Does your small business need to invest in yellow page advertising?

Yesterday, the phone rang.  It was a company doing “market research”.  You may think it’s a smart small business marketing strategy to hire a research firm to poll your potential customers.   You may think that outsourcing this market research taskis the key to making money.  You may also be tempted to think that advertising in the yellow pages is the smartest use of your advertising budget.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past year, I’ve been “polled” at least 6 times by various yellow page companies in the name of “market research”.  The polls are obviously geared to try to provide some proof to small business owners that yellow page advertising is a smart investment of your advertising dollars.

Long ago, there was just one “yellow page directory” but these days there are several – each more worthless than the last.   The only difference between the last the yellow page directory delivered to my doorstep and a bag of flaming dog poo was the yellow page directory wasn’t on fire.

Why would ANYONE with an internet connection use the yellow pages?

The answer – if you’re looking for a business that doesn’t know enough about the internet to create a website that can be found by the search engines.

Who still uses the yellow pages? Baby Boomers – that’s who.  Baby Boomers who have acquired the HABIT of looking to the yellow pages for information.   I get it.   However, as the market research dude kept pushing me as to why I didn’t use the yellow pages – I was forced to inform him that I have a perfectly good bathroom indoors and that’s why I don’t relieve myself in my back yard!!!

In other words- I have the internet – why would I EVER use the yellow pages?

Because it wasn’t on fire when it arrived,  I did pick up the last yellow pages dropped off at my house and flipped through it on my way to tossing it in the recycling bin.  I was literally  STUNNED with what I saw.   The last yellow page directory delivered to my home was a new “condensed” version.  You’ll never guess that they did to “condense” it –  REDUCETHE FONT SIZE OF THE PRINT!!!

So why in the WORLD would a business that is obviously targeting the Baby Boomers decide to reduce the size of the font in the directory?

Most businesses targeting Baby Boomers are scrambling to make things easier to read.  They are  increasing the keys on remote control units, creating cell phones that have larger displays and adopting larger font for websites targeting Baby Boomers.  With that being the case, why would you buck the trend and adopt a 4 point font size for your directory?  The answer has to be that you’re not even trying to fool yourself anymore.

I talk a lot around here about creating a target audience profile and keeping your target audience in mind as you market your business.  I harp on keeping your target audienc in mind ALL THE TIME.  It’s an essential exercise in not only my 8 Week Power Blog Launch course but also in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

Keeping your target customer in mind is definitely something big businesses tend to forget to do that small business can’t afford to forget.

Yellow page advertising is definitely a product which is on it’s last legs.  It a buggy whip in the era of the horseless carriage.  The only people still using yellow pages as a directory are Baby Boomers and the only businesses relying on yellow page advertising are businesses who don’t know what else to do to promote their business.

During my 15 minute “battle of wills” with this marketing research dude – it was painfully obvious that there was an “agenda” in mind behind this so called “market research”.

In the end, I’m certain that the “results” of this “survey” will end up as sales material for the next advertising sales “blitz” in our community.  Prior to the blitz, billboards will begin proclaiming the value of yellow page advertising.  Radio and television stations will begin airing commercials with testimonials from businesses using the yellow page directory.   Then, the yellow page advertising reps will be unleashed.   Small business owners will be presented with “tangible” evidence of how their version of the printed yellow page directory is THE one where small business owners should invest the majority of their advertising dollars.

I often advise my clients to watch what great marketers are doing rather than buy what they’re selling.  In this case, watch what media the yellow pages uses to promote their directory.  THOSE are the media choices YOU should make when promoting your own business rather than investing in an ad in the yellow pages.

In my series “Steps to Starting a Small Business” you’ll notice that hiring a company to perform “market research” is absent from the list.  Most “market research” is performed by BIG businesses who are intent on either fooling themselves or creating “proof” for marketing materials.   In most cases, small business owners can’t afford the luxury of such “fluff”.

What’s your take?  Do you still use the Yellow Pages?  If you do use them, has a yellow page ad ever influenced your decision? Had you already made your buying decision when you opened the yellow pages?


  1. I am so glad to see another voice chiming in on this one. I hate the yellow pages. We advertised in on of the yellow page directories to “test it out” but we are not doing it again. to take the bathroom analogy even further we are literally flushing our hard earned money down the toilet to pay for a listing that is bring us NO business. The yellow pages may be good for some “emergency businesses” like a plumper when the toilet is overflowing but our business is not an impulse business and even if someone is coming to us on “impulse” we slow them down to really ascertain what they really need as opposed to what they think is the cool thing to do.

    To date our best customers have come from social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr, Twitter, etc. but even more importantly our business blog and local business networks.

    Whenever I think of the phone book I think of the scene in the Steve Martin movie, The Jerk where his character, Navin Johnson was so excited his name was in the book that he exclaimed he was “Somebody” and things were going to start happening to him now! The next scene showed an angry man who randomly picked Navin’s name out of the phone book and started shooting at him across the street from the gas station where he worked.

    My point being a lot of people will still get a listing in the phone book for their business because their competition is there so they can “be somebody” without thinking if it’s really a wise use of their marketing budget.

    It really sickens me how much paper is wasted on the phone books as well.

    Patricks last blog post..How do you feel about your “home” telephone number?

