Today’s Strategic Imperatives For Directory Publishers

Flick picture by disoculated

Yesterday, I gave an interview to the Globe & Mail about Canada’s Yellow Media / Yellow Pages Group, the incumbent directory publisher and my former employer (I worked there from 1999 to 2007). Even with the challenges they’re facing, I’m still a fan of the company (and of the industry in general) but the interview gave me the opportunity to put in writing what I think are the core strategic imperatives today for any directory publisher, not just Yellow Media. The list won’t surprise anyone in the industry but it’s always good to remind ourselves what they are.

  1. Change the culture. “Internet culture” must truly permeate every aspect of the organization. Concepts like speed of execution, innovation, quick iterations, coopetition, risk-taking, failing fast must become second nature (other people on Twitter & Google+ suggested “internet culture” also meant constant learning, openness, willingness to help each other out, adaptability to constant change, sharing, crowdsourcing, diversity, immediacy, learning, and expectation of access)
  2. The sales force. I believe the sales force is now the major asset of all directory publishers and this sales force needs to be able to sell print directory products as well as a variety of online products including third-party ones like Google AdWords or Facebook advertising. This means recruiting and training are critical success factors. I use to believe the brand was a major asset but not anymore.
  3. Reinvent the Print. I still believe print business directories have legs and they won’t die tomorrow (and by the way, stop it with “Yellow Pages are dead” please, nothing ever dies, it just becomes niche). Even I still use the neighborhood book once in a while. But the book needs to be reinvented to become more locally relevant, more about the consumer. As Francis Barker (SVP at Dex Media at the time) said in 2004 at a BIA/Kelsey conference, print books design should be influenced by online local search patterns/usage. I’ll add that they now should be influenced by mobile local search/discovery apps. On a related note, book distribution in apartment and office building should be improved to avoid the PR disaster pictures like this.
  4. Continue investing in the Web. Beef up your dev and product management team, invest in R&D, try things. Facebook has shown that you can continue innovating even when you have huge consumer usage and ad revenues.
  5. Focus on mobile.  The Web is extremely fragmented and some players like Google and Facebook have managed to capture gigantic market shares. There’s probably a bigger opportunity to support the franchise by focusing on mobile and launching various vertical apps. Directory publishers need to invest and build up their mobile team and technology.
  6. Get serious about social media. I’m obviously biased because of the work I’m doing on Needium, but the time for experiments in social media is over. This is serious business now both from a consumer and an advertiser point of view.

Am I forgetting anything?

6 thoughts on “Today’s Strategic Imperatives For Directory Publishers

  1. Since it was most probably for the business section of the paper, you might have skipped talking specifically about providing an API to the data, but if there is one area where YPG is shinning it’s this one.

    The Yellow API team has been doing a great job of providing data, monetization and developer/community support. Granted, it still just the tip of the iceberg and it’s (not yet) a profit driver, but it shows a lot of promises.

  2. Nice post and I fully agree with those points. I would had a couple that might be missing has I’ve been involved in this industry for several years as well:

    7. Become user & customer centric.
    The main problem for Yellow Page publishers is to switch from a product/sales centric organization to a user/customer centric one.
    This has not only an impact on the culture, as you mentioned, but also on the way the organization operates — from the management style to the business process. Big, big challenge…

    8. Go where the traction is.
    I’ve seen too many initiatives focusing on technology (like augmented reality) with lots of money spent there, but no or too little traction on the market. The money can be better spent, and it should begin with spending time listening to your users and clients.

    My 2cents.

  3. Nice post, #6 is still largely unproven though. I wish I agreed when you say it’s serious business, but I don’t know who is currently successful at extracting value from SMB at scale by providing social media… “services” (promotion? CRM?)
    Needium sounds super exciting, maybe you guys found the model, but unless you or another smart Social-Media-for-SMB startup scale to the size of a YP (in revenue), I’m still unsure that there much $$ there. My opinion is, social media is fundamentally not for lead gen, and YP biz are lead gen biz. Should YP start selling relationship/loyalty/retention services, I don’t even know if they could make more money by selling Social Media Management stuff rather than simply email marketing services or a simple CRM software to their client base…

  4. Good points. The YP industry has the pulse of small businesses and an opportunity to sell to them, but they too often fail to embrace or allow reps to cannibalize print to artificially inflate internet sales. As an alternative to reinventing print in based on internet trends, there are opportunities to target the unsaturated areas. We are seeing some growth in directories targeted toward home services that may not be used frequently but have a higher dollar value per lead.

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