Yellow Page Advertising: Is It Paying Its Way?

April 2, 2007
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Yellow Page (YP) advertising forms the heart of many HVAC contractors’ marketing efforts. That makes it especially important that YP ads carry their own weight. For some, that’s becoming an increasingly troublesome question.

“We’re in the Yellow Pages,” admitted Paul Perkins, of AirFlo Mechanical (Colchester, Conn.), who quickly added, “but we don’t get much business from them. We use Service Magic and we have our own Website.”

Like many dealers, Perkins believes the best source of all for new business is referrals. At the same time, Bill Crowe, of J. Maloney & Sons (Cedar Brook, N.J.), has no doubt in his mind that print YP ads no longer carry their own weight. “We’re still in the Yellow Pages, but we’ve cut back in recent years,” he said.

While few contractors would consider going so far as dropping Yellow Page advertising entirely, Mechanical Air Design (Lake Worth, Fla.) has done exactly that. So, if YP ads aren’t profitable, why do so many HVAC contractors continue to use them?

“It’s necessary to retain a presence,” answered Josh Debowski, of Accurate Mechanical (Philadelphia). “If my competitors weren’t in there, I’d drop them in a minute.”

Debowski, who advertises in two different categories, estimates that only about 5 percent of his new business comes from YP advertising. “Almost all of our business comes from referrals and regular commercial customers,” he said.

THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES

There appears to be a growing alternative to heavy spending on print YP ads: Several dealers interviewed for this story agreed that the Internet is destined to become a major player in industry advertising. For those who believe this, one obvious choice is AT&T’s Internet Yellow Pages. A search for a local company on yellowpages.com is simple and quick, perhaps quicker and easier than looking in a print directory.

“According to our studies, searches on Internet Yellow Pages are growing dramatically,” said Ken Ray, vice president of yellow page marketing for AT&T. “Not long ago, it was about 60-40 percent in favor of the print directories. Now, it’s closer to 50-50 and growing fast.”

In J. Maloney & Sons’ case, Crowe said the company started its listing in the online Yellow Pages “because we can see a change coming in the way people look for a company.”

“The Internet is the way of the future,” said Crowe. “We’re spending the money that we’ve saved on print Yellow Pages for listings in the online Yellow Pages.”

Crowe’s firm also operates in Pennsylvania under the name “One Hour.”

The experience of Bill Norton Jr. (Covington, Ga.) would seem to support the idea that noncommercial customers are more likely to do their search for a service company on the Internet. “We’re getting very good response from our Internet listing,” he said. “While we don’t track our calls 100 percent, we do make an effort to determine where our customers found us.”

Like Crowe, Norton said he has recently cut back on his print ads. “At the same time, we’ve increased our Internet advertising by 200 percent,” said Norton.

Of course, not every contractor believes he/she needs to be listed in the Internet Yellow Pages.

“We’ve been solicited for the Internet Yellow Pages,” said Debowski, “but we haven’t taken any action yet. Right now, we feel that our own Website is the way to go for an Internet presence. We’re working with a consultant to get us online.”

Except for Mechanical Air Design, no dealer interviewed had any notion at this point to drop print ads entirely in favor of Internet listings or their own Websites. “Local marketing is and always will be critical,” said Ray of AT&T. “Good signage and an ad in the local print Yellow Pages will continue to be essential.”

BIGGER NOT ALWAYS BETTER

Obviously, if print Yellow Pages will continue to take up a significant portion of a contractor’s advertising budget, it’s essential that a contractor do everything possible to make them profitable.

“One of the most common Yellow Pages mistakes is allowing sales reps to make important ad decisions,” noted Doug Berdie, Ph.D., author of the “Yellow Pages Report.”

“It’s not that they don’t know their business. They do. But you should never allow yourself to forget that your YP rep is first a salesperson.”

Yellow Page publishers pay their sales reps on the amount of advertising revenue they generate - period. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that it is in a sales rep’s best interest to get a contractor to place the largest ad he/she can sell to a contractor.

That would be OK if larger were always better. However, studies, such as “The Yellow Pages Report,” have shown that isn’t always the case.

“One of the most common misconceptions,” said Berdie, “is that bigger ads get disproportionately more response. That is, an ad twice as large as another will get more than twice as many calls. This is simply not true in most cases, despite what some YP reps might claim.”

