Archive for May, 2009

A New Day for R.H. Donnelley

Friday, May 29, 2009

Today, news broke that R.H. Donnelley is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection so that it can restructure debt to move forward in a changing economy and local search market.

This action isn’t a surprise. For months, there has been quite a bit of speculation in the media and among analysts about R.H. Donnelley taking this step. And given that another large Yellow Pages publisher, Idearc, filed for bankruptcy protection this spring, many are incorrectly connecting it to the health of the industry overall.

From where I sit, I can confidently say that the health of our product offering is very strong. Research continually proves our value; this week’s Telmetrics data is the latest. Our industry is successfully making the transformation from a single product – the print directory – to a multi-channeled lead generator in the local search space. We’re seeing exciting innovations coming out of Yellow Pages companies that I believe positions us well for the future.

And while Idearc and R.H. Donnelley’s bankruptcy filings are getting attention, we should remember that other Yellow Pages companies are posting positive financial results and many that are not publicly traded tell us that there is strong demand for our services – even in a very tough economy.

Like I said about Idearc’s filing, I think that R.H. Donnelley will emerge from bankruptcy a stronger company financially, ready to continue its long history of working with small businesses to implement successful marketing strategies.

In fact, I believe that it’s important for all the people who work at R.H. Donnelley – or anyone who works in the Yellow Pages industry – to not let today’s news distract focus from what we do best: deliver qualified sales leads to small- and medium-sized businesses. There’s no doubt it is a tough time. The economy is shaky and local search is changing. Our industry will look different at the end of this transformation. But, as long as we continue to drive large volumes of cost effective sales leads for our customers, and help them be successful, we will be continue to be relevant and financially successful.

Telmetrics: Print Advertising Drives Online Leads

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I asked Bill Dinan, president of Telmetrics, to write our very first member blog for InsideYP on what we all know is an important topic – ROI. Telmetrics recently released some interesting data on lead generation from print Yellow Pages, and Sebastien Provencher, Greg Sterling, and Kelsey Group have had it on their radar screens.

So, here’s what Bill had to say:

Today’s volatile economic climate and the proliferation of media have put marketing budgets under intense scrutiny – making tracking advertising ROI and results a number one priority for marketers.

As a result, performance measurement tools are in greater demand. Advertisers have found transparent measurement tools with Yellow Pages – namely call and URL measurement. Tracking Yellow Pages lead generation through unique phone numbers and URLs (used only in those ads) proves the consumers that the medium delivers to advertisers.

From a data review of 1,200 Yellow Pages ads running November 2008 to April 2009 with unique phone numbers and URLs, we know that print advertising drives calls and clicks. In fact, tracking unique URL activity in addition to call measurement shows a 78 percent increase in the overall leads driven by print Yellow Pages.

Without tracking unique URL activity, Web traffic leads could be attributed to another medium – highlighting the importance of transparent ad measurement. This type of value isn’t offered by any other advertising medium today and continues to be a key differentiator and value proposition for the Yellow Pages industry.

Our opinion? Over the years, many have tried to position print Yellow Pages as a gateway to additional information. This study from Telmetrics quantifies and proves that a substantial number of leads that have heretofore been attributed to the internet are in fact a direct result of print Yellow Pages advertising. These data will go a long way in proving the value of our medium to both existing and perspective customers.

Party Supply Retailers See Spike in June

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Graduations, birthdays, and weddings – is everyone else as busy as I am?

As packed as these summer events keep our social calendar, it doesn’t even compare to the spike in business that party supply rental companies see in June when references to the “Party Supplies – Renting” go sky high.

Our data shows that when the number of references jumps at the start of each summer, so does the ROI. Display ads in this heading generate $7 in revenue for every $1 spent on advertising, making them a highly competitive means for advertisers to attract solid new business leads.

Case in point: The YPA was recently in touch with Jack Barfield, the owner of Lil’ Jack’s Moonwalk Rentals in La Porte, Texas. Jack reported that his small business is attracting 220,000 visits to his home page, 200 daily calls, and 100 daily e-mails as a direct result of his integrated print and Internet Yellow Pages advertising program with YPA member, AT&T. In fact, he has seen such an increase in new business leads that he has doubled his staff in the last several months, despite the slowing economy.

