After dabbling a bit in the world of media sales, my first real foray into the world of what was then called “directional media”, was working for an ad agency that handled nationwide print yellow page placements. Like most people in those pre-internet dependency days, I used the yellow pages fairly regularly when looking up companies for various products and services, but I had never really considered that there was any real strategy behind advertising in the book. Sure, I knew that some businesses were paying more for their larger ads to be more prominent, but, beyond that, I was pretty much just focused on which pizza companies had purchased coupons in that year’s directory.
My years spent working in the print yellow pages world actually ended up being far more interesting that one would assume, particularly given the negative stigma those giant books carry. As user behavior began to shift to the online space, I too made the move to the internet side of the yellow page business. That shift from print to online usage came about much more rapidly and dramatically than I ever anticipated when I first started in the industry. Everybody knew it was going to happen eventually, but change often moves at a glacial pace when you are dealing with something as familiar to the masses as a yellow page directory.
I wasn’t the only one that was surprised though. Most of the print publishers were slow to adapt their products to the online space, and many of the agencies placing ads in those directories were not comfortable pitching new online products to their clients in place of the traditional print ads. Even when agencies became fully committed to placing internet yellow page advertising for their clients, many employees lacked complete knowledge of those online products and how they functioned.
Old School v. New School
During this transitional period, I came up with an analogy to share with co-workers, clients and even bosses that put the various forms of media into context. Naturally, I channeled my inner music nerd to develop this analogy, which took on even more resonance with the advent of paid search. Once paid search advertising became more prevalent, the more primitive internet yellow pages listings began to cause a great deal of confusion amongst advertisers and agency managers who assumed that all online listings were pretty much the same.
In this analogy I developed, the print yellow pages were like vinyl records. They had been around for ages, and were kind of a marvel in their simplicity. Although usage was clearly waning, there were still people that swore up and down that this particular format couldn’t be improved upon. They were big, cumbersome and portability was not much fun.
Internet yellow pages were like compact discs. They offered a digital version of the previous format. It was more modern, and a little more flexible, in a figurative sense. You could play them at home, in your car or on a portable boombox. Still, like its audio counterpart, the internet yellow pages were far closer to its predecessor than people originally wanted to admit. On the music side, compact discs were still a tangible product that you could hold in your hands. They were just more durable and more portable. In terms of advertising media, the internet yellow page platforms were originally set up to function exactly like their print predecessors, even down to improving positioning with the addition of listing enhancements. And anyone who has ever worked with any of the internet yellow page vendors knows that their systems are far more rigid than any online based product should be.
The Liberation of Paid Search
This leads us to paid search. For the purposes of my analogy, paid search functioned as the same type of game changer that MP3 files did in the audio world. The flexibility that clients had always wanted with their directional advertising was now attainable through paid search listings. Offer changes could be made on the fly, and bids could be strategically changed as needed. That feeling of liberation and control was probably similar to the one that consumers encountered when they realized they could download the one song off an album that they wanted without paying for the rest. Of course, that is assuming they were paying for the download at all, but that’s another discussion for another time.
I have to say, my analogy held up for many years. I had one manager that could never seem to get how something called internet yellow pages could still be so rigid. I mean, it has the word “internet” in its name, right? Once I laid out this analogy, the evolution of these advertising products finally seemed to click for him.
No Universal Tool
In recent years, the analogy has taken a hit. The sudden resurgence of the vinyl product, and the drop-off in compact disc sales don’t exactly align with what is happening with their media counterparts. I don’t see the print yellow page product making a sudden change of course and becoming popular amongst hipsters and the nostalgic set. However, I still see certain advertisers that have print programs that out-perform their online programs on a daily basis. The audiences for some products are just a better fit for the print product. For other advertisers, the flexibility of paid search is vital, and that is where they see the most conversions. I can also attest to the fact that the internet yellow page sites and online ad directories still work great for certain categories as well. It all boils down to finding the medium (or media) that works best for your offerings, and that is something that will never change. Even if the formats keep evolving.
If you need help deciding what type of advertising will work best for your company, we can help. For more information on how Go Local Interactive can impact your business, contact us today.