A Look at the New YP.com Print Advertising Campaign

YellowPages.com has recently rebranded to YP.com and it looks like they have started to promote the new brand in print publications. I found a full-page ad in the latest print issue of Entertainment Weekly. The magazine covers everything related to entertainment (movies, television, DVDs, music, videogames, etc.) in the United States. You can see their 2010 media kit here.

As the YP.com launch press release stated, “This new brand will be the focus of a multi-media national ad campaign, “Click Less. Live More,” to debut this month. Produced by San Francisco-based Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners, the campaign is based on the foundation that the YP brand knows that there is something bigger than just the words that are typed into a search bar. With the YP brand, consumers can experience more, do more and ultimately live more locally. ”

The ad copy in the Entertainment Weekly ad reads “YP believes in the power of rock ‘n’ roll” with a shot of a crowd at a concert. A search brick pre-filled with “Concert Tickets” in the what field and “St. Louis, MO” in the where field appears at the bottom of the ad.

Additional elements include:

  • The YP.com logo along with the new tagline “Click less. Live more.”
  • A “The new YellowPages.com” line to let people know of the brand change
  • A communication line located below the search brick “Fewer clicks to local search, reviews, maps and tickets”
  • An invitation to try YP.com on mobile “Use YP.com on your mobile”

I had a couple of reactions to the ad. The first is more of an insider reaction. The choice of St. Louis in the “where” field is amusing because it’s where AT&T Advertising Solutions (who manage the AT&T Yellow Pages and owner of YP.com) head office is located.

The second was about the choice of query terms. “Concert tickets” is not an easy category because it’s time sensitive and it’s dominated by a few huge players like Ticketmaster. My search results expectations were as follow:

  • I was expecting to see Ticketmaster close to the top in the listings.
  • I was expecting a list of ticketed shows happening in St. Louis today.

Here is a screenshot of the results I saw (you can also see the actual search results on the site here):

  • Ticketmaster is listing number 14 (way below the fold). They also appear in the “Sponsored Web Results for Saint Louis Concert Tickets” section on the right-hand side.
  • I don’t see a list of today’s St.Louis events (so, no instant gratification). There is a Zvents box on top of the results (good idea!) but I have to do the same search again (bad idea).
  • The first results are very relevant (the first three are St Louis Rams Ticket Office, St Louis Symphony Orchestra, St Louis Blues Hockey Club) but I still wish I would see related events attached to these listings.
  • There’s a few non-relevant travel agencies at the bottom of the results page (starting with result number 20) but they don’t impact too much the relevancy of the results.

What it means: here’s what happened. The product team focused on the “what” and the “where” (which is the bread and butter of directory publishers) but they forgot about the “when”. I blogged about the “when” a few months ago. It’s a direct consequence of the real-time Web and it will be the next big tsunami to hit the Internet. The “when” can be concert tickets but it can also be “specials” and “daily deals”. With many directory publishers entering the group buying space, they all will need to get better at embracing the “when” in their main search results.

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AT&T Advertising Solutions 2Q 2009 Results: Operating Revenues Down 12.5%, Income Down 27.5%

AT&T released their second quarter 2009 results yesterday morning. Like Greg Sterling did, I had to dig down in the Statements of Segment Income (excel) document to find detailed information about their directory business. No information was directly provided in the press release.

Directory operating revenues were down 12.5% in Q2 2009 (vs. the quarter one year ago) at $1,231 million and segment income was down 27.5% (also vs. Q2 2008) at $314 million. No online advertising data was provided.

AT&T Yellow Pages Q2 2009 results 

In related news this week,

  • Yahoo! announced a partnership with AT&T Interactive (read YellowPages.com) to start selling Yahoo! local display ads to Yellow Pages advertisers. As the release says, “The agreement between AT&T Interactive and Yahoo! is the latest addition to the longstanding strategic relationship between AT&T and Yahoo!, which runs across many Yahoo! products and services, including portal and mobile services, as well as powering Yahoo! Local with advertiser content from YellowPages.com.”
  • YellowPages.com introduced a new version of YP.com, the URL they acquired from Livedeal late last year. They’re experimenting with a more user-focused online directory site there, but nothing ground-breaking yet.
  • Finally, in a strange and ironic twist of editorial fate, the Yahoo! Small Business blog was explaining to its readers yesterday “When to Pull the Plug on Yellow Pages Advertising“. Bad timing guys!

Why Social Media is Not Just About Merchant Reviews

Merchant review functionalities and sites are all the rage currently in the Yellow Pages industry. In the last 2 months, amongst others, we have seen:

  1. Truvo launch their own social site under the Truvo.com URL
  2. Eniro launch a beta social site under the Rejta.se URL
  3. AT&T Interactive announce the launch later this year of a social Yellow Pages site under a different brand than YellowPages.com
  4. Herold, the Austrian directory publisher, make an investment in Tupalo, a Yelp-like destination site.
  5. Canpages, the independent Canadian directory publisher, acquire assets from ZipLocal, a Canadian merchant review site.

