Sunday, 31 August 2003 17:00

Let their fingers do the walking right into your shop

Written by Karyn Hendricks

There is a school of thought that Yellow Page directories are all washed up. With Internet sites like 411.com, Switchboard.com and others, who wants to lug out a fat, heavy book and thumb through a thousand or more pages? Actually, your potential customers do. Internet sites (at least right now), just offer plain vanilla listings perhaps with a link to a map. How can a consumer make an informed choice with nothing but a name, address and phone number displayed? 

A Yellow Page directory is the place for a shop owner to shine at a relatively low cost. An ad in the Yellow Pages remains in place each and every day for a year and often beyond. No rotation schedules as in radio and TV where a customer can easily miss your commercial just as a matter of timing. No getting lost with an expensive ad in a newspaper which, once again, a customer may not be able to find at the exact moment that a collision repair shop is needed. At any time, day or night, a customer can find your shop in the Yellow Pages.
 

Steering-proof prospects

The hottest prospects come from people using the Yellow Pages. They are buyers, not browsers. Consider this: If a customer has already been steered by an insurer to a specific partner body shop, the consumer would not even be looking in the yellow pages!

Customers who open to "auto body repairing" have a specific need and are looking for a place to fulfill it. Your challenge as a body shop owner is to attract that person to your shop. Important things to know are how to choose the right directory (or directories), design an effective ad to make the most of your advertising dollar, track your results and avoid scams.

Choosing A Directory

At one time, there was only one Yellow Page directory available to telephone customers - published, of course, by the telephone company itself. When you acquire a business phone number, it is automatically listed alphabetically under the heading best describing the service or product offered - Automobile Body Shops or Automobile Autobody Repairs and Painting being the most appropriate. This version of the Yellow Pages is referred to as the core directory.

Believe it or not, the name "Yellow Pages" is not copyrighted, nor is the "walking fingers" logo. Capitalizing on this, a number of other directories claim the name and appearance of the old-faithful core book, and, as an owner, you are likely to be solicited by various commissioned salespeople trying to get your listing in their independent book.

Secondary directories

A good choice as a secondary directory for an auto body shop is the "neighborhood" book. Customers looking for a collision repair shop may consider location among their priorities. A customer has to get home after dropping off a vehicle so close may be better. On the owner's part, if a customer comes from the neighborhood, the shop can offer a ride as a value-added service.

People also like to support local businesses in their community and they look in the "neighborhood" book for places to do business. Usually the "neighborhood" directory takes on a smaller format from the core book, so when a customer reaches for the "neighborhood" book, they are aware of the value of the listings found there. Another major advantage of advertising in the "neighborhood" directory is that there are far fewer ads for your potential customers to pore through and there is a better chance for your well-designed ad to stand out.

Independent directories try to look as much like the "real" Yellow Pages as possible. And salespeople will do everything in their power to downplay the fact that they are not the core directory. Offers will include greater coverage outside that of the core book, but are your potential customers coming from two counties away? Tempting deep discounts may also be offered. Investigate whether people actually use the directory, how it is distributed to obtain that superior coverage, how long the directory has been in business, and, more importantly, if your competitors advertise there.

The salesperson will always insist that a decision be made immediately, if not sooner. Closing is always just around the corner. Do not be pressured into making a decision without taking the time to investigate the claims of an independent directory. Insist on seeing a couple of directories from previous years. Check to see if your competitors have been listed and then dropped out. Evaluate the types of ads under the Automobile Body Shops heading.

An ad thrown together on the spot under the pressure to meet an often-undisclosed deadline will not maximize advertising dollars nor put your best foot forward. An ad that is going to last for a year needs to be carefully crafted and well-designed to pull customers away from your competitors. If the salesperson is unwilling to give you the time necessary to properly plan, pass on the directory until next year, then analyze the book at your own pace.

Determining Ad Size and Placement

The first step in designing an ad is to determine its size. It is in the best interest of the salesperson to "encourage" you to go bigger in size. Start by looking at current and past directories for your area. Check out the existing ads, and along with staff, family and friends, decide how to make your shop's ad stand out.

It will be apparent when looking under the Automobile Body Shops heading of your local directory that there are a variety of sizes from which to choose. The most basic ad available is simply a listing with name, address and phone number - an ad which is barely noticeable and very unlikely to attract anyone other than a current customer who needs your phone number.

The first upgrade is the shop's name in bold type - all caps, still with no other distinguishing features. Or perhaps an extra one or two lines of type, such as "Free pick-up and delivery" or "I-CAR, ASE certified." However, after adding a few "a la carte" items, it's time to consider an expanded in-column or display ad. Enhancements to an in-column ad, such as a border around the type or a spot of color, can be made to force an ad to stand out. A slightly larger-sized type on a white background causes an ad to pop right out from the rest of the ads printed on the traditional yellow paper. Or add a little red to draw a customer's eye to your ad.

