Mega Marketing: The Scary Little Disease Affecting Your Yellow Page Ad

July 14, 2008
We do a lot of research at Hudson, Ink. This is partly so I can back up all the guesses I make about your marketing, meaning I only do research that supports my position. I’M KIDDING. But some fairly obscure facts are occasionally unearthed with large implications for you.

by Adams Hudson

We do a lot of research at Hudson, Ink. This is partly so I can back up all the guesses I make about your marketing, meaning I only do research that supports my position. I’M KIDDING. But some fairly obscure facts are occasionally unearthed with large implications for you.

Not long ago in Contracting Business, I shared that Yellow Page “lookups” were down 24% in the last 60 months. (Did their ad rates go down by the same amount?) My Internet marketing friends all wanted to say their little digital darling was the benefactor of this “missing traffic,” but it appears something else was quietly soaking up a portion of the non-calls.

This is further proof that the drop in Yellow Page calls is not in your imagination. Yet, don’t for a second think your ad is helping. More on that in a moment.

An Unlikely Source
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) just completed a study among millions of Americans. Shockingly, the results have a Yellow Page link. Until last year, the CDC assumed, unless indicated to the contrary, that any telephone numbers provided on health surveys were to landlines. The cell phone question was toward the end of the survey, which many survey participants never reached. (Can you blame them?)

The CDC then decided to move the cell phone question closer to the front of the survey, and then 100% of the participants included this info. They discovered that 1 in 6 American homes had only wireless telephones, representing more than 32 million adults, or 15.8% of the U.S. population. This is a near 60% jump from the earlier “guesstimate” of 10%. Oops.

You see, if they don’t have landlines, they don’t have published numbers, and don’t get Yellow Page books. And that means they’re not seeing your Yellow Page ad.

This “missing chunk” of your town’s population which the Yellow Pages contend are “Yellow Page shoppers” aren’t, because they can’t.

In an economy where the strong and lean prevail while the lazy and reckless go bankrupt, it’s more important than ever to:

1. Make intelligent media adjustments based on changing conditions.

2. Make each media you market in pay you The time for making decisions based on a whim is over. Telling your Yellow Page guy or girl, “Just renew whatever we did last year” is over. Improving your ads’ performance per dollar is what’s important.

How to Create A Yellow Page Ad that Doubles Your Leads
Creating a lead-generating Yellow Page ad is not a mystery. Just like your salespeople know there’s an order to the sales presentation, your ads should read the same way. Lead them in with benefits, tell them how they’ll gain, reduce their risk, and explain why “now” is better than later.

1. 1-Minute Yellow Page Spending Formula: Take the amount of your business that’s residential service volume (Example: 30%). Multiply that by 110%. (Example: 30%x110%= 33%). This is a guideline for the amount of your total marketing budget for YP. If it’s less than this and you do well, I’ll shut up. Sadly, most HVAC contractors spend over half their budgets in the YP. That’s too much.

2. Headline: Grab your reader’s attention, right now, and tell them an immediate gain or benefit in a distinctive way. (Look at your competitor’s ads for ways not to do it, thus guaranteeing your distinction.)

Warning: Some Yellow Pages publishers are now outlawing the use of “Warning” or “Consumer Warning” as a headline. You think it’s because they got poor results? Hardly. Though we’ve never created such an ad, we know exactly why they’re effective. Fear is a powerful motivator, but as a headline this is even better…

3. Solve their Problems. That means build, fix, replace, or upgrade in the most painless way (I did NOT say cheapest). And you’ll do this by showing lots of…

4. “Reasons Why” Copy. These are generally lined up as specific bullet points showing how you know their problem(s), including what they’d rather avoid by not choosing poorly. No finger pointing, only show how you’re different. This often includes…

5. Risk Reversals. Boldly state your guarantees, the stronger the better. These are your most powerful weapons to reduce call resistance. Your competition thinks it’s done with starbursts or saying, “For all your heating and cooling needs.” It’s not. Put your prospect at ease to call and you’ll get more calls. To make sure, wrap your ad up with a solid…

6. Call to action. You think you can just plop your phone number in the ad and hope they’ll call you? No way. To drive leads, you tell them what to do and that means to call – now if not sooner – to solve their problem. We generally put the phone number in the bottom right.

7. Tie your YP ad to your website. Don’t put in “Go to our website for a money-saving coupon!” or you’ll send prospects away from the phone. Not smart. But do include a free report, special announcement, or details on the website. Your customer service representative can offer a web special to any callers after they get the callers’ email address. Got it? Hope so.

8. Three graphical elements that do increase Yellow Page leads:

  1. Sans serif fonts for headlines.
  2. Dotted line boxes used sparingly.
  3. Photos of the owner or satisfied consumer with a caption.

Never run a photo without a compelling caption. By the way, the above list doesn’t include your building, your trucks, or your cocker spaniel. Unless you’re selling them, I’d leave them out of the ad.

Make your ad follow the look of the “Advertorial” style (like a magazine article) instead of the YP’s random layout.

If you do these things in your Yellow Page ad, you’ll not only stand out from the crowd of copycats, but it can drop your cost per lead way down while driving more serious traffic to your website and enhancing your image. Not a bad outcome.

It’s time to be much smarter with your marketing money. When times are booming, it’s as easy as picking up fruit on the ground. Yet when times are hard, you’ve got to climb the tree and do the picking. The beautiful thing about lean times is that it forces efficiency and resourcefulness. And that’s a benefit that can last for years.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors, and author of the recently published Contractor Marketing Secrets. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. Call 1-800-489-9099 or check out for other free marketing articles and reports.

National Yellow Page Ad Makeover Week is August 3-9, 2008

HOW TO GET A FREE COMPLETE YELOW PAGE AD MAKEOVER: If you feel your YP ad could be better, then fax or email it to Hudson Ink by the above date. They’ll choose ONE AD FOR A COMPLETLY FREE MAKEOVER. You’ll get a totally redesigned ad from Hudson Ink at no charge whatsoever. You can use it for way more than just the Yellow Pages! The results will be shown at Comfortech (your company name will NOT be used if you choose).

How to Enter: Fax your YP ad to 334/262-1115 or email to [email protected] with your request denoting “CONTEST”. That’s it! You’ll get a free critique just for entering, and may be chosen as the grand prize winner. Rules at