SMBs in ‘Purgatory’

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.

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5 Responses to “SMBs in ‘Purgatory’”

  1. Stephanie Hobbs Says:

    This is the frustration for some SMBs, but there are so many things that drive consumers to pick certain print ads. Positioning certainly, but ad content, clarity and in the case of a YP ad, the details DO count. Metered ad studies can help an advertiser to determine how the ad is working, and these day’s it shouldn’t be either/or. Print and online in combination with good metrics can help an SMB produce an effective marketing plan.

  2. G5 Search Marketing News & Events » Blog Archive » SMBs in ‘Purgatory’ Says:

    [...] 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. [...]

  3. earlpearl Says:

    Years ago I invested in a couple of smb’s. Fortunately a few of them still work. Meanwhile years ago I earned pretty good money selling a service to SMB’s. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Its tough to get the time of smb’s, gain their confidence, and gain their confidence in your products/services.

    I was a commercial real estate broker for a couple of decades. I sold into the smb community including office tenants and retailers, primarily as an agent trying to represent them in their needs for new store locations or for alternative office space. I cold called, warm called, networked, gave talks, used clever strategies, etc…..all in effort to get the time of smbs.

    Then I had to convert smb’s to use my services as opposed to those of competitors. Then ultimately we might go out and make a deal or two.

    Now I hand operate some of the Smb’s and new ones partners and I own.

    I get a myriad of calls from vendors wanting to sell us everything under the sun. I’ve been in their place…:D

    So many advertising contacts from so many sources.

    The principals, or their designated contacts at SMB’s are not experts in the advertising world, and typically don’t know anything about tracking leads, etc.

    Its tough to get in the door, tough to convince them of yourself and service, tough to get them to see a different perspective. Its simply a tough long haul….and I certainly don’t have the answers.

    That data on attorneys is quite astounding. That is a huge amount of attorneys in small and medium offices spending a lot of money. Its also a significant underpinning to the continued financial viability of print YP.

    In fact, from a business perspective it tells me there is a significant and lucrative opportunity for marketing the web into the legal market.

    Still it’s a long time consuming effort to gain the confidence of potential legal clients, probably one client at a time (at least at first until you develop a reputation and track record). At the least, with attorneys, they have so many organizations, so many conferences, there is a reasonably good shot at getting in front of a lot of them at one time in various venues.

  4. Will the Economy Drive SMBs Online? « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] While there’s a clear, abstract logic (as I suggested above) to the transfer of ad dollars online — and it is gradually happening — there’s also much greater complexity and churn happening in practice. Some of the search marketing products being sold to SMBs have huge churn (as we’ve discussed here before), sending these advertisers into a kind of purgatory.  [...]

  5. The Local Search Conundrum « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] have written about the state of “purgatory” that now exists in the local [...]

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