Monday, December 8, 2008

How the Yellow Pages Could Be More Relevant

Within the past month I've picked up two or three new phone books that were plopped down by my front door... books from RR Donnelly, Verizon, etc. Talk about hundreds and hundreds of pages of wasted paper. I kept one book and immediately discarded the others in the appropriate bin. Why? Well, the Internet has virtually all of the answers I need, making these behemoth books a thing of the past.

Like most people, I find that the yellow pages are just not that useful anymore. I might flip through a book once or twice a year to find something, but otherwise, I'm heading online to dig up the information I need.

But there is one way that the yellow pages could become more useful. My theory is that if the yellow pages were organized in another way, it could probably serve people better. Yes, alphabetical listing is helpful if you know who you're looking for, but otherwise, it's a game of naming rights and also who has the biggest ad to get your attention.

If I wanted to find a good plumber, for example, how do I know if AAAA Plumbing is better than AA Plumbers? Clearly there are companies out there that play the name placement game, hoping to get customers by virtue of being listed first in the phone book. Alternatively, it will come down to companies that buy the biggest, most colorful ads. That's not going to cut it anymore folks.

If the phone book was organized by, say, the best customer ratings for excellence in performance, it would be a lot more useful to Joe and Sally Homeowner. This way I could find the company that is most likely to do the BEST job on my plumbing repairs, rather than just picking the name I see first, or the one that spends the most marketing dollars to get my attention.

Otherwise, the yellow pages will continue to lose market share to Internet searches. By changing to a format that offers genuine information, rather than listings, it would be a more highly regarded source of help and probably wouldn't get tossed by people like me.

On the other hand, it does make for some good kindling...


kenc said...

and who gets to make that decision on ranking businesses??

Mike said...

Great question... I meant to address that. Perhaps they could partner with an independent agency like Consumer Reports, who publish listings produced by local consumers in various metro areas. Ultimately, I'll go back to the old saying-- "if there's a will, there's a way!" If the yellow page companies don't want go the way of the dinosaurs, they'd have to find a way to make something happen, just like Google did in the world of search. Just my thoughts...

kenc said...

Not sure why you think/hope that Yellow Page companies will go "the way of dinosaurs". All media is in a funk right now. But print Yellow Pages still got over 13 billion look-ups last year and the research from advertisers consistently shows a solid, higher ROI than any other media.

Yes, the Web is great for "browsing", but the Yellow Pages come into play when people want to "buy" locally.

Mike said...

An example of why I think the Yellow Pages will gradually fade if they stay the way the are... I work in an office with about 30 employees. We use local vendors/businesses all the time. And yet there is simply one yellow pages book in our office, and it's from 2003 or 2004. My colleagues and I go online, ask others for referrals, and so forth. Granted this is just one office, but I don't know the last time I even heard the term yellow pages in conversation, anywhere. Just being honest in my observation.

Sure, the yellow pages can be a helpful resource, but what if they could be made better? Maybe my idea is pertinent, maybe not, but if somebody can improve on a good thing and make it better, more people will be more likely to use it.