The yellow pages printed directory When considering all the ways that people will look for you or what you sell, the yellow pages won't top the list for most target markets. Not anymore. So why do so many businesses still put their money there? I have 3 theories.

1. It's what they've always done.

For businesses who have been around for many years, the yellow pages have long been a resource that their customers have relied on to find them and they have good anecdotal evidence to support it. That evidence is getting old.

2. They are unsure of the alternatives.

The web and social media is not yet a comfort zone for a lot of businesses still apprehensive about committing wholeheartedly. Many have dipped their toe in that vast ocean but not a lot of them would express confidence in understanding how their customers use that medium and even fewer have figured the best way to respond to it.

And if social media is daunting, the complex algorithms and nuances of online advertising is an even tougher nut for many to crack.

3. They believe their target customer still relies on the printed directory.

That's fair, if there is evidence for it. After almost two decades of digital hegemony, there are still resistors and those who live unplugged.

Be where your customers will look for you

In the spring of 2011 I taught our first course on understanding social business to 10 people in 3 restaurants over 3 weeks. There were men and women from their 20s through to their 60s with varying comfort levels using the internet. One of the most poignant moments for all of us was when my friend Chris asked the room how many people still use the phone book to find a person or business. Two people put up their hand.

If you search for research on yellow pages usage you'll find a ton of articles and pseudo-research that is skewed and suspect at best. It makes sense that a dying billion-dollar industry would fight with the tools they know work and today the internet and the social web are just that. The industry is using as a weapon the mediums that are eating their lunch!

What really matters is for your business to be found by your customers when they decide they want what you sell and go looking for you. And the best way to find out how people discover and reach you is to ask them. Ask how they found you and ask how they would prefer to have found you.

And with so many of the most widely used channels available to businesses for free - search, social, online directories, and more - how does a business justify the cost of the yellow pages any more? Can you? I'm curious to know.

The simple back story: The yellow pages were delivered to our doorstep unsolicited yet again this week. The picture above was taken 2 days after delivery, showing that neither we nor our neighbours could be bothered to even pick it up off our step and toss it in the bin.