Twenty years ago when you applied for a business phone it took about a week for the yellow directory sales pitches to start. They would drop in, phone, send cards and letters, rinse and repeat. My very first purchase of a yellow directory ad just about made me regurge but I knew I had to have it back in 1980. In fact without a yellow directory listing back then if you depended on people who did not drive by your storefront, I was in the entertainment electronics retail business, you may as well put on a monkey suit and stand on the street corner … selling rocks.
The cost of my first add, a half-page, was $3700 for a year. It reached roughly 180,000 people in 112,000 homes if I remember right. It worked. Most of my business back then came from the yellow directory with my second amount from storefront advertising.
The yellow directory was, for all practical purposes, the top search engine of the day. It produced a significant amount of revenue for shops like mine, plumbers, lawyers, auto-repair, tailors, doctors, squirrel catchers, and many more. There was, however, a major catch: once that ad was printed and distributed it was set for the next 12 months. If you were specific about discounts or hours or special product offerings you better still be able to deliver.
Enter the digital age and live engagement
The ratio of use of yellow directory to purchase was in some cases staggering. Clients did not, generally, surf the yellow directory. Only when a real solution was needed do one look for the book and take a walk with their fingers. This point of need rendered a higher rate of return per “impression” than we generally see online today.
Beginning with early websites around 1995 it was quickly discovered one could combine traditional advertisement with dynamic content. One of my early clients, Mel Abramavitz, owned a yellow directory which catered to upper middle class residents in our area. Together we brainstormed and I created the first real-time, customer editable yellow directory in our area. Though most of his customers, the retailers and service providers who advertised in his book, rarely made changes it was available to them. Some of the early adopters did entice people to visit the website and see the daily or weekly schedule.