Yellow Page advertising was once an absolute essential part of any marketing plan, especially for a small business.

For years, the Yellow Pages gobbled up company advertising budgets.  But alas, the information age has ushered in a new era of consumer education. No longer do the majority of consumers open the phone book to find information.

Yellow Pages used to represent the final stage of the buying process when people were ready to make a purchasing decision. But today the buying process is no longer a straight line ending with the phone book. Instead, it follows the winding curves and tools of emerging online technologies with no sign of slowing down.

I teach a one-day social media course for restorers and have proven over and over that social media for business works: customers want it, they use it, and they expect it! When owners tell me they are spending thousands of dollars (sometimes that much every month) on Yellow Page advertising because that's where their customers look, I can't help but laugh because they usually follow that comment with the fact they are not using social media. They don’t even consider the fact others don’t think the way they do.  

Almost half of the 300 million people in the U.S. logon to Facebook every day! That means more than half of your potential customers are using Facebook every day (and I’m not even considering Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, FourSquare, Yelp and many more). We have Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others to search anything from anywhere and we are doing it from smartphones, laptops, etc.    

Like it or not, use it or not, more than half of your potential customers are engaged on social media sites regularly, often using them to promote a product or service, or to recommend (or trash) a product or service. I even hear the excuse that most customers are older and are not using social media. What contractors fail to realize is the 50 and older age group is one of the fastest growing segments!

As more and more people are doing their search for local business on the Internet, traditional Yellow Page advertising is diminishing each year, even local information. Some figures suggest that this use of online searching can be as high as 80%. In fact, Verizon recently sold their directory business, which basically confirms this old method local advertising vehicle is soon to be history. Even though many business owners won't admit it, seeing their ad in the Yellow Pages is often a huge ego boost. Their adrenaline really spikes when they see their ad is bigger and closer to the front than their competitor. That ego factor is what most Yellow Page sales people use to get you to buy!

The advertising model of Yellow Pages simply doesn’t fit the mind of today’s consumer, who searches online before they do anything else. Even Wall Street acknowledges that the days of printed directories like the Yellow Pages are numbered. The WSJ reported that advertising in U.S. print directories is expected to fall 39% over the next four years.

These and many more verified statistics should be enough to convince the most stubborn contractor hold out.

Buying behavior is changing rapidly as people shift their research and shopping habits from traditional marketing channels to the Internet. Consumers can educate themselves more than ever about a product or a service before they make a purchasing decision. They compare prices, check customer reviews, read case studies and receive instant responses to their queries. This new method of shopping has hit even the most unlikely industries, and it’s just a matter of time for this change in buying behavior to hit the mechanical contracting industry.  

Some interesting facts:

• San Francisco passed a law banning the delivery of Yellow Pages. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco is the first city in the nation to restrict the distribution of the book.

• Since 2007, many states quit printing residential listings or have pending requests, such as Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

• Traditional landlines are being disconnected at a rate of nearly 10% each year.

• Consumers increasingly consider online services before Yellow Pages as they make purchase decisions.

Some business types may still be a little more likely to get customers from the Yellow Pages, but be aware that this new buying behavior is making its way to almost every type of business. You will have to make your own evaluation and decision about spending money advertising in the Yellow Pages, but it will almost certainly involve a significant embracing of social media for your business to keep up with your competitors.

Dick Wagner has served as a consultant and trusted advisor to the disaster restoration and mechanicals industries for more than 30 years, providing sales and marketing guidance to clients. As an advisor to the mechanicals trades, he also brings extensive experience helping contractors understand the needs and wants of the customer, and how to convert that to increased sales and profit.