all of them.

Advertising horizontally gives you broader exposure, and lessens your reliance on single large display ads. It also allows you to target different customers depending on the heading under which the ad is listed (think search engine marketing).

The more competitive headings may still require larger ads, but big displays are not necessary in every category.

c. Advertise in multiple directories

Every market in the US is served by at least two telephone directories, and often three or more. Additionally, businesses often have service areas that extend beyond the reach of their primary telephone directory. Don't assume that if you're in the biggest directory you'll automatically be found.

d. Bigger is not always better

Publishers introducing ever-increasing ad sizes have contributed to the belief that advertisers have to be first and biggest under their main heading. "Double trucks" (two opposing pages creating one large ad) have recently been outdone by "double doubles" (a four-page ad spread) in some directories.

But size comes with a hefty price tag, and advertisers compensate by stuffing the ad with too much information.

Again, consider the heading and the type of information readers searching under that heading need. Think targeting.

"Shoppers only care what you can do for them, not what youíre doing for everyone else," Larkin adds.

Mistake #2. Lousy copy

Yellow Pages readers are gathering information to make a buying decision, and advertising copy should help them make that decision. To avoid this mistake:

a. Include a headline

"[So many] advertisers use their business name as the headline for their ad," Larkin says. "These guys have the biggest egos, and they think, 'Everybody knows me.'"

But simply because consumers recognize the name "Carpet King," for example, doesn't mean anything.

"Consumers donít care what your name is until they know what you can do for them," Larkin says. "The business name is never the reason to buy."

Use a headline that lets readers know what problems you solve.

b. Write a clear message

"If a shopper canít figure out what makes you special in about two seconds, your ad isnít focused enough," Larkin says. "Youíve got to find one thing that a small group of shoppers really wants and focus your ad on satisfying that need."

Include specific, relevant details, such as: --same day installation --free evaluation --fast, emergency service

c. Give a reason to initiate a dialogue

Larkin recently needed to replace a windshield. "Everyone was touting the cheapest glass, but one ad said, 'Call this recorded line to hear the five things you absolutely must know before buying replacement glass.'"

He called the recording, and that dealer eventually got Larkin's business. "The company was about 20% higher than the cheapest guy, but I ended up going with him anyway, and he didn't cut his price, because he had [already] sold me on the quality," Larkin says.

While a Yellow Pages ad alone will never close a sale, smart businesses that provide extra information are more likely to open a dialogue with consumers.

Examples: --Call for a free report onÖ --8 Steps to choosing the right plumber --Call usÖ we have rentals available today

d. Work closely with the sales rep (or write the ad yourself)

Sales reps don't get paid to create a good ad -- they get paid to sell space. "They'll do as good a job as they can," Larkin says, "but they're generally terrible creative people."

If you don't have the personnel or resources to create your own ad, at the very least make sure the sales rep is well-informed on exactly what you want to convey and who your audience is.

Mistake #3. Muddy or unappealing design

Remember your most basic advertising requirements:

a. Give your readers plenty of white space to allow their eyes to focus on the main content.

b. Include pictures. "If you donít believe me, open the menu at Dennyís restaurant," Larkin says. "You might not consider them a great dining establishment, but youíve got to give them credit for understanding what their customers want."

A photo is better than line art, and should take up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total size of the ad. One single image will have better impact than a group of smaller images.

Mistake #4. Failure to track results

The only way to know whether your strategy is working is to track your ads, and Yellow Pages ads are quite easy to track.

Publish a different telephone number in every directory in which you advertise. The numbers can all come into the same line through remote call forwarding (RFC) but you'll be able to tell by your phone bill how much traffic each line is getting.

There are also companies such as CallSource that allow you to capture and track call leads, Larkin says.

You should also train receptionists to ask every caller where they found your name, and -- if it came from the Yellow Pages -- what page of the directory they found your ad.

Useful links related to this article:

Dick Larkin's Yellow Pages Commando:

CallSource, a company that captures and tracks leads:

Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association:

See Also:

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