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Market and Price

How to Improve Your Yellow Page Advertising

"If you look at a 1951 Yellow Pages directory from Buffalo, New York, the ads appear basically the same then as they do now, not counting the recent addition of various color options. Forty-five years later, advertisers for the most part are still just highlighting their name and phone number. By simply enlarging the information that appears in their free listing, advertisers are definitely not getting as much out of their ads as they could be." So contends Dennis Rosen, an associate professor of Business at the University of Kansas who teaches courses in marketing, advertising, and consumer behavior; he is also a 10-year consultant in the Yellow Pages industry. "When consumers pick up the Yellow Pages to help them make purchase decisions, they often aren't looking for a particular business name," Rosen continues. "Nor will they subsequently walk into an advertiser's place of business and say, `I'm here because I really like your phone number.' So rather than emphasizing a name and phone number, advertisers should be highlighting key selling points - instead of treating such information as incidental. The historical emphasis in this medium on attracting attention has often been to the exclusion of communicating a marketing message." According to Rosen, most small business owners - who comprise the primary Yellow Pages customer base - don't think that much about their ads until the sales representative calls. "Few other critical business decisions are made with so little time and analysis," he says, "even though for many entrepreneurs, the Yellow Pages are their only or primary means of advertising." Rosen claims that planning Yellow Pages advertising should be an ongoing process that takes place throughout the year. "Owners should ask themselves, `What is it that I want to say?' rather than simply `What size do I want to be?' Deciding on the appropriate message to put across, and acquiring enough information to make this and the other decisions involved, takes time. The three critical areas in which entrepreneurs should acquire information, notes Rosen, are your business, your competitors, and your customers. "The first area should be easy because you know your business and live it on a daily basis. However, you must ask yourself what you want to accomplish," Rosen points out. "Do you want to grow? Are you satisfied with maintaining the status quo? Determining the answers to long-term questions such as these, and being as well-prepared as possible before you meet, will enable your Yellow Pages sales representative to better serve you in the consultative capacity of planning your advertising program." In terms of competitors, small business owners have a tendency to think that they compete with everyone in their heading, warns Rosen. "In fact, taking attorneys as an example, you can see by looking at the ads that they project different images, and specialize in different areas of the law. So it's important to first eliminate non-competitors in your heading and hone in on those who more directly compete for your current and potential customers." In addition to determining what distinguishes them from the competition, Rosen advises entrepreneurs to think about how customers are likely to shop for their product or service in the Yellow Pages. "In some instances, such as ordering pizza or a plumbing emergency, the key is being called first - it's a one-shot deal. However, in other purchase situations, the key is being what I call `part of a consideration set,' in that potential customers are likely to make several calls before reaching a decision. This has important implications in terms of how you should advertise in the Yellow Pages." Just as business owners may overestimate the number of competitors they confront in the Yellow Pages, many entrepreneurs assume they sell to everyone rather than to a specific target market, Rosen says. "The business owner should be able to define existing customer demographics, income level, and product or service benefits sought. They should also be able to define the type of customers they are trying to attract." Rosen uses the example of a small building contractor who told his Yellow Pages sales representative that he wanted to cut the size of his display ad. "I'm not getting the kind of calls I want," he complained. "I want quick in-and-out jobs that involve a minimal amount of equipment and time, rather than being asked to add a second story or remodel a kitchen. My classified ad does a much better job of getting the kind of customer I want." The reason? "The advertiser's classified ad stated `we'll do the small jobs you don't want to do,' while his Yellow Pages display ad boasted `no job too large or too small.' This is a clear case of really thinking about the message he wanted to convey in the former instance, while being off target with the message in his Yellow Pages ad," observes Rosen. He further notes that, in designing their Yellow Pages ads, many advertisers make judgments based solely on what they personally like, and instead suggests showing several versions to customers to ascertain their preferences. "What we think is far less important than what our customers think," Rosen emphasizes. "A Yellow Pages ad is an investment. Once it's out there, it's out there for one year. So why not get customer feedback before the ad runs? This doesn't involve sophisticated research. Just asking your customers a few questions and observing their reactions can provide very useful information - and at no cost." If business owners feel uncomfortable with the ad designs suggested by their Yellow Pages sales representative, Rosen suggests using the services of a graphic designer or an advertising firm that specializes in creating ads for this medium. He is also adamant on the importance of setting an advertising budget before talking with the Yellow Pages sales rep. "The most common method is to calculate advertising expenditures as a certain percentage of sales, although that figure may need to be adjusted based on what the competition is spending, as well as other factors," Rosen advises. "If you are uncertain what to allocate, trade associations can provide recommendations, and you might also network with other businesses of similar size or product/service scope. But by all means, don't go into the meeting with your sales rep without a definite dollar figure in mind." "Treating your Yellow Pages display ad like real advertising is the key," says Rosen in summary. "Attracting attention is only part of the concern. Having a message that is right for your target market and right for your business is just as important. It takes some planning, but it is well worth the investment of time."

