Do People Still Use The Yellow Pages? The Answer May Surprise You

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Way, way back in the olden days, people wrote on typewriters, watched just five TV channels and put sugar in their coffee. There was no such thing as gluten-free, eco-friendly, satellite radio or Made in China. But, thank goodness, there was the Yellow Pages–the giant directory listing that was delivered to anyone with a telephone (a telephone is a stationary device with a dial that one used to make phone calls) where businesses placed ads and where their customers found them. Without the Yellow Pages, many small businesses would not have survived.

Of course, things have changed since. People are living longer, eating better and conducting their lives from little mobile devices. Typewriters are gone, TV sets are portals into countless channels of mind-numbing content and a Coke is now calorie-free. What about the Yellow Pages? Yup–still there.

OK, many of us aren’t getting the Yellow Pages delivered to our doors anymore. But according to the company more than 80 million people visit the YP.com site (or use their app) each month where there are more than 20 million businesses listed. “Not only that,” YP Chief Marketing Officer Allison Checchi told me “but the company has over a billion dollars in digital revenues, and this year will be the first year that we’ll have more revenues coming from digital than from print.” The company also received Google’s 2014 North America Premier SMB Partner Award for “Highest Growth,”, an award given to the Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner with the highest new AdWords revenue from new accounts.

How has YP transformed itself from a provider of phone books to an online directory giant? “We realized years ago that our business was all about search,” said Checchi. “And we recognized that we had to change fast.” And so they did. The company continues to provide its phone books to millions of people who still require them (aren’t they adorable?). But their online efforts include a major push with the likes of Google, Yahoo and Yelp to power searches across their networks. Small businesses who list on YP.com not only get prospective eyeballs there, but also across other sites as well. And that has strengthened the company’s value.

This applies to your business too, particularly if you’ve been around for a while. Because maybe, like the Yellow Pages, it’s time for some changes in your marketing approach.

For example, maybe it’s time for a name change. A few years ago, Yellow Pages rebranded itself as YP. They didn’t abandon their brand–it was too strong to do that. But they realized that they needed something new that would appeal to a different, younger audience. So they talk about “YP” and “Yellow Pages” together as the same. The website says “yellowpages.com” but the logo is “YP.” It’s a process that will likely go on for years and may ultimately lead to the shedding of the Yellow Pages name altogether. Or not. They’re giving themselves future options. And by coming up with a combined name they’re successfully able to hold on to their older customer base while still being attractive to a new crowd.

Or maybe it’s time for new partnerships. Back in the day, a typical small business advertised in the Yellow Pages or in the newspaper. Today, we are inundated with choices. Locally, there are great players like ReachLocal, DexMedia, and Yodl, not to mention hundreds of independent consultants who can use a variety of resources to get the word out about your company. Even Google has to compete against Yahoo and Bing (and did you know that 30% of the online searches conducted use Bing technology?). So in 2015 you partner. You find other players who can help you. You share revenues. That’s what Yellow Pages did with Google and others. And that’s what you may need to do too. It’s not about survival. It’s about changing your strategy and growing your business using new rules.

Finally, you have to expand your reach. It’s not just enough to ship products anymore. You have to add on support, maintenance, training and other services that can help your customers grow their businesses. And then you must pick multiple avenues for getting your message out. “We’re not just talking about advertising in the Yellow Pages,” Checchi says. “We’re talking about managing marketing campaigns. Mobile apps and advertising. Integrations with third parties to reserve tables, book tickets, save at local stores. We’re helping our customers using email, search and social media to expand their reach (and ours).” Stay active. Speak. Write. Be more involved in the community. Always have news. Take a look at Yellow Page’s press releases and you’ll see what I mean–there’s always something going on. You can’t stand still.

Will Yellow Pages successfully transition from an old-school, telephone directory service for consumers and small businesses to an online local search player? I think they already have. Will your business make the same transition? Let’s hope so.

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