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Marketing Without Advertising 8: Listings: “Advertising” That Works

Tuesday, January 15th 2013. | Marketing

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Why Online Marketing8“Hey, wait a minute,” you may be saying. “Traditional media advertising may not be as worthwhile as it’s cracked up to be, but many types of advertising do work for small businesses.”


The types of “ads” that often work for small businesses include the telephone yellow pages, business directory listings, flyers posted in laundromats, good Internet Web pages, and “notification” type ads placed in all sorts of appropriate locations, from free “penny saver” newspapers to, in the case of a restaurant with late evening hours, the program of the local symphony.

We make a major distinction between these types of ads directed at interested prospects and traditional print, broadcast, and electronic advertising. In fact, we prefer to call these sorts of notices, whether paid for or not, “listings.” One good rule to distinguish the two is that a listing is found where people are looking for it. A traditional ad, on the other hand, like a billboard in front of some lovely scenery or a deodorant commercial in the middle of an engrossing TV show, is usually intrusive and often annoying.

Another aspect of traditional advertising, but not of listings, is that advertising agencies get what amounts to a kickback for selling an advertisement: They make most of their money from the discount the media offers only to them. For example, an ad agency might sell you an ad for $100,000 and then buy media time for $85,000. If you list your business in the yellow pages, even using a large ad, you and the ad agency are charged the same rate. Putting up a successful website can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers, even if you create it yourself. In other words, listings almost never have an ad agency discount policy. To further illustrate the distinction between advertising and listing, consider the popularity of TiVo and other digital video recorders. TiVo lets the user skip the advertisements-a feature most users take advantage of. Advertising is an intrusion on nearly everyone’s time, and most people don’t like the intrusion no matter how cute, funny, or interesting the ad is. A listing, on the other hand, is always in a place that a prospective customer goes to for the purpose of finding information, like the yellow pages. A Google placement is the ultimate listing, because the prospective customer is looking for the specific word or words that define the information search.

Our friend, Alex Gault, wrote an article about the effectiveness of Google’s AdWords program for marketing purposes:

“Throughout the twentieth century most ad campaigns depended upon the following practices: demographic analyses by marketers, media selection by media planners, ad placement by media buyers, and then analysis of results by agency executives. All told, a campaign and its assessment took many months.

“With the Google AdWords program, an analogous process can take mere days. A shoe marketer like Nike might select 3,000 keywords- “pronation,” “distance running,” “Michael Jordan,” etc.-and write five messages for each keyword. It’s thus not unheard of to have 15,000 messages for just one product. The messages for each keyword alternate, and the ones that result in the least hits are eliminated. Feedback can be almost instantaneous. “Overnight you can see which ads work best and shut some off,” says Tim Armstrong, VP of ad sales at Google. “And there’s no penalty for trying every idea, because you only pay for what works.” Unless they run out of a product, advertisers have no incentive ever to shut off a campaign.”

To sign up for words on the Google AdWords site, go to: https://adwords.google.com/select.

We strongly encourage the use of listings. Indeed, for most businesses, listings are essential, particularly yellow pages ads for businesses that people use primarily in an emergency: a drain cleaning service, a plumber, or a locksmith, for example. Listings in the phone book yellow pages-and, where appropriate, the Silver Pages for seniors and ethnic yellow pages-are invaluable.

Also, if you have an online business, be sure to list it in directory sites. Online directories are like traditional yellow pages in that they are organized by subject-making it easy for anyone to find your construction, editing, or day care business. To check out the directory that already lists the competition-and to get ideas about how and where to list your own business-do a search using Google (www.google.com) or some other search engine under “Online yellow pages Directories.”

In a few instances, the concepts of listing and advertising have all but merged. For example, in many areas of the country, Wednesday is traditionally the day grocery stores put items on sale. Thrifty shoppers therefore check the full-page lists (ads) of items for the best bargains. In our view, this sort of advertising qualifies as a listing as long as it is placed where consumers normally check.

