As Yellow Pages companies gather for the final day of our annual conference, a significant focus of the discussion is on opportunities in the digital domain – particularly social media. In his general session speech this morning, Local Matters CEO Mat Strover talked how publishers can partner and integrate with existing social networks to bring engaged consumers together and drive advertising revenue.
Earlier this year, we shared news that AT&T Interactive was in private beta-testing for its new local social search website, buzz.com. Many of our conference attendees have had the opportunity to experience buzz.com first-hand here in Las Vegas, and the reviews have been extremely positive.
So I’m happy to see AT&T’s announcement today that it is opening its early-beta buzz.com program to the public. According to the release, buzz.com will allow users to tap into their existing social networks to discover, share, and store recommendations for great local businesses. The site offers users a personalized version of local search, based on word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know and trust.
Favorite: Users can “heart” their favorite local businesses and build a personal list of favorites, as well as add comments and tags so that friends know why they like it.
Search: Users searching on the site can see how many of their friends, friends of friends, or buzz.com members have “faved” each spot.
Ask and Answer: Users can ask their friends questions on buzz.com or their favorite social network, such as Facebook. And whether their friends answer on buzz or their Facebook wall, users can read, reply and revisit the recommendations later.
In addition to the online site, buzz.com is accessible at m.buzz.com on smartphones, and users can track updates by following “buzzdotcom” on Facebook and Twitter.
In a thought-provoking address this morning, Mat Stover, CEO Local Matters, gave his decree on what he called “the bottom line on social”: The future of the Yellow Pages industry is all about relationships, and social media is the most powerful and efficient environment to build those relationships.
Stover argued that social media, more than any other communication platform available today, can build rich networks to engage customer, advertiser and internal relationships that lead to revenue and loyalty. Used internally, social media can also benefit quality, production, expertise and innovation in organizations, particularly when used as a sales force tool to increase collaboration, share information and best practices and follow leads.
Here are some eye-opening statistics shared in the session:
48% of the US population has a social media profile, and it’s not just young Americans: 64% of 25-34 year olds use social media and 51% of those age 35-44 have a profile
More people visit Facebook everyday than Google – and the gap is widening
27% visit search engines a few times a week, 26% visit social networking every day
30% of all Facebook users check the network when they wake up in the middle of the night
The average teenager texts more than 2,000 messages per month
93% of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media
52% of small businesses believe having a social media presence is important, but only 16% of them leverage social media
The data presents a pretty compelling argument and highlights some great opportunities for local search providers.
Taking a page from the social media playbook, Stover gave some tips as the industry continues its transformation. In his opinion, the successful media industry players of the future will absorb and enhance the best qualities that social media platforms offer today to users and advertisers:
Build loyalty by offering personalized content and value
Make it easy to bring friends along and share your experience
Make it a simple, efficient user experience that offers local insights
Don’t just wait for audiences to come to you – take content to the audience
Create widgets and tracking measures to evaluate value and impact
Make it easy for your network of users to add rich, unique content
The ladies of the YPA really look forward to the women’s networking reception each year at the annual conference, and this year’s gathering did not disappoint. Not only did the guests have a great occasion to network and hear updates from the women helping the industry to transform – but they were also treated to a fun and unexpected history lesson from Kimberli Lewis of Mediatel on the evolution of women’s purchasing power from the 18260 to present.
According to Lewis, women went from having no voice in their family’s day-to-day purchases the late 1800s to more voice in the 1920s during World War to becoming chief decision officers today – accounting for 85% of purchases.
“In Europe, our data shows us that three out of four women make the purchase in most households and 75% of those purchase are being made online,” she added.
Lewis argued that understanding the female approach to purchasing is a key to innovation.
“IYPs that integrate social media and brand-specific search functionality are essential,” she said. “They tap into two key insights: First, that 75% of online shoppers seek suggestions when making a purchase and second, that the average family mentions brands 90 times per week. This is the way consumers are operating and we need to adapt to that.”
Take notice, ladies: To better tap into the female purchasing cycle, Lewis suggested that more should be done to increase female executive leadership in the industry.
“If you want to know whether we are transforming, you have to ask who is leading the innovations in IYP platforms. Women make 85% of purchasing decisions – but represent only 18.2% of the CEOs in the industry globally.” An eye-opening number.
Special thanks are also owed to Lisa Mahoney of Century Interactive who led the annual raffle. A key prize among this year’s give-aways was a new iPad tablet… perfect to stay on top of the latest mobile innovations.
Dennis Fromholzer, President of CRM Associates presented his views on repositioning the Yellow Pages industry at the International Breakfast held at the YPA annual conference this morning.
He stressed that as we move from a product-focused mentally to a customer-focused mentality, ensuring relationships with our advertisers is absolutely paramount to our success. His opinion is that Sales is no longer an “operational efficiency,” but in today’s media environment requires that more time be spent with the advertiser. In addition Yellow Pages reps are required to have more business acumen and have a longer term focus on what the businesses’ needs are.