Often called Social Yellow Pages sites, the biggest representatives of that category are Yelp (US, UK, Canada) and Qype (most of Western Europe). Both are independent, venture-funded companies. As of June 2009, more than 22 million people had visited Yelp in the past 30 days according to published internal numbers. Yelp users had written over 6 million local reviews. Qype had 9M+ unique users in May 2009 (+350% in 12 months) and 1M+ reviews.

Impressive usage numbers but an important challenge remains for these sites: monetization. For example, even though Yelp has been extremely successful from a user point of view, revenues are still low in proportion. Articles from 16 months ago mentioned Yelp’s revenues were “rumored to be sub $10 million/year” (I discussed Yelp’s monetization strategy here.)

On the other side, directory publishers, even though they’ve had for the longest-time advertiser-focused web sites, have been extremely good at generating revenues out of their web sites. For example, Yellow Pages Group (Canada) generated $C 247 million in online revenues in 2008. Over the same period, Pages Jaunes Groupe (France) achieved 471 million euros in online revenues. In the US, Yellowbook’s online revenues were up a spectacular 97.5% to $US 227 million in the last fiscal year.

Why is that? Yes, we could obviously underline the fact that these publishers represent trusted media brands, that they have large sales forces and that regular merchant contacts all play a big role in their financial success. But I would posit the moment in the consumer purchase decision process when online directories are used plays a bigger role in monetization potential.  Looking at the traditional decision process (see diagram below), online directories are clearly used when consumers are doing information search and evaluation of alternatives. Consumer reviews only happen at the end of the whole decision process, at post-purchase evaluation. Consumers will obviously look at past reviews as a proxy when doing information search but I don’t think it’s as attractive a real estate for advertisers.

buying_decision_process

Figure: Consumer Purchase Decision Process (source: Tutor2U)

I’m definitely not saying consumer reviews are useless from a strategic point of view. Consumers love to provide feedback and they love to read comments on merchants to make up their mind. I’m saying directory publishers should see reviews as one of the elements on which they build their social media strategy and one that happens at the end of the purchase cycle. It should be integrated within a more complete social media consumer purchase decision process strategy.

The filter of the consumer purchase decision process is very powerful to see who’s competing against you and to identify opportunities. Google, for instance, is clearly used by consumers when they do information search and comparing alternatives. This explains why the search giant from Mountain View is perceived as a serious threat by most directory publishers.

Enter Twitter and Facebook, the new juggernauts of the real-time conversation and real-time search world. Where do they fit in that purchase decision process? They’re definitely used for information search as well. If you search on Twitter for “Can anyone recommend” or “Looking for“, you’ll see that, every day on Twitter, thousands of people are asking for recommendations and advice. That’s why, by the way, we implemented a social media broadcast mechanism in our Praized-powered Local Answers module (used here by Yellow Pages Group in Canada) to send consumer requests to Twitter and Facebook. But I think what’s even more powerful with this new real-time conversation world is the fact that people are now actually expressing needs to the world. More than 100 people per day on Twitter say:

All these consumers are facing major life events (or know someone that are facing one) and are amazing advertiser leads for any publishers that can corral them. Consumers now want to express their needs/problems and have people/companies come to them with solutions. As I expressed in my “I have seen the future of local media” blog post, this is a new and important consumer behavior online. That’s why I believe every local media publisher will be introducing locally-relevant real-time conversation and real-time search tools within their Web sites in the next three years. That’s why I believe social media lead generation, customer and reputation management tools will become more prevalent in the next few years. That’s why publishers will introduce social ratings/reviews functionality to allow consumers to close the purchase loop after expressing needs and shopping for options. But be aware that Twitter and Facebook will certainly go after this market. This is probably the biggest opportunity directory publishers have seen since the arrival of the world wide web but it needs to be a complete strategy. Merchant reviews alone do not make a social strategy.

AT&T to Launch New Social Yellow Pages Site

According to this Forbes.com article, AT&T is preparing to launch a social Yellow Pages site to compete against Yelp and likes.

Later this year, AT&T plans to roll out an alternative brand for local search, geared primarily at younger users. The site will feature the same core data–listings and advertiser information–as Yellowpages.com, but differ in how it presents information and how it uses user-submitted information. While Yellowpages.com returns data based on advertisers’ profiles, similar to a directory, the new site will prioritize results based on a user’s social connections and recommendations, says Yoo.

