I’ve had several conversations recently in which the perpetual issue of print yellow pages vs. local SEM products has come up but in much more specific detail. Many SMBs have seen their print YP campaigns become more costly because (in many cases) there are fewer leads/calls being generated. I had a long conversation with G5 Search Marketing’s Dan Hobin about this earlier this week. He took me through some of his customers’ call tracking analytics.
However the local SEM products in some cases have high rates of churn and there’s considerable frustration for many there too. The way these products are positioned and sold is often problematic for publishers and SMBs. There are high expectations created that often go unfulfilled.
So we’re now in a kind of “purgatory,” where the “old” methods aren’t working as well (they still work in many instances however) and the “new” methods aren’t delivering as promised. It’s a problem for everyone.
What got me thinking about this this morning is an article in the SF Examiner (a now free daily tabloid in the Bay Area). The article is an opinion piece about legal advertising in the print yellow pages; it’s very critical of the medium. Here are some excerpts:
A lawyer friend I saw in court last week looked bad. He was stressed out as usual, and seemed about to blow up with frustration at any moment. As we were waiting to speak with the prosecutor about our clients’ cases, I inquired about his woes.
Turns out his yellow page advertisements were not paying off. Again.
“I’m in for $20,000.00 per month this year, and some months the ads aren’t even doing that,” he said, shaking his head.
“My yellow pages rep promised me that my problem was positioning. The only way to get better positioning was to pay more. I decided to give it one more try.” He shrugged and his voice trailed off.
It wasn’t the yellow pages rep that got my friend. It was his fear of the unknown. It was his fear that if he turned off his ads and fired the yellow pages, that suddenly all the other lawyers in the books would get a flood of business that should have been his. So instead of investing in his quality of life and making the sensible decision to eliminate ineffective lawyer marketing, he pressed on, knowing it was futile. He willed himself to believe that this year might be the breakthrough year for him in yellow page advertising. Of course he is delusional.
Legal is the largest revenue category in print YP, estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars a year to US publishers.
As reflected in the article there’s fear of abandoning a tried and true method — although it may not be working as well — in favor of online methods that are more complex and, in the minds of some, still unproven. Of course, the answer is to figure out what consumers actually doing and allocate ad spend accordingly. That may involve sophistication that many SMBs fundamentally lack.
Eventually it won’t work for YP reps to use fear or manipulation to sell (if they indeed are). Print publishers need to take a long-term view and deliver successful marketing for SMBs — regardless of the source. In many cases that will involve print; in many cases it may not. In fairness, I heard this very message at a YP sales conference I recently attended.
For most SMBs there’s no “transparency” in the market; they only have anecdotal information. G5′s Hobin uses call tracking across media to try and get actual empirical data on how different media types are working in different markets. Hobin told me that YP is working well for his clients in some markets and in others it’s not.