Guest post by Ken Mueller

Tradition and Fear. Both are pretty powerful motivators, but both are poor reasons for making marketing decisions.

Last year I sat down with a small business client to take a look at their existing marketing plan, with an eye toward helping them jump into the world of social media. Their marketing budget was very lean, but one line item in particular gave me the jitters.

They were spending nearly $1,000 a month on Yellow Pages advertising, with fairly large listings in three different categories.

What astounded me even more was not that they couldn’t prove these ads brought them any business, but that they actually had proof that they got no business from them! That’s right: every new customer had to fill out a form that included a space to explain how they heard about the business.

Not a single person in two years had listed the Yellow Pages. Not. One.

And at the rate they were spending, they would have to get at least 80 new clients each year in order to just break even.

So that led me to two more questions:

  1. If it wasn’t the Yellow Pages, what was it that was bringing new clients their way?
  2. If you can point to even one customer who is tied to the Yellow Pages, why are you spending so much??

I was pretty sure I knew the answers I would get to these questions, and I was right.

Nearly 95% came as the result of referrals, and in most cases they even knew the name of the customer who had given the referral. That’s incredibly valuable information. The second most popular answer (at fewer than 5%) was something like: “we drive by your place all the time and always thought it looked nice, and now we need your services.”

No surprise. Like most businesses, this particular business saw most of its new traffic coming from word of mouth and referrals.

Now, WHY were they still spending so much money on the Yellow Pages?

  1. It’s what we’ve always done; and
  2. If we stop, our competitors will still be there without us.

So, they were spending nearly $12,000 a year on something they were pretty sure didn’t work because of … tradition and fear.

Tradition can be a powerful branding and marketing tool, but we should never do something just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”  There has to be more of a reason. Does it work? If not, kiss it goodbye.

And then there’s fear. Fear often prevents us from trying something new. But sometimes it also makes us hold on to things that we need to get rid of.

If you walk away from the Yellow Pages, don’t look back. Don’t second guess. If you’re worried that your competitors are still there when you aren’t, remember: it wasn’t working for you. Odds are, it isn’t working for them. So let THEM stay there and waste their money. Just because you aren’t using a particular advertising or marketing venue when they are, it doesn’t mean you are missing an opportunity.

Do your research. Find out what does and what doesn’t work for you. Then determine the best way to move forward. Yes, the Yellow Pages might still work well for certain business categories and customer bases. But don’t make the decision based on things like fear and tradition.

My clients? They are now saving quite a bit of money by not giving in to fear and tradition. They have greatly reduced their Yellow Pages spending and are using just a portion of that money to build a strong social media presence that not only provides with great content, but gives their existing customer base some powerful tools for word of mouth.

Are fear and tradition crippling your business and marketing decisions?

Image: ia7mad via Flickr, CC 2.0

Ken Mueller is the owner of Inkling Media, a Social Media and Inbound Marketing sole proprietorship in Lancaster, Pa. In addition to being the hippest cat on the planet, Ken loves working with small businesses and non-profits. He also loves sports, music, and reading. He can be found working from his front porch with his trusty sidekick, Shadow, a 100-lb Chocolate Lab.