On this new site, a search for a sushi restaurant could pull suggestions from a broad group of friends. A more targeted query, such as one for a pediatric dentist, would be handled differently. Rather than search a user’s entire social network, the site would only provide recommendations from friends and relatives who currently have kids.

What it means: As David Yoo,chief product officer for AT&T Interactive, says in the article, they’ve realized that the Yellow Pages brand appeals to older consumers (Yoo calls them “professionals in their late 30s or older”) but that they need another brand to maintain their relevancy with a younger crowd. They also need a “play” to compete against Yelp who has managed to capture a good share of mind and usage in some of AT&T’s major markets (like San Francisco). It’s not always obvious to launch a new brand but I think it’s becoming more and more evident that it’s needed.

AT&T's Directory Operating Revenues Down 10% in Q1 2009

via the official press release found on Yahoo! Finance.

AT&T Inc.  today reported first-quarter results highlighted by improved postpaid wireless growth with a substantial step up in integrated device penetration, double-digit increases in revenues from IP-based and strategic business services, and further AT&T U-verse TV subscriber gains. Advances in these areas and solid cost management largely offset continuing economic pressures on consumers and businesses.

AT&T’s first-quarter revenues totaled $30.6 billion, net income attributable to AT&T was $3.1 billion, diluted earnings per share totaled $0.53 and cash from operating activities totaled $7.9 billion.

What it means: you have to read through the whole release to find specific directory publishing data in the AT&T Q1 2009 results but once you find it, you see that Yellow Pages operating revenues in Q1 were at $1.249 billion, down 10.7% from Q1 2008. At a quick glance, no other information related to that side of the business can be extracted. I’ll try to listen to the analyst call.

AT&T's Directory Operating Revenues Down 10% in Q1 2009

via the official press release found on Yahoo! Finance.

AT&T Inc.  today reported first-quarter results highlighted by improved postpaid wireless growth with a substantial step up in integrated device penetration, double-digit increases in revenues from IP-based and strategic business services, and further AT&T U-verse TV subscriber gains. Advances in these areas and solid cost management largely offset continuing economic pressures on consumers and businesses.

AT&T’s first-quarter revenues totaled $30.6 billion, net income attributable to AT&T was $3.1 billion, diluted earnings per share totaled $0.53 and cash from operating activities totaled $7.9 billion.

What it means: you have to read through the whole release to find specific directory publishing data in the AT&T Q1 2009 results but once you find it, you see that Yellow Pages operating revenues in Q1 were at $1.249 billion, down 10.7% from Q1 2008. At a quick glance, no other information related to that side of the business can be extracted. I’ll try to listen to the analyst call.

Om Malik Says "Yahoo! Should Buy Hulu". It Won't Happen and Here's Why.

Om Malik surprised me today by suggesting [praized subtype=”small” pid=”4ba3024afad224aed466c0367141ce59″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] should buy [praized subtype=”small” pid=”b4e172b2799ee9f440309b3b6454633c” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], the joint venture video portal of NBC Universal and News Corp.  The company was founded in 2007 to create a destination site to present content from TV networks and was a response to the meteoric rise of YouTube.

Malik comes to that conclusion while thinking about the need for a solid number 2 exec at Yahoo! now that they’ve named Carol Bartz as their new CEO. He thinks Jason Kilar, Hulu’s young CEO, is a natural for that role and he suggests Yahoo! buys them.

He says: “With his service growing by leaps and bounds, and advertisers lining up to get on board, Kilar’s only problem is that he doesn’t have enough traffic –- like, say, YouTube. That will change over a period of time; and as we all know, time is an elastic concept. Perhaps this is where Yahoo can help. Or rather, where the two can help each other. Clearly search and search advertising isn’t quite working out for Yahoo; what Yahoo knows best is media and content. Which is why buying Hulu would be a strategically relevant acquisition for the company — it would play to Yahoo’s media strengths.”

He adds to explain why NBC and News Corp. would sell: “You’re probably thinking, why would Fox and GE sell their pet project to Yahoo? Well, why not? After all, they took a $100 million investment from Providence Equity Partners, which means they have an interest in making some sort of a return on this company.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Hulu is one of the core elements of NBCu and News Corp online video strategy.  They were ridiculed when it was first announced (Techcrunch called it Clown Co., they’ve changed their minds since then) but they proved everybody wrong.  Most people thought a joint venture between traditional media companies would fail, that the user experience would be bad, that no one would use it. According to this article, in September 2008, they streamed 142 million videos, a 42% month over month increase. It’s growing fast and on the verge of becoming a major player online. Selling Hulu to Yahoo! would be like AT&T selling YellowPages.com to Google. Won’t happen, nope. Don’t even think about it. As for return on investment, expect an IPO in a couple of years, not a sale.

And Hulu!  We want access in Canada!