Before you rush off to your next gathering, here are a few other stats that I found interesting:

  • When referencing this heading, most consumers are searching for rides and games (including dunk tanks, trampolines, and Moon Walks) to rent.
  • Most often, users of this heading are married women with families of three or more.
  • According to the American Rental Association, the party and event segment is a $2.4 billion subset of the equipment rental industry.

Changing Perceptions of Yellow Pages, One Graduate at a Time

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In March, I wrote about the College Creative Competition that Yellow Pages Association developed to increase the amount of class time devoted to Yellow Pages advertising. 

The program helps drive perceptions that Yellow Pages play an important role in the advertiser’s media mix.  It also is an opportunity for the industry to give back by supporting students on their educational journey.

Since it’s graduation season, and we’re wrapping up the 2008-2009 year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the results of this year’s program.

This year, we had 1,911 students from 192 universities registered for the competition.  We measured their change in attitudes toward Yellow Pages before and after participating in the competition.

Among the participating students, we saw a significant decline in negative perceptions:

  • Students who thought the Yellow Pages are “old fashioned” dropped from 59% to 13% after the competition.
  • Students who thought Yellow Pages are “boring” dropped from 51% to 8%.
  • Student who considered Yellow Pages “out-dated” fell from 46% to 8%.

 On the flip side, we saw an increase in positive perceptions:

  • 72% said that Yellow Pages were “important for advertisers,” compared to 41 percent before the competition.
  • 72% also said that Yellow Pages are “valuable,” compared to 31 percent before.

These changes in perception show the importance of educating young people about the value of Yellow Pages.  When we have the opportunity to show people (of any age) what we can offer, we generally see a big change in attitude about the value of our industry.

Of course, the other exciting part of the program is taking a look at the winning entries of the participants, so be sure to see what they came up with.

Independent Survey Indicates Phone Directories Are a Popular Resource on Mobile Phones

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The mass adoption of smart phones and other handheld devices has opened up some exciting new opportunities for local business search, and so I was interested to see some new data from Forrester Research

According to Forrester’s North American Technographics® Benchmark Survey 2009, which provides insights on the habits of over 41,000 US adults with a mobile phone in their household, 5% of respondents use their phones to search telephone directories.

That compares favorably with other top consumer smart phone activities, including searching for general information (8%) and accessing social networks (5%).

Here are some highlights from the survey results:

  • 44% of US adults who have mobile phones in their homes say their phone can access the Internet.
  • 15% of US adults who have mobile phones in their homes go online with their phones, up from 11% in 2008.
  • 10% of US adults with access to a phone check the weather, 14% play games, 8% search for information. 5% search telephone directories, 5% access social networks, 2% research products for purchase and 1% receive coupons/promotions.

Time for a Game of Leapfrog?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Sebastien Provencher’s blog post about the evolution of local search at the Canadian Yellow Pages Group (YPG).  Much of it overlays the U.S. experience in creating Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs).  

As Sebastian points out, the industry’s journey to innovation has sometimes taken a “me too!” approach and sometimes been a game of catch-up.  Fraught with false starts and occasionally going out on a limb, the Yellow Pages have been in the game from the beginning and continue to move ahead into new formats that were unimaginable as recently as 2003 (pre-Google IPO) . 

Reading this, it struck me that the industry’s transition is nothing less than amazing.  As the originators of local search over 100 years ago, our memories can be surprisingly short.  Those in the business back in the early 90s must remember the first attempts to recreate print Yellow Pages online -building IYPs page by page, facing difficulties with navigation and the philosophical discussions on consumer behavior.

Today, with YellowPages.com as an iPhone application and YPG’s foray into social media, things are changing faster than some believe. 

But still, he asks – are we moving fast enough? As the Google model begins to look aged and social media emerges as the next big breakthrough, the real question, Sebastian asks, is: “instead of doing incremental innovation, how do you leapfrog search engines?” 

He has laid out a few ideas of what the future might look like. 

I’d be interested to hear yours.

Google Outage Highlights Importance of Print Media

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yesterday, Google’s search and e-mail services were disrupted for about an hour and the world took notice.

This made me think about the misconception I often hear that no one uses print Yellow Pages anymore, and how a brief Google outage shows the importance of print media in our culture.

Yesterday’s event illustrates the fact that technology simply cannot be available to 100% of us 100 % of the time.  And for that reason, there are many people who need or might even prefer to use print media to find the information they’re seeking.

