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Offline or Digital?  Yellow Pages or SEO?  Why you’re asking the wrong questions!

Offline or Digital? Yellow Pages or SEO? Why you’re asking the wrong questions!

By Conal McClure

If you’ve ever been a regular Yellow Pages advertiser, the dilemma to renew your listing each year doesn’t get any easier. We’ve all been there!

I’m tipping the results aren’t the no-brainer you wish it was! If you decide to sign on for another 12 months, it will be with some very real sense of reluctance and trepidation.

No doubt Google is the source of this pressure, and the inescapable fact that now most people rely on Google for answers, not Yellow Pages. You have to be asking yourself if you were to put the money into improving your visibility in Google searches, would that deliver a better result?

It’s not just Yellow Pages. All forms of traditional media and advertising are being challenged by their online equivalents.

Now, before I go any further this is not intended to be an article on SEO, Yellow Pages or Social Media so I’m not going to try to outline why you should or shouldn’t do any of those things. I also want to steer clear from an argument about digital versus traditional offline marketing.

When we think about digital as a cheaper, shinier alternative to offline, it’s inevitable our first reaction is to reframe the things we do offline into our digital equivalents. The same old problems and approaches we’ve tackled offline, just end up being carried across into the digital space.

It’s a part of a broader problem with the way we are wired as humans. When something new comes along, we approach it with the same mindset and hang-ups that are already ingrained into us and try to reframe into what we already understand. The saying that goes something like … “to anyone who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” comes to mind!

The mistake of trying to retrofit the “new” back into the “old” is usually only corrected once our preconceived ideas get challenged, our thinking evolves and a light bulb in our head switches on to new possibilities.

So let me give you some examples, of how we make this mistake.

Google – The New Yellow Pages?

In the Yellow Pages example, the digital equivalent is generally Google. There are other business directories online, but they all suffer from the same problem. In the face of Google, every other way has a kind of irrelevance.

Instead of spending money on Yellow Pages, what if the funds could be invested into optimising how your firm appears in specific searches within Google (i.e. SEO)?

Not happy with where you currently appear, you’ll rewrite some content on your website to target specific keywords. With fingers-crossed the Google gods may or (probably) may not reward you with a page one listing.

The problem you’ll face is that unless your keywords are particularly unique you’ll be drawn into a game of continually scrambling against all your competitors for that number one spot.

Underlying this is a more fundamental issue. While Google is used as a way to search for businesses meeting a criteria, if that’s all you aim for – a prominent business listing (like in Yellow Pages) aimed at prospective clients who are ready to buy, then you’ll be missing out on the bigger picture of how to leverage Google for far greater things. More on this to come!

AdWords – The New Form of Ad Placement?

Many will turn to Google AdWords to overcome the failures and frustrations of getting their business listed on Google with an acceptable level of exposure. Like in Yellow Pages, you can throw money at the problem and buy yourself some prime real estate right under your chosen keywords.

AdWords also give you another option to spending money on ad placement in industry journals etc. AdWords may look on the surface like a better bang for your buck.

They can work, but if you simply approach it from the mindset of throwing money at a problem, they probably won’t. The more competitive the space you are aiming for too, the price goes up – substantially!

Social Media – The New Passing Crowd?

Perhaps you’ve erected billboards in high profile locations to attract a passing crowd, or rented expensive space to run an exhibit at a trade show?

Social Media looks like an attractive alternative. Another place to advertise, and get your message in front of a passing crowd.

But if you treat social media as just another place to stick your ads and billboards, it’s almost guaranteed to be doomed to failure.

A New Medium?

These examples highlight the journey we start on as we move to try and embrace digital. For many organisations their journey into digital marketing has been nothing to write home about, and probably explains why many still prefer to spend on forms of marketing that can’t be measured easily. Justifying serious ongoing investment into digital can be difficult.

Here’s where I think the problem is – Digital has been mistaken for just another medium.

Often driven by cost savings, digital is seen as perhaps a more cost effective medium. As a medium it’s also just treated as another place to extend existing offline campaigns albeit with some bells and whistles.

Marketing essentially revolves around 3 key ingredients – a message, an audience and a medium (e.g. tv, radio, online etc).

When we embrace the medium only, but fail to rethink the message and how to engage with a new audience we come face to face with an ugly truth. As a medium, the things that make digital attractive to you also make it attractive to every other person on this planet:

  • The low barrier to entry makes it immediately accessible to every man and his dog.
  • You can’t really buy yourself any meaningful long-term exposure and your brand doesn’t entitle you to any extra respect.  It’s a leveler.
  • It’s neither friend nor foe, completely neutral and transparent and a double-edged sword. Everyone has to fight to be heard. The noise is incredible!

The old messages, if they ever had cut-through offline are going to have even less cut-through online.

And, your audience is in control. They are only interested in what adds value to them. If they ever get to hear you through the noise they’ll only pay attention if what you have to say is of immediate value – if not, they’ll move on.

A Paradigm Change!

You see, at the heart of digital is a paradigm change.

Digital is more than a new medium. It’s not a new cost effective way to get your same old messages out, to the same old audience!

You need a new message and a new audience, and embrace not just the medium but also a whole new way of reaching out, thinking, measuring, tweaking.

If I’ve put you off, then good! Hopefully it’s enough to get you to stop and think before you jump in, or if already in there, question what you may be doing.

Grasp the paradigm change and the rewards are there; not just likely to land you tangible results, but may even be transformational for your firm.


In part 2, I’ll look at the paradigm shift!


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