He went on to say that the Goal is to gain the advertiser’s confidence and trust and that will require a change in practices with respect to hiring, training and performance measurement.
Dr. Fromholzer also quoted some stats from his own metered ad data base that showed, based on 4,144 advertisers with same size ads in both 2008 and 2009, call counts actually rose 3%.
Jesper Karrabrink, CEO of Eniro rounded out today’s session with a video presentation made especially for “Transformers” after international air travel difficulties grounded him. Eniro has a global reputation for successfully transforming its business and Jesper shared insights with the audience on “transforming with a smile.” He spoke of transformation not as an option, but a requirement, emphasizing the transformations taking place at Eniro are not just about going from print to online, but represent at total transformation of the entire company. He also noted it was about “moving from print dependency to online opportunities.”
Eniro is focused on providing relevant search results, with Jesper noting that “those who can show the most relevant search results will be the true winner.” He showcased the search functionality on Eniro.se with an example for finding a hairdresser. They have taken their system to the next level, allowing consumers to not only search for the nearest salon, but to also input the date and time they are looking for the appointment, and actually closing the loop by allowing the consumer to book and confirm the appointment, all within the search.
Jesper acknowledged that these and other transformations take time, and require real investment in both the back-end systems and also in shaping the company’s culture to move forward in serving the needs of consumers in the way they think and search.
I caught up with Jeroen Coppelmans, VP Business Development for Spotzer Media Group, the Dutch-based advertising agency part owned by European Directories, here in Las Vegas to hear more about his company’s announcement today that it is launching an affordable websites creation tool for Yellow Pages advertisers.
Spotzer, which serves as a video partner for major Yellow Pages companies in 20 countries, will take its experience in video product management and apply it to the mass production of websites for local businesses. The company has partnered with Websplanet in creating a turnkey fulfillment solution for YP publishers, which includes content gathering, client support, copyrighting, photo and image provisions, as well as search-engine optimization and URL registrations and transfers features.
In a session chaired by BIA/Kelsey managing editorCharles Laughlin today at YPA 2010, a panel of CEOs sat down to discuss the state of the Yellow Pages industry and share thoughts on what changes are critical to ensure long-term success and growth.
A key to the future, said Laughlin, is acknowledging the change in the “consumer purchase funnel” – i.e. the consumer decision-making process that leads to a purchase decision. According to BIA/Kelsey data, in 2007, shoppers consulted 5.5 reference sources before buying. Today, they check 7.9 resources before making a purchase. How are Yellow Pages organizations staying relevant in this competitive environment?
Sensis CEO Bruce Akhurst thinks it all about “[finding] buyers for customers.” Answering the larger question about “what type of company are you, and where are we going?” he responded that: “Usage of our print products continues to be pretty much what it’s been for the last 5-6 years, so we’re not believers in the end of print. But at the same time, we are adding a range of products to ensure that we are providing leads to our customers – including from platforms those we don’t own. Our role is putting out our customers’ content on Google, Twitter, mobile and online to ensure that they are visible in all places where customers are going to find buyers.”
Speaking from a European perspective, Mediatel CEO KimberliLewis agreed that the core of her business is about delivering leads, but commented that Mediatel’s path to success has been about reinventing the sales model. “So we have no rate card any longer. We sell only packages. These packages provide a certain amount of leads … This is the direction we see our business going… This shift has margin implications, but we handle that by working more like the fast moving consumer goods market, prioritizing sales of high margin services, but providing product offerings to support all types of customers.”
From a systems perspective, Local Matters CEO Matt Stover commented that “the industry is up to the task, but different players in the industry… start at very different places… [One] approach is getting a better understanding of where each company is strategically, and what their priorities are… and then, what tools are needed to deliver the quality, speed, and interoperability they need to provide better service and drive down costs.” In Stover’s opinion, being built to last will depend on being more aggressive and building a sales force that understands social media and can use it to connect with their customers.
Berry CEO Scott Pomeroy suggested that it comes down to making a fundamental shift from B2C to B2B businesses. “In order to continue to provide consultancy to our customers and leverage the rich SMB relationships our industry is the historical beneficiary of, we need to acknowledge that yellow pages are no longer the sole lead generator and help local businesses crack the code on how to use those other 7.9 sources that their consumers are referencing before they buy.” But that change is not easy to realize – it takes time and a focus on training, said Pomeroy. In order to transform from product salesmen to SMB consultants, the channel needs to recognize that the goal is now to “listen more than we talk.”
On the question of increasing competition, Pomeroy added that ownership is not always best. “We can provide leads through a myriad of portals. We don’t have to own them. Honestly, I’d just as soon rather sell someone else’s platforms, because there will be some failure as things continue to evolve,” he added.