Several examples readily come to mind:

First of all, we can’t forget that there are still a large number of people who do not have 24-7 access to the Web.  And even for those who do, there are still going to be down times.  Maybe your power goes out, there’s an emergency, the DSL is down temporarily, or, yes, Google has a snafu.  Or perhaps you’re just not near the computer or iPhone.

And then there are the people who simply prefer to use print media.  It’s tangible.  You can touch it.  You can flip the pages, look at the display ads next to each other, write on it, circle things.  It offers a tactile experience that is different than online, and it’s very valuable.

Finally, there are the people who feel compelled to check multiple sources.  They do a Google search, they review their favorite Internet Yellow Pages site, they check their local Yellow Pages directory, and maybe ask a few friends.  They use these sources in tandem to make an educated decision on a local business to patronize.

Now, obviously, our industry works with Google and other search engines.  They provide important services that benefit Yellow Pages companies and our customers.  For example, search engine results often display the Internet Yellow Pages listings of our small businesses advertisers.  So in that regard, we don’t want to see Google’s service interrupted.

But with many different types of “local searchers” out there, and a technology grid that just isn’t perfect, I think print has a lot of life in it.  That’s why Yellow Pages companies continue to deliver print products, even as we see double-digit growth in our Web and mobile offerings.

Tapping Twitter to Talk to Our Customers

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oprah tries Twitter and crowns Ashton Kutcher “king” of it. Everybody is crazy about Twitter. And as marketers, those of us in the local search industry should have our ear to the ground.So where exactly can we, as local search providers, jump in?

Check out my column on Search Engine Land to learn more about how we can apply Twitter to what we do.

For one, we can use these tools to promote our own offerings. Like any other business, we can tap Twitter to engage with our potential customers, our advertisers. Timely tweets can inform our advertisers of product enhancements, special pricing, and other news. Additionally, we can use this channel to give our industry a voice and build alliances with both colleagues and competitors. It’s really just another tool to add to the 21st century business toolbox.

Another easy way to bring this technology into our day-to-day operations is to offer the space for savvy small businesses who have embraced microblogging. We can add new fields within our listings so that our advertisers can list their Twitter pages the same way they include their Web sites. In this way, we’re truly providing the 411 for today’s small business owners.

Yellow Pages Group in Canada is a good example of a company in our industry using Twitter effectively.  Take a look.

MSN City Guides Redesigned With Prominent YellowPages.com Exposure

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greg Sterling posted some screenshots of the redesigned MSN City Guides pages, and his initial review is positive:

Without doing lots of searches and checking out all the new functionality it appears to be a big improvement. Local ads are from Yellowpages.com and events information comes from Zvents. There are also reviews from Yelp prominently featured on profile pages.

It certainly is an interesting mix of local information coming together, which could help MSN City Guides compete against competitor CitySearch. CitySearch also launched a redesign of its site last fall.

Kindle DX and Other Large-Screen Portables Offer New Opportunities for Yellow Pages

Friday, May 8, 2009

I think it’s fair to say that the newspaper industry held its breath for a few moments this week as Amazon unveiled the Kindle DX, an oversized version of its portable electronic book reader.

Many are going so far as to say that the Kindle DX will be the savior of newspapers, just as the smaller Kindle is breathing new life into book publishing.

Right now, there are many limitations on Kindle devices that prevent it from being a versatile local search tool. But change is on the way.

Rumors are swirling about a new netbook from Apple, something possibly like an oversized iPod Touch in collaboration with Verizon. Meanwhile, Microsoft will be releasing the ZuneBook, a portable Windows 7 mobile device.

These new entries from Apple and Microsoft will add even more flexibility, with color displays and a host of features and applications.

Consumers are already using local search tools right from their mobile devices. But the new level of sophistication these portable devices will offer is sure to change the local search industry – again.

I can certainly imagine, for example, full versions of our print directories appearing on the Kindle DX, or ZuneBook, or the unannounced Apple device. I’m not sure yet what this looks like, or how it works, but the possibilities seem endless to me.

Electronic full-page layouts, instant updates, full-color display ads, convenient cross referencing options, and flexible search features … all of these could be part of a Yellow Pages portable device offering.

Let’s get creative. What do you think the Yellow Pages industry could do with this next generation of devices? I’d love to hear your thoughts.