That’s certainly the way a lot of businesspeople feel. The simple truth is million of companies — including thousands and thousands of hvac contractors — could be generating more business if they only stopped breaking the Ten Commandments of Yellow Pages advertising.
So if you sometimes think you’re in Yellow Pages hell, maybe it’s something you’re doing to yourself.
Content is critical. You and your rep can whip up an ad in no time. But is that what you’re paying all that money for? If your ads look dated and disorganized, potential customers will feel your business is, too.
Remember the kind of money you’re paying for that Yellow Pages space. You need to do everything you can to have the best ad under any heading you’re in. And you want to make absolutely sure that — at the very least — you have one of the best ads under the heading.
Insist that your directory publishers develop an ad for you that justifies the cost. If they can’t do better than standard Yellow Pages block lettering, a cluttered and jumbled layout, and 1950s clip art, you can and should have the ad produced yourself.
Your Yellow Pages ad is competing for attention with five or 10 or 20 other ads, all offering much the same products or services. The first piece of copy that readers see — the headline — has to be powerful enough to drag them away from those other ads, and get them reading yours.
Acme Air Conditioning Inc.? How about Farnsworth & Sons Heating & Air Conditioning? Or Midtown Refrigeration Services? Sorry, but the average business name — unless the reader is already familiar with the company — doesn’t have much selling power.
Most of the people who look at Yellow Pages display ads are shoppers. They’re looking for information to help them decide what contractor to call; they aren’t seeking a specific business by name. Never use your company name as your headline unless that name is truly the most important selling copy in the ad.
Give them your strongest selling point — the single piece of copy they’re likely to care about most. Then you can tell them your name.
Far too often Yellow Pages ads have no illustration, or one that’s far too small to command attention. Others are hackneyed — from too many appearances in too many bygone directories.
If your picture isn’t worth a thousand words, find one that is.
You have to include all the hard, factual information potential customers need to make a decision to call or drop by. This could include information about your company, be it about image, market niche, services, products, features, brand names, pricing, quality, reliability, speed, hours, service area, insurance, credit — whatever it might be.
Make sure to include features that are unique to your company. One firm even includes, “Tagalog spoken.”
If your Yellow Pages ad is difficult to read, it isn’t going to be read. Savvy Yellow Pages advertisers used to give their ads the squint test. “You open the directory and take off your glasses or just squint,” one of them told me. “Then you decide which ad you’d pick. That’s the one that will get the calls.”
Your ad is competing for visibility and readability with every other ad under the heading. Which means you’ve got to hone your copy, then hone it some more, until you can provide all the information directory users want and need in an ad that’s so uncluttered and inviting that reading it becomes automatic.
The bad news is that ad size is important. All things being equal, bigger ads get a greater response. They also get the best placement — closest to the front of the heading. And placement can be even more important than size.
The good news is that all things are seldom equal. The biggest ad under the heading is not always the most effective. A well-designed, visually appealing ad can make up for a lot of size, especially under a smaller heading where all the ads are on the same page or two. It’s much more difficult, of course, to compete with ads on an earlier page. That page may never even be turned.
Always consider placement when you’re deciding on ad size. Have your sales rep show you where the size you’re considering would fall in this year’s directory. That should give you an approximate idea of the position, relative to the competition, you’d have next year. Sometimes going up a single size and spending just a few more dollars will move you much closer to the front of the heading. Sometimes you can cut back in size without losing much at all in the way of position.
Always make your rep prove value — especially when you’re considering an independent (non-phone company) directory or a questionable heading. If he can’t, don’t put any real money there, no matter how many of your competitors you might see. You may be just repeating their mistake.
Instead, if the heading seems worthwhile, try something small: perhaps even a simple in-column ad alphabetically under your name, or even just a listing. Track your response, one way or the other. Survey your customers to discover how they discovered you — and next year you’ll have your own proof. If, like many advertisers, you keep buying ads even though you have no idea how well they’re working, you can follow all the rest of the commandments and still end up in Yellow Pages hell.
Get a proof. If you’re ever tempted not to, remember the small error one publisher made in an advertiser’s ad. Instead of reading “Dan Hadley, therapist” it read, “Dan Hadley, the rapist.”
Get a proof.
Maher is a speaker on management, sales, and Yellow Pages advertising. He can be reached at 805-962-2599; barrymaher@ aol.com (e-mail); or www.barrymaher.com (website).
Publication date: 01/29/2001