I’ve followed the postings on this site for some time, and to those of you who are still working on the sales end of the directory business, I offer you my sympathy. What you are now selling is the equivalent of VHS technology in a world quickly converting to CD-ROM. You are being tortured by management who have been given a mandate to direct the end of the print directory and don’t have the decency to share that common knowledge with you. Make no mistake, the print directory is in the ICU of media. It is taking its last breaths and the death is both protracted and painful, especially for sales reps who are forced by intimidation to pretend the patient is suffering only a minor cold.
Selling print yellow pages is now more aligned with peddling snake oil than business solutions. The effort to engage direct mail media was flawed from the start and destined to fail. Renewal rates reassert this fact. The window of opportunity to capture the virtual world was once open, but small minds guided by the thirst for short term profits closed that door. So now what?
Technology has changed the way small companies do business today. Audiences have fragmented, and will continue to do so at progressive rates. Some soothsayers point to the internet has a haven of the wise and the bold. While it admittedly does hold promise, it too, is fragmenting and will continue along that path. The cost versus return produces debatable results, and SEO and SEM experts are scrambling to justify their work. One thing is clear, the internet is no place for amateurs and beyond the ability of the average small business to master.
Some traditional forms of media once looked down upon are seeing a resurgence in legitimacy. Magazine advertising has see a rebirth. Outdoor is still extremely effective for the right campaign. Direct mail executed professionally does offer a solid return. Cable TV and some broadcast is showing advertiser profitability. The rule of thumb is no single source of mass media can be depended upon by small businesses to bring in new customers. Only a multi-media mix orchestrated with planned strategies and tactics will succeed in today’s changing environment.
So the question remains: what does a small business do to prosper with all the changing elements commonplace in modern day commerce? The answer is both simple and complex. Small businesses must get involved in their success. They need to understand the intrinsic link between marketing and advertising, the former being a science and the latter more of an art form. Messaging is critical. Even the biggest media budgets will provide little return on investment if the messaging component is miscalculated.
Small businesses today need to take a step back before daring to move one step forward. They need to assess their businesses first from a marketing perspective – perform competitive assessments, survey customers, develop key messages and formulate diverse marketing and advertising plans that are comprised of low and no cost mechanisms in addition to ones that require a valid budget. As with the internet, this is no place for amateurs. This ability is beyond the reach of almost all small businesses. What they should and must do is hire that talent and follow the advice rendered. One of the rules of thumb to a successful business is find out what you cannot do well and then …don’t do it. Hire someone who can.
The yellow pages still has a place, but a small and shrinking one in the vast media universe. The phone company knows it. The publishers know it. The advertisers know it. You know it. Everyone knows everyone knows it. Like a failed personal relationship, there comes a time to move on. For the phone directory, that time came years ago. Someone please remind management they forgot to answer the bell.