Understanding Inbound Marketing: Learning from Outbound Marketing Methods

Applying the Lessons Learned from the Yellow Pages

and other Traditional “Offline” Media

There was a time when a Yellow Pages marketing position was the sales job to have in the United States; and, the competition for those jobs was fierce. I have a friend, a very good friend, who is an incredible advertising salesman. In fact, he got me my first advertising and marketing position.

“Dave” and his wife worked for a Yellow Pages sales and marketing firm selling ad space througout the Midwest. They made a comfortable living and had a very nice life together.

Aside from the traveling, a Yellow Pages advertising sales position was a great gig to have. I was offered a job with the company they worked for and, mainly because I just can’t stand that kind of “living out of a suitcase existence,” I turned them down. There were times afterwards when I regretted the decision, mainly because of the money, but it all worked out for the best.

As a result of my relationship with “Dave,” I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of Yellow Pages marketing. It was a real eye-opener. You see, Yellow Pages ads are sold once a year. Or at least they were. The sales and marketing team was dispatched to an area and they’d canvas business-to-business.

However, unlike cold calling or other door-to-door methods, they almost always got in to see the owner or the general manager; and, they were almost never treated as a nuisance. No gatekeeper issues to speak of.

The message was simple:

“Take-it-or-leave-it, we’re the only game in town!”

Quite the sales pitch.

The only game in town!

Remember those days?

Some of you will.

It was the hayday of sales and marketing in the USA. Interestingly, because they were the only game in town at the time, it was pretty much a laydown…a full-price transaction with virtually no resistance.

Significantly, there weren’t a lot of off-shoot or generic brands of the YellowPages at the time, a few local editions and some small town directories, but that was it.

Consequently, the competition that would later “mess up a really good thing,” particularly for the Yellow Pages, the marketing company, and the sales people had yet to appear.

So, businesses were at the mercy of the sales and marketing team; and, from year to year, retail businesses, from mom and pop stores to big chains, service businesses of every kind (i.e, plumbers, HVAC, etc) to professional practices, would guard their territory make sure they were available for the annual sales visit from the “Yellow Pages guy or gal.” Their terminology, not mine.

If not?

They might lose their ad space for an entire year. And that was a huge gamble, often resulting in a very big hit to the bottom line.

Like I said, it was a great gig.

But all things change and, so it is said, all good things come to an end…or at least evolve.

In retrospect, the change from outbound advertising to inbound marketing has been dramatic. However, while the transition was taking place, the changes seemed more like minor irritants than a major shift in the sales, advertising, and marketing landscape.

Isn’t 20/20 great?

In the course of twenty-five years we have watched a major institution crumble before our eyes because, like many of the offline institutions, it failed to make the transition from an old media, outbound marketing model to a significant online presence by way of the right inbound marketing strategy.

The Yellow Pages failed to react early to what appeared to be a growing trend, perhaps believing they were well-established and indispensible. The same sort of failure to react can now be said of the New York Times, Barnes and Noble, American Express, the music industry, and now, seemingly, the book industry.

And old mentor of mine used to say:

“If you think you are irreplacable or indispensible? You are!”

He was always fond of saying:

“If the President of the United States passed away tonight, they would have his replacement sworn in and doing the job by morning. So, how irreplacable and indispensable are you?”

Good point!

In the case of the above-mentioned examples (and there are myriad of other examples):

  • Yellow Pages to the Internet — and on to “Googling”
  • The New York Times — the newspaper industry failed to react in time and is now feeling, and reeling from, the impact of the Internet — to the Huffington Post
  • Barnes and Noble fails to buy (or become) Amazon — the entire book industry has failed to make the transition – now fighting digital books
  • American Express fails to buy PayPaleBay does for 1.5 billion

And so on!

Is the Yellow Pages phone book dead?

Not entirely, but I think we have yet to see its next incarnation. There is still a sizable percentage of the world that does not use the Internet, so their will always be a demand for a Yellow Pages-type directory. However, the YellowPages of the future will undoubtedly look very different from the one we have come to know for the last several decades.

The Marketing Takeaway: Nothing is set in stone and failure to adapt to current marketing trends may have a profound impact on your business’ sales, profitability, and ultimately its future.

John Zajaros
The Ultimate Internet Image
Lakewood, Ohio 44107
Skype: johnzajaros1


  1. Adapt or die! Indeed, we now live in different times…or perhaps they’ve always been changing, and it’s just that things are simply happening more quickly.

    I can’t remember a time in the past 3 years that I’ve reached for a phone book! And quite frankly, advertising in the yellow pages never hit my radar. I did see an ad the other day for a new and improved on-line version – perhaps yellow pages is making a come back! Time will tell.

    I’m on auto-google-pilot for most everything these days. In fact, all local vendors I utilize I’ve found through google. With each search, I am often surprised that more locals aren’t listed! Perhaps most don’t have time to keep up with the ever increasing next new thing.

    So yes – survival of the fittest is still the way it is!

  2. admin says:

    Great comment Brenda! I think you are right, we are living in different and accelerated times. Local search is neglected across the board. Surprisingly, many marketing consultants I’ve talked to don’t mention things like Google Maps for fear of losing a possible paid account to a free service…which is silly, as Google Maps is just one channel.

    The Yellow Pages was the only place to be pre-Internet. Now? I think the attempt to reestablish themselves online may be too little effort too late in the game. But who knows?

    Today, Google is the Yellow Pages, as you correctly pointed out.

    Thank you for the awesome comment! Please stop back often!


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