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Review current directories

Current and past directories are the best resource to help determine the size of an ad. If the largest display ad under the Automobile Body Shop heading is 3" high by three columns wide, no need to spend money on a full-page ad. If it is affordable, buy the largest size appearing under the heading or the next size larger. A well-designed ad will stand out among similar-sized ads.

Placement of an ad goes hand-in-hand with choice of size. Heed this - placement can never be guaranteed. The best you can do is understand the conventional priorities for placing ads and make your size decision accordingly. The largest ads always come first. Check out the section on Movers to see a multitude of full-page ads. The next largest ads will follow - on and on until only in-column ads remain to be placed alphabetically.

When there are multiple ads of the same size, seniority determines placement. Beyond being first in line, desirable spots for display ads are on the top half of the page and in the outside columns.

A regular alphabetical listing - called an anchor - is required to go along with a display ad, including a notice to "see our ad on page xxx." The directories require this to keep the actual basic listings complete.

To the head of the list?

And speaking of the alphabet, if Alice and Zed are opening a body shop, naming the business "Alice's Autobody" would gain a better ad position than "Zed's Collision Repair." Be aware that directories and even potential customers catch on quickly to names like "AAAlice's Autobody" - so-named just to jump ahead of alphabetically-challenged competitors. Some directories require proof that "AAAlice" is really the name of the owner.

According to Mike Finley's article, "Yellow Pages: How To Advertise There and How Not," "most people figure that any business craven enough to call itself AAAA-1111 . . . may lack a lot more than an identity." Irritated customers may just get even by jumping to the middle of the listings or starting from the end of the alphabet to choose a shop.

Don't Be Scammed!
 
The Federal Trade Commission provides the following tips on how to avoid being cheated by substandard or perhaps non-existent directories.

• Beware of ad solicitations that look like invoices.

• Do not assume you are dealing with your local Yellow Pages publisher simply because the familiar "walking fingers" logo and the name Yellow Pages appear on the solicitation.

• Contact your local Postmaster or local Postal Inspector if you believe you have been the victim of a misrepresentation regarding a Yellow Pages ad solicitation.

• Check with consumer protection officials or the Yellow Pages publisher(s) in your local area if you have questions about a Yellow Pages directory ad solicitation.

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Cost of ads
 
Size and enhancements -- such as color, borders, logos, photos or drawings - help determine the cost of an ad. Service area of the directory is a factor as well. In the East County San Diego Yellow Page core book, a 2/3" high x 1 column ad will start at about $108 per month, whereas a similar sized ad from an independent directory will cost about $51 per month. The same sized ad in different part of the county go as low as $93 and as high as $165. Prices also go up incrementally by size in each directory. There are so many variables in determining cost, it will be necessary to talk to a Yellow Page representative to garner this information.

One big advantage to purchasing advertising in the core book is that the charge will be added to your monthly phone bill and payments will not start until the book is published. Although the independent directories quote prices by the month, they require the full payment before publication, just like a newspaper or other media advertisement.

The Perfect Ad

According to Verizon, the perfect ad is one that "let's your customers know what products you offer, where they can find you, and why they should do business with you. It's an ad that presents this information in the most attractive and effective way possible."

Designing an ad for the Yellow Pages follows the same criteria used for other media advertising - provide as much information as possible within your allotted space and always include a call to action: tell your potential clients what you would like them to do.

If you can possibly afford it, enlist the help of a professional ad designer to help put your ad together. Your Yellow Page rep will design and set the ad, but you risk having yours look like all the others around it. Remember - your goal is to make your ad stand out so make the investments necessary for your ad to be pop off the page.

Number #1 mistake

A huge mistake made by a lot of advertisers is displaying the name of the business at the top of the ad in large bold type. Not meaning to be rude, but unless you are a franchise, who cares about your name? People are most interested in what your shop can offer them. Just as in other media, the headline is the grabber! Use headlines such as "Will Pay Your Deductible," "Open Saturdays" and "WARNING: If you don't ask, you might get cheap imitations."

Bullet points are a good technique for putting a lot of information into a relatively small space. Think about what is important for potential customers to know, and, above all, emphasize what makes your shop different from your competitors. Barry Maher, an acknowledged Yellow Page advertising expert, suggests collecting bullet points as soon as you begin to think about designing your ad. After your ad is published, start a file and begin collecting new information for next year's ad. It is never too early to start improving on your ad for future use.

If your equipment is state-of-the-art and sets you apart from other shops, be sure to mention it in your ad. The manufacturer of the equipment may help pay for the ad in a "coop advertising" arrangement. This is another avenue to investigate. The same goes for name-brand products.

As previously stated, color can make your ad stand out, but it increases the cost of the ad dramatically. It may turn out that for the cost of the color, you can afford a larger ad. In this case, size prevails.

Testimonials are an effective way to reach out and grab customers, suggests Alan Saltz on his web site "Yellow Pages Profit." "Plain and simple, testimonials give credibility to your entire ad! In a medium like the Yellow Pages, this is especially important. Customers are scanning through . . . dozens of ads at once - most complimenting themselves . . . If you can build credibility and trust with your ad better than your competitors do, you give people a reason to feel good about calling you."