Berdie’s research indicates that ads as small as a quarter-page, or even an eighth-page, can be as effective as full-page ads, provided they are skillfully designed. This is not to suggest that ad size is not important. All things being equal, a big ad will garner more response than a small ad. In the real world, however, all things are seldom, if ever, equal. A well-designed small ad will outperform a poorly designed large ad every time.

TIPS WORTH TRYING

So, how can a contractor tell if his/her YP ad is well-designed and effective? Here are a few tips:

• Ask yourself, “Why should a prospect pick out my ad instead of one of the many others on the page?” If one can’t come up with a quick answer to that question, one needs to take a hard look at the ad’s design.

Readers looking under HVAC headings are looking for something specific. Try to determine what the most important considerations are and make sure that the ad addresses them: experience, reputation, specialties, fast emergency service, skilled technicians. If an ad doesn’t provide the information a contractor prospect is looking for, she’ll move on quickly.

“Most of the time, when people go to the Yellow Pages, they’ve already decided to buy,” said Berdie.

“At that point, they are simply trying to decide from whom to buy. Many advertisers waste lots of space and money on ads designed to convince the reader to buy the product or service, a decision that the reader has already made. Instead, your ad should be showing them why they should patronize your company and not your competitor’s.”

• Monitor the results of your ads. There is no way for a contractor to know whether an ad is paying its own way if he/she does not keep a close eye on the results.

A contractor should ask all new customers and prospects why they selected him/her. Then, the contractor should tabulate the results carefully so that one can compare advertising dollars directly against results. Getting this information from people who call or come in takes only a few seconds. Most people are happy to help.

And there’s another plus: asking for that information makes a good impression. It gives an air of professionalism.

According to Ray, between 50 and 60 percent of YP customers say that they are tracking ad response, but he doubts that the figure is that high.

Keeping track of why each new customer came to you (YP ads, newspaper, referral by a friend or neighbor, etc.) may provide results that will surprise you. Many advertisers who do a thorough survey of that type over a sufficient period discover that Yellow Pages produce a much smaller share of their new clients than they thought. If they have been in business for a while, most new clients probably come from - you guessed it - referrals.

That’s a point a contractor should remember. Every dollar a contractor spends to keep his/her customers happy is an investment in the world’s most powerful advertising: word-of-mouth.

• Finally, you should avoid the temptation to put all of your advertising eggs into the Yellow Pages basket. “Yellow Pages are only one part of the marketing mix,” said Berdie. “Every advertising dollar should be spent where it will get the most return.”

While Yellow Pages are a necessity for most service businesses, they are obviously not always as profitable as they could be.

Sidebar: More Tips for Your Next Ad

Doug Berdie, Ph.D., author of the “Yellow Pages Report,” provides the following tips regarding the construction of Yellow Pages ads:

Don’t make your company name the dominant feature of the ad. “Seeing your name in headline type spread across the top of your ad may be an ego boost, but it’s a bad idea,” he said. “What you offer to the potential customer, not who you are, is the point you must make in your Yellow Pages ad.”

Don’t try to cram too many words into the available space. “Advertising pros know that plenty of white space around advertising copy can measurably increase the impact of an advertising message. An ad that is too busy will cause many people to turn away. Question each item in the ad. Ask whether it gives the prospect a specific reason to call you?” If the answer is ‘no,’ either cut out that item and substitute something else that does, or save money by paring down the size of your ad.”

Don’t rush through the design of your ad. Avoid cluttered ads that depend on clumsy-looking block lettering and out-of-date artwork, he said. “Unless you’re satisfied that your ad is the best one under your heading, you should consider the one-time expense of hiring a graphic designer to design it for you.”

Don’t forget that you need more than just words to capture the reader’s attention. An illustration in perfect sync with the text of your ad can lift it from mediocrity to attention-grabbing stardom, said Berdie. “That old chestnut about a picture being worth a thousand words may seem trite, but don’t let that fool you. Many of your competitors’ ads will have illustrations or graphics that are so trite and overused that they detract from the ad’s effectiveness. Time spent finding or creating just the right illustration for your ad will be a wise investment.”

Don’t believe that adding color is always worth the extra cost. “This is not to suggest that color has no place in Yellow Pages advertising, only that it is an expensive luxury that you should treat with caution,” said Berdie. “If the use of color under your headings is rampant, a black-and-white ad may prove to be a profitable attention getter.”

Copies of “Yellow Pages Report” are available directly from Berdie, dberdie1@msn.com.

Publication date: 04/02/2007

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