The Use of Color

"The Yellow Pages medium is changing significantly in terms of the number of products now being offered," observes 10-year industry consultant Dennis Rosen. "Including different colors, white knock-out ads, and process color photographs, these features provide more options for advertisers than ever before." "However," he warns, "historically, whenever a new product is introduced, everyone - including the Yellow Pages reps doing the selling and the advertisers doing the buying - thinks in terms of how it will attract attention. Instead of just gaging how a particular feature will help them stand out, business owners should determine how they can use these new options to enhance communication of key marketing messages." Color should be used purposefully in the Yellow Pages, according to Rosen, and do more than simply highlight the company name or border of the ad. "First determine what you want to communicate, and then decide if using color will better help you do so," he advises. As Rosen points out, color should be considered in conjunction with the overall impression a company wants to project through its existing graphic elements - including signs, business cards, and trucks. "An advertiser already has a lot invested in a visual identity, and should use the Yellow Pages as another element to carry through the established theme. If your colorful store sign is well known, for example, one option is to portray it in color," he suggests. "Or entrepreneurs may want to highlight important selling points that distinguish them from competition, such as breadth of product line or extended hours of operation." "Whether we're aware of it or not, color affects us subconsciously, and can be very effective in evoking feelings and emotions," adds Ann Telthorst, senior manager, Product Development and Management at Pacific Bell Directory, who helped launch the company's four-color ads in 1993. "It should therefore be consistent with the message an advertiser is trying to convey. Blue, for instance, does not go well with eating as - other than blueberries and the requisite tourist drink in Hawaii - there are no blue foods. It's not in our realm of familiarity, and is simply not inviting in that context. So while blue would not work well for a restaurant ad, it would be appropriate for a diet center - which is trying to encourage disinclination to food." "Blue, which subconsciously implies security and stability, would also be an excellent choice for a bank or an attorney," Telthorst continues. "In addition, because of its connotation with water, it would be an obvious choice for a pool service, or for a company marketing a product positioned as cool or refreshing - such as air conditioners." "In the same vein, green is a relaxing and calming color (ideal for a therapist or a retirement community), while red evokes a stimulated psychological response," says Telthorst. "People tend to eat and spend more in a red environment, so it's great for restaurants." One inclination Telthorst discourages is the "since I'm paying, I might as well use all the colors" approach. "Red, blue, and green combined have a carnival connotation, implying fun and festivities. This is perfect for a party supply company or a bus charter operation, but inappropriate for a financial planner or a convalescent home, for example. The important thing is to focus in on what is best for a particular ad and use color to emphasize key selling points or strengths about a business." With the advent of process color in the Yellow Pages, which allows advertisers to incorporate full-color photographs, Rosen believes entrepreneurs can be even more creative in conveying what makes their business special. "However, rather than showing the building exterior or the face of the owner - a common portrayal that is not necessarily the best use of space - advertisers should concentrate on what sells the business. A restaurant, for example, could highlight its interior and the atmosphere it offers patrons, while a photographer could visibly demonstrate the kind of work in which he specializes." There are times when incorporating a photograph of the business owner is appropriate, concedes Rosen. "If he or she is a well-known presence in the community, if the interaction with customers is likely to be a close one, or if the owner wants to project a warm and inviting image, a photo could be helpful. However," he warns, "owners shouldn't be caught up with the implicit ego aspect involved, and must be sure they have a good reason to use their advertising space this way." Telthorst adds this proviso. "A photo can be tricky and either work for or against you, so advertisers need to be very careful in terms of what they select. For example, an unflattering photo or one that shows a dated hairstyle or clothing can be deleterious for both the owner and his business. Conversely, a shot showing an ethnically diverse office staff sends out a clear message without spelling it out. For these reasons, it might be wise to show the photo being considered to really candid friends and colleagues to gage their reaction." "Color is just another means of communication," Rosen concludes. "The question is not whether or not to use it, but how best to do so to project effective marketing messages to your target audience. And if everyone else is using color, but you use it more effectively, you win."