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Enhanced art elements

Photos, drawings and logos can also draw attention to your ad. While you want to include as much information as possible, resist the temptation to clutter your ad. The cost of reproducing a photo will add to the price of the ad. Will the benefits outweigh the cost? You make the call.

Offering a special or discount in your ad will attract customers. Just remember that this offer will stay in place for a year or more, so be prepared to honor it for a long time to come. Think about saying something like "Call to learn about our monthly specials" so your customer knows you are offering a deal, but you remain in control of just what you can afford to give away at any given time.

Tell your customer to pick up the phone or drop by. Do not make them figure this out on their own. And make sure, once again, that they are greeted by a polite and informed voice on the phone. Even though an answering service is more expensive than an answering machine, faced with a bunch of ads right in front of them, people may be turned off to a canned message and just move on to your competitor. If a live person cannot answer the phone, try to make your answering machine message as energetic as possible.

In his article "Making Yellow Page Advertising Work for Your Small Business," David Frey presents "A Little Secret that Will Ensure that Your Yellow Page Ad is a Success!" Frey suggests designing a couple of different ads and running them in your local newspaper. "By carefully tracking the ads you will immediately find out which ones are more effective and pull the best," declares Frey. The ad with the best response is the one that belongs in the Yellow Pages. Since you have left yourself plenty of time before the directory closes, this is an excellent procedure to follow.

Check proofs carefully

Once the ad is completed and turned in to your Yellow Page representative, ask for a proof. You will not be able to make changes over the course of the year, so the ad must be perfect as printed. Go over the ad yourself with a fine-toothed comb and enlist as many other sets of eyes as you can to find even the slightest error and have it corrected before the directory is published. Always insist on seeing a proof before signing off on your ad(s).

Tracking Results

Is your ad producing the desired results -- bringing customers into your shop? When a new customer calls in, after the opening amenities, have the person who answers the phone, ask the simple question: "How did you find us?" If you opted to advertise in more than one directory, you may want to ask what directory the caller is using. That person may actually have the book open and be able to supply the page number right off the bat. Since the ad will appear on a different page in each directory, you will know exactly which directory it came from. The receptionist can ask the same questions of "walk-ins." Keep a running log and you will have a pretty good idea of how many responses are coming directly from the Yellow Page ads.

Another method of tracking where calls are coming from is to put a separate dedicated phone number in each ad run - Yellow Pages and other types of advertising. In a nice twist, the telephone company will actually keep track of what calls come in on each line for you!

It goes without saying to make sure whomever answers the phone knows the type of information needed to track results. Remember - the first voice a potential customer hears represents the image of your shop.

Avoiding Scams

Armed with the information learned from evaluating the different Yellow Page directories, the responsibility ultimately falls on your shoulders to ensure you get what you pay for from your advertising.

The most prevalent method of cheating owners is to send phony invoices that look like they come from the core directory. It will have a mock-up of an ad taken from a current directory. When purchasing advertising from the core book, billing is done via your phone bill. If you are using independent directories, make sure the invoice matches up with the contract you've signed.

It's a lot harder to rip someone off face-to-face. When a salesperson enters the shop to sell space in an independent directory, that salesperson should be able to answer all the questions you now know to ask. If answers are not forthcoming, send the salesperson away. You probably won't be missing out on any major advertising opportunity, and may avert a catastrophe. More information on avoiding scams is available from the Federal Trade Commission on the web site: www.ftc.gov. There are also publications on this topic that can be ordered from the site.

More Resources

There is a wealth of information regarding creating Yellow Page ads and getting the most for your advertising dollars. Phone companies have much information on their own web sites, as do the independent publishers. You will want to take that information with a grain of salt. Statistics can be manipulated so try to check them out independently. One thing you won't find on those web sites is the cost of an ad. It will be necessary to talk to a directory representative for that information.

The Internet has many articles available for your perusal. A search for "yellow page advertising" will direct you towards a number of sources such as those referred to in this article. Mike Finley's "Yellow Pages: How to Advertise There and How Not" can be downloaded from Amazon.com for about $3.

An excellent guide to advertising of all kinds is Guerrilla Advertising by Jay Conrad Levinson - a must-have reference book to learn more about advertising. Reading this book is so enjoyable, you may read beyond the Yellow Page section because there is so much advertising knowledge to be gained from this publication.

Last, but not least, is the bible of Yellow Page advertising, Getting the Most From Your Yellow Page Adver-tising by Barry Maher. Maher's book discusses every aspect of the subject. Concise articles by Maher can also be found when searching the Internet. Maher, a former Yellow Page ad salesman, is considered to be the preeminent expert in this field.

Conclusion

Combining all these sources of information, you should now be able to put together an effective ad and know where to place it. Always keep in mind that Yellow Page advertising deserves as much time and preparation as you put toward other media efforts. Be prepared well in advance of the directory closing date so proofs can be reviewed for accuracy. Do not be pressured by "walk-in" salespeople and avoid scams by knowing what techniques rip-off artists use.

Now, sit back and start answering that ringing phone!

 

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