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Yellow Pages Dirty Little Secret… People still use them!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Lynn Duffy

It’s a fact. We use the Yellow Pages more often than we’d like to admit.

I was recently with a client demonstrating the strength of Yellow Pages in their particular vertical.  And before you ask, yes, usage has declined.  However, there are still 11 million references a year to this particular category.  Furthermore, when someone is using the Yellow Pages to find a business to work with, they take action.  62% contact a business and of those that make contact – 71% purchase.  The cherry on top is that 79% are new customers to the business when getting there from a Yellow Pages reference.  Not too bad for the relic that we often think of when someone mentions Yellow Pages.

Back to my interaction with the client though.  After discussing the research and trends and stats noted above, I still got the following response…

“I know, but I just don’t see it.  I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I used the Yellow Pages…in fact, I’m not even sure I have one at home”.

I love getting this response because I completely understand this point of view.  In fact, were it not for buying my first home 5 years ago, I would likely respond the same exact way.

However, I did buy my first home 5 years ago, and with it came a host of purchases that I had never before been in the market to make such as pest control, tree removal, air duct cleaning, and even carpet cleaning.  When in the purchase mode for these services, I started with Google – every.single.time.  However, in the mid-size market I live in, finding things online is not always the easiest thing to do.  Unsatisfied with my Google results, I moved on to Internet Yellow Pages, and was met with the same success (or lack thereof).  So, I turned to the Yellow Pages where I quickly found 2-3 businesses for all of the aforementioned services and started making phone calls.  I mentioned this to my client, who in turn thought about his purchases in the last 6 months.

And guess what happened…

He remembered using the Yellow Pages to find an HVAC supplier!  Not only did he use the Yellow Pages to find the HVAC supplier, but that is a big ticket item.  There is no doubt that the HVAC supplier gained benefit from our client’s call – even if it did come from the Yellow Pages.

People generally don’t go out of their way to bring up their Yellow Pages usage in conversation, and even when asked, many are hesitant to report their usage of this “extinct” form of finding business information. How clouded is the collective opinion on usage of print directories, and as an advertiser, are you denying yourself the full story (and valuable leads)? The way real consumers in 2012 perceive and actually use print may surprise you.

While this could be perceived as a one-off anecdotal tale, the dynamic is supported by a recent study done by Market Authority.  Over 300,000 interviews have been completed in 100 cities, and a striking pattern was found:

  • If you use the phone book, you think everyone else does not
  • If you don’t use the phone book, you are sure that everyone else does not

Steve Sitton, President of Market Authority calls this the ‘virus of Misconception’ and compares Yellow Pages to a toothbrush.  We all use one, yet how many of us talk about using a toothbrush.

Survey results found that in U.S. metro areas, 19% of people surveyed think that people use phonebooks to find business information, while 81% thought that people used the Internet. In truth, 67% of consumers in U.S. metro areas use phonebooks.

Market Authority found a similar dynamic in U.S. rural areas, with respondents saying that about 38% of consumers in these areas use phonebooks.  The survey found that 89% of consumers in U.S. rural areas use phonebooks.

The lesson here is that our experiences are a universe of one, and it is important to think about who is your ideal customer and where they go when looking to make a purchase/buying decision.  Proper allocation and meeting the best practice challenge of (1) appearing, (2) appearing relevant and (3) being relevant are paramount to an advertisers success.

Lynn Duffy, Senior Research Manager

Lynn Duffy
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