The leader of the focus group asked participants a key question: how often did they use the Yellow Pages in the last year? Most said once a year.
A man in the study group tentatively put up his hand and asked what they meant by “usage”. The participant went on to explain: “There are times when my cousin’s baby comes over and she needs something to sit on.”
I wouldn’t be much of a blogger on the telephony industry if I didn’t write about changing trends in the industry — and one of the biggest examples of a necessity-turned-anachronism is The Yellow Pages.
The Yellow Pages started in 1883, when a Cheyenne, Wyoming printer saddled with the job of printing off one of the first rudimentary telephone directories ran out of white paper and swapped in yellow paper on a whim. The Yellow Pages soon had a stronghold in the arena of print advertising and was, at one time (pardon the pun) the Gold Standard when it came to making your business visible and findable to a local market. As Chris Silver Smith in his blog article “Is Yellow Pages Becoming An Obsolete Concept?” aptly puts it: “In the ‘Business 1.0’ world, the Yellow Pages label was so deeply established that it could bring companies an instantaneous degree of success. In the ‘Business 2.0’ world, the name isn’t as relevant nor as compelling to consumers as is the combination of content and utility. Companies ignoring the trends will risk making themselves be perceived as dated.”
Halt The Presses
Since 2007, many US states have quit printing residential listings and many more have pending requests to do so: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Yellow pages may not be far behind.
Hold The Phone
Traditional Land lines are being disconnected at a rate of nearly 10% a year. The connectivity we have away from home — and the ability to do instantaneous searches of business and their contact information, maps to their locations, their rates, find product pictures, and read reviews — wherever we are — makes the housebound landline go the way of the buggy whip — and as for those yellow directories we used to keep on hand to find a dance school, hairdresser, taxidermist? Rapidly becoming useless, unless we’re propping up babies with them.
Some Industries Are Already Yellow Phobic — and Some Are Not
Would you haul the yellow behemoth out and look for a travel agent? Caterer? Lawyer? The travel industry, in particular, has become so completely turnkey — with travel deals as close a typing in “Trip Advisor” or “Priceline” into a browser — almost making the travel agent in and of themselves relatively redundant; let alone an unwieldy and awkward guide which lists only the travel agents in your area and just their contact information — and that’s it. In the time it used to take to look up an agent in the Yellow Pages, you can have y0ur trip booked and the itinerary printed off — and your plane ticket will be at a price that required no “inside knowledge” of an agent to secure. Some industries, however, still have a strong presence in the phonebook — plumbers and contractors are good examples. If you are looking to renovate your bathroom, for example, it can be difficult sourcing a comprehensive selection of candidates online in your local area to do it. There still isn’t enough local content to provide consumers with the same shopping experience as what the online travel industry offers, for example.
In March of last year, Yellow Pages Group in Canada rebranded with a new logo, which foists the “book” right out of the picture, hoping to associate the ubiquitous walking fingers and a blobby, mouse-pad/mouse-shaped outline — in an attempt to signal that the product is now multi-platform. (Ignoring the persnickety but true fact that our fingers don’t do that “motion” when searching for something online. Our fingers look like that when we’re pointing our fingers downward on printed material. It would be a less aesthetically pleasing logo — but more accurate — if they’d designed the “chicken claw”-like look of hand grasping a mouse. But I’m getting off track. ) Getting customers to think of Internet Yellow Pages (or “IYP” as it’s known in the industry) is no easy sell. Google, Google Maps, Bing, Yelp (which — undeniably — is a clever acronym of “Yellow Pages” without any of that messy yellow print stigma attached to it..); nearly any other online search engine outramps the online versions of Yellow Pages, be they Superpages, Dex, or Yellowpages online. Your first instinct will be to enter your term into Google if you need to send a bouquet from your small hometown in Rhode Island to a client in New Mexico — you’re just not going to use your local Yellow Pages online directory to find a nearby florist who *might* coordinate the delivery…or a florist on their end. You’re going to find an instantaneous listing of those florists who deliver all the time anywhere — with photos, prices, and a payment portal, so you can have the whole thing taken care of in a matter of a couple of minutes.
I have a great personal attachment to the Yellow Pages — a dear cousin of mine proudly sold ad space in the Alberta Government Telephones Yellow Book for most of her working life; I acquired a vintage pink rotary dial phone from my Aunt’s estate — and one of the most endearing features of the phone is the vintage AGT Yellow Pages Sticker on the handset; I also voice an auto-dialer for Yellow Pages yearly, which calls virtually every home in America, asking if the household received their Phone Books; enquiring sweetly if they’d like to have more delivered.
Like the pagers that most of us wore with great gusto on our waistbands in 80’s, the Yellow Pages served their purpose well and brilliantly when they were the ultimate mode of linking people together. I dutifully stack the current year’s books in the corner of my office, but can’t foresee a time in the near future — as most people can’t — when I’ll actually turn to them.
Next week, I’ll address the question: “Why Have a Pro Do It?” when it comes to your IVR voicing; the economy’s recovering, but people are still cost-conscious and wondering why they’d need to hire an over-priced voice talent to voice their phone system. Caitlyn’s right there at the front desk — let’s get her to do it! Next week, I’ll explain why “Caitlyn” may not be your best choice….
Thanks for reading!
Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk. Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.