If you browse the posts of the ‘I Hate Yell’ Facebook group, you will see thousands of former Yell customers all making the same complaint, “I spent thousands of pounds on advertising with Yell but saw no results”.
Yell’s own staff were recently forced to admit that around 40% of their customers cancel their contracts every year, 25% of customers complain about the company, and the majority of their customers would not recommend Yell to a friend.
So, why does this company, with such a long-established brand name, consistently fail to deliver value to its customers?
Digital Marketing is a complex process. It is considerably more complex than simply listing your business in an online directory. If you have ever tried promoting your business online, you will soon discover that managing a Google Ads campaign or achieving prominence in Google’s organic results requires considerable expertise. You also have to have a deep understanding of how people are searching for your products or services online.
Those businesses that do manage to succeed at digital marketing have typically either invested in experienced staff or hired expensive marketing agencies to manage the process for them. Neither of these options is viable for the typical small business with a total marketing budget of around £500 per month.
Yell has attempted to provide a complex service, to hundreds of thousands of small businesses at a price they can afford to pay. There is not a single company in the world that has managed to achieve that successfully – Yell included.
What Yell does have is a sales team capable of pressuring small business owners into buying their products. It also has a regular supply of fresh leads every day through the free listings they offer on Yell.com. What they don’t have, and likely never will, is a product that can consistently deliver a positive return on investment for the majority of their small business customers.
Until Yell finds a way to solve this problem, its customers will continue to leave, and its reputation will become increasingly more damaged.
Yell’s CEO, Claire Miles, is now in a desperate race against time to find an answer to this problem. The solutions she has proposed since joining the company don’t hold too much hope.
Smart Performance, Yell’s new flagship product might get people to click on your adverts but then fails miserably to convert those clicks into sales or leads. Yell’s tie-ups with Apple and Facebook are also unlikely to bear fruit as these are not platforms where the public go to look for local businesses.
Yell’s own former Head of Architecture, recently stated that, “Yell’s products are wearing thin with no viable , credible strategy that will replace the lost business. It’s a massive shame as the Yellow pages brand was amazing but has been watered down with lack of investment in products and marketing. It seems Ironic that an advertising and marketing firm is unable to advertise and market itself very well at all. Yell’s products and strategy is weak with little or no prospect of it making money in the future.”
Yell assumes that companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook partner with them due to the credibility of the Yell brand. The reality is that these tech giants only partner with Yell in an attempt to avoid punitive anti-trust measures. They partner with Yell precisely because they don’t perceive Yell to be any threat to their business. It is Yell’s weakness that makes it an attractive partner, not its strength. Yell’s management is either too naïve or too arrogant not to realise this.
The primary method that people use to find a local business is by searching on Google. Offering Google advertising at scale, at a cost 30%-50% higher than you could buy that same advertising directly from Google, will only ever result in disappointed customers.
With its current lack of growth and dwindling credit rating, Yell is unlikely to be able to raise more money either through more debt, a re-listing on the stock market or by selling the business to a third-party. Without a new source of investment, this company is burning through cash reserves faster than it can generate new income.
Claire Miles is now faced with the impossible task of having to pull a yellow rabbit from a hat in a world in which yellow rabbits simply don’t exist.
Author: Danny Richman
Yell Action Group (Chairman)