Shine a Light

Feb. 1, 2000
The Yellow Pages have been an integral part of doing business for more than a century, viewed by many businesses as being as important as a telephone

The Yellow Pages have been an integral part of doing business for more than a century, viewed by many businesses as being as important as a telephone or fax machine. But in many ways, the Yellow Pages are misunderstood.

Put simply, many business owners advertise in the Yellow Pages because they feel they have to. Often they see it as just another expense, such as taking inventory or stocking shelves. Many advertisers think of their advertising as a cost, rather than as an investment. More than 17 billion references are made to the Yellow Pages annually, and 90 percent of these references result in a purchase.

Let's look at four of the most prevalent myths about the Yellow Pages:

Myth #1: "Yellow Pages advertising works only for large national companies. I own a small business. I can't compete with national companies that advertise in the same markets."

Fact: The reality is that most consumers looking for rental services in the Yellow Pages are looking for a local business. Highlighting your local advantages - years in the community, accessibility - can be a huge benefit.

Myth #2: "People know whom they want to call before they go to the Yellow Pages. They're just looking for the phone number."

Fact: While people might know what they want to buy, they often don't know where to find it or what business to find it from. The information contained in your ad - the unique services and products you offer, hours of operation, your location, and other features that set you apart from the competition - can make a potential customer choose your rental business over another. Studies show that seven people in 10 are in a decision mode when they go to the Yellow Pages and are using the Yellow Pages to get new ideas for what they need.

Myth #3: "People use the Yellow Pages only for price-comparison shopping."

Fact: According to Statistical Research Inc., an independent research organization, only 13 percent of consumers look in the Yellow Pages for price listings. Forty-six percent are looking for store hours, and 33 percent want to know what products and services your business offers. In other words, while price is obviously important, it is by no means the only element to include in your Yellow Pages ad, and not the only thing that your potential customers are looking for.

SRI's data show that customers looking for rental services are looking for convenience, reliability, reputation and special services. While one of your competitors might offer cheaper rates, you can win over potential business by incorporating this kind of information - along with prices - into your Yellow Pages ad.

Myth #4: "With so many ads under my heading, mine will just get lost in the shuffle."

Fact: People use the Yellow Pages to shop around. Research shows that they don't simply turn to the first, most colorful and eye-catching ad they see. In fact, 62 percent of consumers look at more than one ad when they use the Yellow Pages. On average, customers will look at 5.3 ads before deciding whom to call. And how do they make that decision? According to SRI, 79 percent of consumers want more information from Yellow Pages ads. They want ideas.

According to research, nearly 51 million potential customers consult the "Rental Services" heading in the Yellow Pages each year, making it the 61st most-referenced heading out of a total of 4,200. What are they looking for?

* 46 percent of people who use the "Rental Services" heading are looking for store hours and days.

* 33 percent want information on products and services.

* 13 percent want detailed information regarding the business' location. Customers say that directions, maps and information about local landmarks are appreciated in ads.

What does this mean to the rental industry? It means that the Yellow Pages remain one of the most powerful mediums available to business owners to reach potential customers. Small and large rental operations have proven that they gain new business by advertising in the Yellow Pages.

Its ads also reach a broad range of undecided customers who can be swayed by what they see. And developing an ad that provides consumers with the information they're looking for will keep your business from getting lost among your competitors' ads.

Here are a few other Yellow Pages advertising tips:

* Put ideas in your ads: There's more to a Yellow Pages ad than phone numbers and addresses. Give your potential customers ideas. For example, if you specialize in renting lawn equipment, suggest that consumers looking to buy a new lawn mower test one by renting it first.

* Advertise under multiple headings: Research shows that when using the Yellow Pages, consumers often check out more than one heading. In fact, 21 percent of consumers check at least two headings before finding what they want. Advertising your business in more than one place will increase the chances that someone will see your ad and contact your business. For example, if your rental business specializes in trailers or towing equipment, advertise under "Towing" as well as under "Rental Services."

* Set your business apart: Let customers know how many years you've been in business. Let them know what their payment options are, such as credit cards, electronic payment or checks. Offer special discounts with the ad.

* Offer service: Let your potential customers know that you offer special services such as complete instruction and demonstrations on the equipment you rent. Also, if you offer special rates on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis, say so in your ad.