Grabbing a customer's attention in the phone book takes strategy.

I see too many Yellow Pages ads that miss the point. The idea behind advertising is very simple: generate business. You want people to call you instead of the competition.

Any part of an ad that doesn't contribute to that goal takes away from the effectiveness of the ad, reducing the results you get while costing you money. I want to review some common mistakes and share some ideas that have proven successful for Yellow Pages advertising.

By addressing each of the key elements of most ads, you will be able to examine your ads to see if they are meeting their full potential in producing customers for your business. It matters not only what you include in the ad, but also what you leave out.

Company Name

You want customers to remember your company's name. Their recognition of your name will ultimately cause them to call your company instead of a competitor. So, like many advertisers, you have a marketing strategy in mind: Put the name in big print!

Sounds good, but it's really not the best way to get results. The reason why the company name is not the most important element of the ad (and should not be the dominant portion of the ad) makes sense when you look more closely at why the potential customer is looking in the Yellow Pages in the first place.

The customer needs service. They need help, and they need it right away. They are not looking for companies with a catchy slogan or impressive-sounding name. Something is broken or needs attention, and they want that attention from a professional.

Consequently, they are interested mostly in:

  • Who can do the job?

  • When can they do it?

  • Can I trust them?

  • Will I save money?

Once those questions have been answered, then additional information, including the name of the company, will become important. An easy way to remember the customer's first priority is WIFM. No, it's not a radio station, but an acronym for What's In It For Me? If a customer doesn't get the answers he wants from your ad, he is turning the pages looking for one that does.

Local Is Better

Closely related to the need for immediate service is a customer's need for local service. Not just because the company is close and can respond sooner, but people trust a local business more than competitors from a distant location.

Perhaps part of this need for a local person is related to the cost of making a telephone call outside the customer's local area. Maybe he believes only companies down the street can provide timely service. Possibly he believes a company farther away will charge more for travel or extra time spent driving to his home. Whatever the combination of reasons, you need to meet this customer requirement in a couple of ways.

First, you need a telephone number from the customer's local area and you need to tell him which communities you serve. If you serve many communities, list telephone numbers with local prefixes so the customer knows the call is "local," and can be made at no cost (even if all calls are routed to a central switchboard).

What about 800 and other toll-free numbers? They don't cost the customer anything, but there is an important reason not to use them. Customers assume the number is toll-free, but also that it is the number of a company in a different city or, at least, not close to their home. That aspect of the toll-free number causes them to shy away from calling it over a local phone number.

Brand Name Blues

If you service widely-recognized brand names, you may find it important to put those names in your ad. Since many people own products made by the major companies in any field, it would seem appropriate.

However, I tend to disagree. Sure, some customers will recognize the brand of their appliance or equipment, but many will not. And what if they have a brand not listed in your ad? They may pass your company up for another company who hasn't restricted what they work on.

I suppose you could list all the brands you service, but that might be a substantial list. Your ad would be cluttered with the brand names of dozens of products. I am not convinced a customer will spend the time to search through such a list, even if it is comprehensive.

Additionally, you may have some potential customers scanning ads in the Yellow Pages who, upon seeing yours with a long list of brand names, may conclude you don't specialize. Thinking your company will work on anything, they may believe your company lacks expertise, so they call someone else.

By raising the issue of brand names, you have made the customer's decisions about calling for service more complex instead of easier. He will, most likely, be tempted to skip over your ad and look at another that makes his decision easier, not more challenging.

A simple way to address the brand name question is to mention that your company services "all major brands," or some similar expression that encourages the customer to call for service, regardless of the brand of equipment he has.

It is probable your company's technicians can repair or replace most brands. Cluttered ads receive less attention. Why pay for the ad space where you list 25 or so brand names that will not get you results? Save your money.

If you specialize, identify your area of specialization in the ad. If not, it may be tempting to list 10 or 20 of the services you offer.

Don't be tempted. Similar to listing brand names, you may omit the service a customer was looking for, losing the business. Listing too many services will clutter up the ad and reduce its effectiveness. In most cases, you are better off avoiding what looks like a comprehensive list of jobs your technicians can perform.

The State Of Art

One of your goals in Yellow Pages advertising is to get the prospective customer's attention, and keep him away from competitors' ads. Many service business owners believe you can do that with big type or bright colors. They may contribute, but there is a better way.

Use your picture. It doesn't matter what you look like; pictures attract attention. People want to look at a picture of the person who is going to help them. Even though you may not be the technician going to their home, they want to see a person that will help them.

Using a picture increases the number of calls your company gets. And better yet, you do it without any extra cost for a larger ad, multiple colors or other more costly alternatives. This advertising magnet for callers is a feature your ads can't omit. Oh, and don't forget to smile.

Generally, service business advertisers find that color, which naturally costs more, doesn't produce the increase in calls you might expect, particularly considering the cost.

Extensive use of color might make your ad more aesthetically pleasing, but it usually won't return much on your advertising dollar. As an alternative, if you want to expand your advertising investment, try purchasing a larger ad. You will probably get a better return on your money.

It's almost impossible to look through Yellow Pages ads without seeing some dated clip art that looks amateurish and cheap. Forget the common advertising sales book selections offered to you - use professionals for professional results. The best ads today come alive with realistic pictures of people and trucks. You won't see some cartoon-looking characters in the ads that draw customers.

Track Every Ad

No matter how good you (or the people you hire) are at designing an ad, there's still no guarantee it will work. You must track every ad to determine its cost effectiveness. Otherwise, you can't know if your ad budget is justified - or better spent somewhere else. This function is especially important if you advertise in many different Yellow Pages books, as many of us do. We need to know which ads pay off and which don't.

The only way to track the economic effectiveness of every ad is to have a procedure where call takers ask the caller where they saw the ad. To make your information accurate, put a unique code number in the top left corner of the ad. Call takers can confirm which numbered ad the caller saw in the Yellow Pages.

Further, you need to record the invoice amount from each job generated by each book. At the end of a year, renewing the ad is an easy decision: if it generated more in profit than in cost, it's a winner.

Taking any and all suggestions an advertising sales rep offers may not get you ads that get results. Only by planning, testing and tracking will you maximize your advertising investment.