Self-Storage Yellow Pages: Message Trumps Size

When it comes to self-storage Yellow Pages advertising, the message has become far more important thant the ad's size or location.

January 13, 2009

8 Min Read
Self-Storage Yellow Pages: Message Trumps Size

In Yellow Pages, the idiom "location, location, location" has been replaced by "content, content, content."

The Yellow Pages industry performs studies to help determine the value of its advertising. These studies have never been as important to advertisers as they are now, with the Internet nipping at the heels of Yellow Pages print revenue and an unstable economy threatening everyone—businesses and consumers alike.

Lately I have been hearing advertisers in the self-storage industry complain that Yellow Pages is not delivering the business it has in the past; however, some industries are still catering to consumers who use the print directories. Here are some interesting statistics about the self-storage category in the Yellow Pages between 2003 and 2007 (’08 data is not in yet):

These statistics, from very credible third-party market research firms, don’t lie. Yellow Pages directories are still being used by huge numbers of consumers. So where is the disconnect? Part of it may stem from all the hype coming from high-profile people to small-town newspaper articles. Too many business owners believe a lot of this information without testing the value of their own advertising.

Savvy marketers are testing all their advertising avenues to ensure they are investing their ad dollars in programs that deliver results. The most reliable test is to buy a unique tracking phone number, which tracks every call resulting from a specific ad, to generate a report showing call time, date and duration. The calls can even be recorded so you can play them back to assess the quality of the lead and how it was handled.

If your ad is running in a directory with high-market share and large enough to give your prospective customer information about the property and amenities, the ad may still not deliver the return on investment you hope for or expect. Before pulling the ad, study it to see whether it can be improved to deliver better results. Improvement may have nothing to do with position. In fact, it is likely that you don’t need to buy a bigger ad to improve your competitive position. It may have everything to do with content.

Better Content

According to a 2008 Yellow Pages study, “The most powerful driver of calls is neither size nor position, but ad content.” However, in the study it was determined that the larger ads do increase call counts, but not just because of the ad size or its position. What they concluded is:

  • Larger ads generally contain more content

  • The additional content gives consumers more reasons to choose the business

  • The key to a successful ad is to have advertisers focus on the right message and content to win over a detail-oriented, value-shopping consumer

  • Content with white space ensures the ad is more legible

When evaluating your Yellow Pages ad, ask yourself these questions:

Does the ad prominently display location?

Storage is “location-centric,” i.e., your customers come from a three- to five-mile radius. The first thing they want to know is if you are conveniently located. Make sure your ad has a map that is large enough for them to read. Include landmarks if possible, such as “next door to Anytown Home Depot.”

Remember, Yellow Pages directories incorporate a coverage area much broader than your three- to five-mile service radius, so make the location (city, township, neighborhood name) a standout feature of your ad.

Include directions in your headlines or prominent copy points. Prominent means it is one of the first three features the Yellow Pages shopper sees. For example: “conveniently located in downtown Salem,” “across from city hall”; or use a well-known landmark, such as the Home Depot in the example above.

Does the headline grab the reader’s attention?

The headline of a Yellow Pages ad is the most important aspect of its content. The sole purpose is to draw your customer’s attention. Think of it like a newspaper, remembering that headlines sell papers. Too many small self-storage owners use the property name as the headline. This only works well for large, well-branded operators. I have seen a number of ads repeat the category as the headline, for example “storage” or “plumbing.” No need to say that; it’s why the consumer chose that heading in the first place.

View the space you have to work with as precious real estate and use it to the greatest advantage. The headline should feature what you know the customer needs. If they are looking for a bargain and that’s one of your main competitive advantages, then your headline should read “lowest prices in town” or “free rent.” Make sure you put an asterisk after a statement like free rent and qualify it by saying “call for details.” That way you accomplish two goals: you get them to call, and you can change the special at any time because you have not made a one-year commitment in print. Is security their biggest concern, or is it the convenience of drive-up units? Use the headline to let them know—before they look at a competitor’s ad.

Does the ad have interesting graphics that tell a story or draw attention?

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. We don’t always recommend that advertisers use a photo of the facility in their advertising. An exception would be when your copy points out a competitive advantage such as “brand new,” “modern” or “state-of-the-art,” and you are using the photo to illustrate the point. In that case, use process color in the ad; it will definitely enhance the attractiveness of the property.

Other examples of photos might be a before and after garage photo. The before photo shows a cluttered garage with no space to park a car; the after photo has all of the clutter removed, allowing for parking. The story is obvious—a storage unit solves the problem. There are other creative photo opportunities that draw attention to ads. For example, one of our clients located in the hot Arizona desert uses a photo of a polar bear with a headline featuring cooled units. Again, the picture is attention-grabbing and tells a story.

Does the ad highlight competitive advantages as well as specify products and services?

Your display ad should feature the following components:

  • The headline

  • Up to two more featured competitive advantages (these would refer to copy points in a starburst or box, for example)

  • Graphic (if space allows)

  • Map

  • A list of additional competitive advantages

  • A phone number in a large font so it’s easy to read

  • Graphics of accepted credit cards

Relative to competitive advantages, here is how to go about making that decision: Make a list of your top eight to 10 competitive advantages. Rank them in order of importance to your customers. The most important one is your headline; two and three are your featured copy points. After that, list the rest in order, beginning with the one you rank as number four.

The larger the ad, the more space you will have to list products and services. These could include:

  • Truck rental

  • Boat/RV and vehicle storage

  • Boxes/packing and moving supplies

  • Wine storage

  • Conference room rental

  • Packages and deliveries

  • Mailbox rentals

Resist the temptation to crowd everything into one ad. Clean space makes it easy to read, and viewers will spend more time reading all the features and benefits. Remember, you only have a few seconds to capture their attention. Give your prospects good reason to stay fixed on your ad. That’s one of the factors that will drive phone calls.

Does the ad make it clear why the customer should call you rather than a competitor?

Your prospective customer goes to the Yellow Pages for only one reason: They have a need to fill and a decision to make. Part of the decision-making process involves getting answers to their questions. As previously stated, the first question is, “Where are you located?” Once they determine that your location is within their geographic radius, the next questions may focus on security, pricing, access hours, online services, temperature control and ancillary services.

If the competitors don’t have one or some of these services, then you will likely have the advantage of getting the call. However, in most cases, you will be competing on some, if not all of the products and services. The key, then, is to say it better and clearer than your competitor in clean, easy-to-read space.

What About Ad Size?

Yellow Page publishers have taught their direct representatives to sell the biggest ad they can possibly get the advertiser to buy. The justification of this sales approach is “position.” The bigger the ad you buy, the closer to the front of the heading your ad will appear, and they are always reminding you that you have to stay ahead of competitors. However, in the storage heading, your competitors are not comprised of every advertiser on those pages. Your competitors are within your same three- to five-mile service radius. Those are the ones to consider competition.

Here is something the publisher sales reps will probably not tell you: Studies of this heading show that consumers will read an average of 5.2 ads prior to making a phone call. That is the express reason that content trumps position. The real reason to buy a larger size ad is for the space it allows you to attract and engage the customer so that you get the phone call, not the other 4.2 competitors.

Given these facts, you could conceivably be the 10th, 15th or even 20th advertiser and still get a call volume that results in an excellent return on investment. Buy the largest size you can afford and always remember, “content is king.”

Sue Weinman is vice president, Yellow Page Services, of Michaels Wilder Inc., an advertising agency specializing in Yellow Pages, Internet marketing and talent recruitment for the self-storage industry since 1989. For more information, visit

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter
ISS is the most comprehensive source for self-storage news, feature stories, videos and more.

You May Also Like