Similarly, in the computer software business, a great deal of software is sold at discount prices by companies that regularly advertise their wares in computer magazines. The ads feature, in very small print, long lists of available software. Sophisticated customers know to check these listings first whenever they need software, because the prices offered are usually lower than in retail stores.

The Chamber of Commerce, employment and rental agencies, professional newsletters, magazines and journals, and special-interest books, such as those geared to the writer or photographer, are commonly accepted places to list goods or services. And in some instances, newspapers have developed such strong special-interest sections that it also makes sense to list one’s services there. For example, a travel agency specializing in charter flights to Asia might place a list of prices in the Sunday travel section. Similarly, small community newspapers exist primarily thanks to local advertising, which usually consists of listings of goods and services. Many merchants find that this type of listing produces good results. Local schools and theater groups also depend on the support of the business community. We consider those kinds of ads as listings of the best sort.

In this vein, we have long been associated with the Common Ground directory, a very successful cooperative enterprise that publishes infor- mation in newspaper form about businesses involved in personal transformation. Interested people subscribe or pick up a copy at coffee shops, health spas, or wherever the businesses listing in Common Ground feel it is appropriate to leave a stack of papers. Because distribution is taken care of by the people who list in the directory, the paper has an uncanny ability to be located exactly where people who are interested in the listed services are likely to find it.

Nonprofits face the same challenge that for-profit businesses do: They need to tell as many people as possible about the service or product they provide. The Palo Alto, California, Information & Referral Service has come up with a clever way to disseminate a lot of information in a convenient package. It puts out an easy-to-use directory that lists some 200 local agencies and organizations and gives the Service’s number for further information.

Beware of False Buzz

Bruce Weinstein, a professional ethicist known as “The Ethics Guy,” criticized the trend toward generating false buzz. For example, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association encourages the use of viral strategies to promote products and services, such as hiring “satisfied customers” to stand in line at restaurants and give loud testimonials. “What this group is trying to do may work in the short term,” says Weinstein. “But the only way to really guarantee, in the long run, not only a loyal customer base but a growing one is for customers to trust you, to believe that you actually have their own interests at heart.”

It’s important also to realize that listing can take lots of forms other than paid space in publications. For example, in many areas, if your cat or dog runs away from home, you list this fact as poignantly as possible on the corner telephone pole or fence post. This sort of listing is so common that if someone in your neighborhood finds a pet, she is very likely to check out that same pole or fence. In rural areas all kinds of information is posted in this way. When Salli was out on a walk along her country road recently she noticed a cardboard sign nailed to a pole: “Warning! Don’t buy! Carl Chase [not his real name] delivers wet wood and won’t return deposit. Ex-buyer.” There is nothing new about this. The Romans used to paint information about upcoming gladiator fights on the walls of buildings, and the Greeks posted important notices on rotating columns at busy locations.


For home service businesses such as chimney sweeping, babysitting, and house-sitting, the laundromat bulletin board is where many people look for help. Colleges and universities are a good source for language schools, tutors, dance instructors, typists, and roommate referral services. In rural areas, being listed on the Farm Trails Map (a guide for visitors interested in buying agricultural products) is one of the most important marketing tools for people selling fruit, nuts, vegetables, livestock, and Christmas trees. And artists who live in a certain area will print a map along with a short description of their work and host “open studio” weekends. Motels and bed-and-breakfast inns are good places for many small businesses to be listed as part of the establishment’s recommended services.

Having a Web page is automatically a “listing.” Helping people find your website is a unique and specific marketing issue that we cover in every chapter and in detail in Chapter 11. No matter what your business, there are sure to be many excellent places to list its availability at low cost.

Source: Michael Phillips & Salli Rasberry, “Marketing Without Advertising: Easy Ways to Build a Business Your Customers Will Love and Recommend,” Nolo, 2008

Republished by Why Online Marketing


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