A major shift away from Yellow Pages advertising is taking place
When is the last time you picked up the phone book to look up a business in the yellow pages? Even in small town America, it is just too easy to use your favorite search engine to search online with your computer or smart phone. Propane marketers have been slow to shift from Yellow Pages advertising. For decades Yellow Pages has been what made the phone ring in propane offices across the country. Most marketers did post an obligatory web site a few years back when it seemed to be the thing to do to keep up with competitors, but most looked at it as an additional marketing expense rather than an eventual replacement for their time honored friend, the Yellow Pages.
My, how times have changed. Many propane marketers are now cutting Yellow Pages back to minimum levels or doing away with that form of advertising altogether. They are investing some of those savings into updating their web sites because more leads and contacts are being generated from that source, including the phone calls that Yellow Pages used to attract.
In my work with the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) Benchmarking Council, I am a facilitator for one of the 9 groups of marketer members. My group of 13 members had decided to benchmark their companies’ web sites and learn more about social media. Ben Gutkin from Warm Thoughts Communications, www.warmthoughts.com, was brought in to put on a one-and-a-half day web site evaluation workshop for our members. Each member reviewed their own web site and studied other members’ web sites prior to the meeting so all could be active participants in the evaluations. Ben performed an excellent and insightful evaluation of each web site with the members providing input along the way. The evaluations were interesting, educational, and sometimes brutally honest.
The review included the homepage, overall design, content, and architecture. Analytics or measurements of effectiveness were reviewed with members who were subscribed to such services (highly recommended). The homepage is the most critical component of the web site. You have an average of 3 seconds to make the right impression on visitors or they will switch their search to your competitors’ sites. Some of the more important questions that need to be answered on your homepage are:
• Does the site have the products and services I’m looking for?
• Does the company service my area?
• Are they someone I want to do business with?
• How do I contact them?
In other words, do the visitors know what you want them to do, and have you given them a reason to do it?
Your phone number needs to be prominent on your homepage. For those propane companies that have call centers answering most customer and prospect calls, it is more important to have added features on your web site such as new customer sign up and automated bill paying. These features help to make up for the perceived shortcomings of call center performance.
Those companies that have local field offices answering the calls find that extra features on the web site are useful but not as important as a friendly knowledgeable local voice walking the caller through the process or inviting them in to handle in person.
In either case, the phone number is a critical part of your web site homepage. It is important to promote your web site to draw visitors. Your web site is an affordable way to give visitors reasons to call you. That is why web sites are replacing Yellow Pages in making the phone ring in your office.
The workshop also included an update on how social media can fit into a propane retailer’s marketing plans. The message here is that social media will become an important factor in propane marketing in the future but don’t go there until your web site is operating at peak performance and you have a plan to keep it that way. Social media is to web sites what web sites were to Yellow Pages five years ago. The marketing change cycles are getting shorter as electronic media innovation leaps forward. Make sure your 2012 marketing plan is not looking too “Yellow” around the edges.
Tom Jaenicke is the owner of ATomiK Creative Solutions, LLC, a company that provides marketing services, training, technical advice, and business development assistance, primarily to the propane industry.
He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or Contact Tom.