SME advertising in a post-Yellow Pages world

As I always do when discussing the ailing yellow giant, I have to declare a conflict of interest due to my small web services business now being a direct competitor to Yellow Pages.

Yes, my relatively miniscule business is competing for the same SME dollar as directory giant Sensis.

As is every other digital agency and web marketing business across the nation, because the small business advertising world Sensis once dominated has changed forever.

No longer can its reps simply walk in to your business, outline how your competitors increase in expenditure has made your already relatively expensive ad double in cost and then work out how you will pay it off for the next 12 months before signing a form and booking a time to see them same time next year. 

Usually followed by a stiff drink to help deal with the question of how it’s going to be paid for.

The game has been changed
And no longer are SMEs dependent on a medium which is completely fixed for 12 months and upon which you rely for a large chunk of your new business.

Now in an online world, not only can you change your ad whenever you want to, you can throw up a second whenever you feel like it just to see if it will perform better than the original ad.

You can also alter your budget whenever you like, schedule it to display at the time and location that suits you and switch it off when you go on holidays. Or set it to stop displaying when your budget for the day has been exceeded.

Better still, you only pay whenever your ‘prospect’ actually clicks on your ad to click through to your website instead of based on supposed ‘impressions’ (ad views) extrapolated from expensive research and statistics.

No wonder SMEs have abandoned Yellow Pages in droves – even if it has changed much of its charging to a more performance-based model.

More media in the marketing mix
But the ‘pay per click’ advertising I refer to (most famously provided by Google and its AdWords product) is only one of a range of low cost promotional methods SMEs are now tapping into. Literally, as it turns out. 

Fellow members of an online business group I visit regularly report a wide range of effective and low cost promotional avenues in which they invest in preference to directories and other traditional media.

AdWords certainly figures prominently, but so does a range of other online and offline tactics.

Search engine optimisation, strategic alliances (with other SMEs), business networking, social media, review websites, magazine advertising, reputation management, and of course the perennial ‘word of mouth’ are all mentioned as commonly utilised promotional tactics.

Websites the constant
A constant is that a professional website is critical to the entire promotional process, not only as a customer magnet to both online and traditional media but to provide all-important credibility.

They say that a good website goes a long way to proving that all the promotion and chatter about your business has some substance.

Interestingly, not one of the 40-odd responses to my call for comments recommended Yellow Pages new suite of online marketing offerings.

Admittedly, this sample group is particularly web savvy, as indicated by the fact they responded in a social media group, a minority when it comes to SME operators.

Less online-savvy SMEs simply may not have the time to invest in so much time-intensive online media.

As complex as bigger business
But what is apparent is that the marketing world of the SME is starting to look more like their larger business counterparts.

Where in the past Yellow Pages may have formed a major component of a three or four pronged promotional strategy, we are now seeing a far more complex and fragmented approach to their annual marketing.

Nowadays there may be many more promotional tactics being employed, many of them requiring a great deal of attention and maintenance.  Social media is a great example of this.

Either way, SMEs are likely to employ a more multi-faceted ‘marketing mix’ than they did in the past.

Larger businesses employ professional marketing staff or consultants and advertising agencies to advise them on exactly which promotional tactics they should spend their promotional budget on.

But with most agencies not wanting to get ‘out of bed’ for less than several thousand dollars, SME operators might be feeling both overwhelmed and abandoned when it comes to genuine and impartial assistance with this bewildering new world of marketing.

As much as Sensis want to fill this gap, lower barriers to entry in a space they once monopolised means they now have more competition than they could ever have imagined.


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