  2. I LOVED that scene in The Jerk!!!

    When I was working as an account executive with an advertising agency – there were two places we would go to free up advertising dollars – the newspaper and the yellow pages. The thing is, we had to WAIT for the yellow pages to renew to get at that part of the advertising budget – in some cases our clients were tying up almost 1/2 of their advertising there. We would cut the display ad and funnel those dollars into electronic media and then be hailed marketing geniuses for improving our client’s businesses so dramatically.

  3. Hi Kathy. Wow you were generous to give this guy 15 minutes! They’re lucky if they get 30 seconds from me. I have no plans AT ALL to use the Yellow Pages for advertising. Can you imagine having to proofread those things?

    Davinas last blog post..Future Self Meditation Invites Guidance

  4. So when my 27 year old son needed a local equipment rental place, he was still hunting after 10 minutes of clicking away. I found one in 30 seconds in the print Yellow Pages. Now he is a convert. the web is for “browsing”, the print Yellow Pages is for “buying” local products and services.

  5. There are still a lot of “local offline businesses” that would just flounder online.

    On another note, I’m surprised you even talk to them…that’s an immediate hangup for me. LOL

    Dennis Edells last blog post..It’s Contest Time! The *Best Blog Review Contest* Is In Full Effect!

  6. The web may have just been for “browsing” in 1996 (when I first got on – I remember “surfing”) but directories and databases have become incorporated and gotten a lot better. If you can’t find a company online maybe it’s because they are not online! Looking at ads in the Yellow pages doesn’t tell me anything except a company may have a cleaver ad or have paid extra for bold print.

    I have had the opposite problem looking stuff up in the print version of yellow pages as sometimes I don’t know what the category should be. Much the same way it can be harder to find a book in a store than online.

    Without totally slamming the yellow page business directory companies some are also offering a internet only or in addition to.

    The last yellow pages like directory we advertised in was Yellow Book. I just looked up “equipment rental” on their online directory and got a very satisfactory result –

    I’m not at all opposed to business directories but if they don’t offer or have an online version they can often but as waste for the following reasons;

    1.) Print is static
    2.) A phone book is not very mobile – I love having a yellow pages app on my iPhone as it should be.
    3.) If a mistake in information is made you can forget anyone seeing a correction for a year!
    4.) Sometimes a business can fit into multiple categories or if it’s a new kind of business it may not fit well at all.

    A lot of times people (especially older generations – I’m middle age so I get it from both sides of the spectrum) say they can’t afford or understand computers or “smart” phones but I did not get into computers and my line of new media work because I was a “geek” I actually got into it because I hate wasting money on ineffective communication mediums like a daily newspaper, yellow pages, etc.

    Patricks last blog post..How do you feel about your “home” telephone number?

  7. Hi Kathy – in the past I’ve ran a lot of Yellow Pages ads. Trouble is big colour ads seem to work best over here and they can be expensive.

    Last year I ran an expensive ad on Yell online and it was a waste of time. I had a huge row with Yellow pages over it, as it was a special sponsored listing and they told me they had a great response rate. I guess they didn’t realise that smart small business owners actually ask their customers how they heard about them.

    I use Yellow Pages much less myself now – especially since being based at home. And I’m betting lots of other people do too.

    For most businesses, I think it would be more beneficial to use their Yellow Pages advertising budget on other forms of marketing. Trouble is – the Yellow Pages people will tell folk that every penny they make above the cost of their ad is pure profit – and as you know, that isn’t true.

  8. Hi Kathy – It’s funny I ran into this post of yours today, as earlier I had a call from someone who wanted to go over our Yellow Pages ad. Her call went to voice mail so I’m not certain what she’s selling.

    We used to have a small ad in the yellow pages, then we went to a line ad. Most of our business comes from referrals, so we’ve pulled most of our ad dollars out of print media.

    As a baby boomer I still use the phone book, however, I have to agree the print is getting smaller and my eyes are getting worse. Not a good combination. Where’s my magnifying glass!

    Speaking of ads in the phone book, I have been influenced by them. In fact, I love reading the competitors ads to get ideas of how we can diversify. What I’ve found is most of our current customers are not internet savvy and still prefer to use the yellow pages.

    In 2009 I want to experiment and set up a business website and see if we get any business from that. I’m guessing if we do it will be from younger people.

    Barbara Swafford – Blogging Without A Blogs last blog post..NBOTW – It’s More Than A Funhouse

  9. I find a lot of wasted money in clients’ yellow pages programs — ads that are more than one size larger than competitors’ ads, ads in seldom-used or wrong categories, and display ads in categories that have no other display ads (display ads can end up being placed far from the category).

  10. William Millard says:

    It amazes me that, when you have basically told the salesman that you can not afford their program, they continue the hard sale like it is really going to change anything!

  11. William,

    When it comes to the yellow pages – I’m not surprised that the sales rep was aggressive – because chances are – you won’t ever see him/her again. It’s a one call close and if they can’t close you – they don’t earn a commission.

    The yellow pages are quickly dying – and that only adds to the pressure the rep feels. I’m sure it was equally hard selling buggy whips back in the 1920’s as well. 🙂

  12. I agree about adding humor to an article, it works! Many times I’ve found myself digging deeper into a particular blog if there is a taste of comedy or humor from the author. I think it’s just a “human nature” thing; that a little comedy brings to a reader because it makes it much more interesting to read! Keep them coming…

  13. I love the article! It seems that there are still very technological ways to read a very “old school” demographic. Even better, yellow page listings rank fairly high on the search engines for added visibility.


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