Coming back from the EASDP congress in Toledo, it has never been clearer to me that the future of Yellow Pages is in helping small entreprise in all their online marketing and communication. Back then, the ad in the book was what the merchant needed. Now he needs more, and unless the Yellow Page publisher delivers it, he will disappear. The publisher, that is, not the merchant.
Although it was visible in the numbers of attendees that the yellow pages and business directories is in turmoil, the European Association of Search and Database Publishers still provides necessary insights, strong networking and remarkable events at as remarkable locations.
YP publishers need to update their role in helping merchants being visible for the local buyers. That update means becoming the trusted marketing agency that allows the merchant to focus on his core activity. Those who adopt the new role are successful. This is the future of Yellow Pages.
The most overwhelming insight – incontournable, the French would say – is that in the world of online local search, the everyday small business (SME in Europe, SMB in the US) looses its marbles. Its communication and marketing has become so complicated: online ads, adwords, social media, booking services, reviews, what have you. The average SME owner is not internet literate enough to keep track, let alone to exploit the online opportunities for his benefit. US industry expert and watcher Neal Polacek gave a most relevant practical example referring to his dentist.
Hence, the vast majority of merchants is not, hardly or – worse – badly present in the local search arena, the fastest growing area in advertising.
More marbles getting lost
At the same time, Yellow Pages publishers loose their marbles. Print revenues drop faster than the temperature between Toledo and Brussels on my Saturday return trip. Online income is doing well, but not enough to offset the debt the big publishers have built up over the years. In most European countries, online accounts for over 50% of total revenues, against 22% in the US, BIA/Kelsey told the conference.
And although listings and reviews and ads and social pages and all the other stuff is being used widely to generate all this online revenue, the average Yellow Pages publisher still considers himself as a contact information intermediary.
For whom wants to see it: the new role is an update of the old one. The old role being making the merchant visible to an audience of local buyers. That still is the mission. But the merchant needs more help to become visible. The ad in the book is not enough. Once a year is not enough. Constant online presence with testing of subsequent small campaigns and monitoring of results and measuring of conversion. That is what the merchant needs. But he hasn’t the expertise to do that. And when he has, he hasn’t the time, he has his focus on his business.
The online marketing partner
So some have taken up the new role: the marketing agency of the SME. Golden Pages Israel made the change four years ago, and included radio ads, billboards and whatever the SME might need or suit best.
From more than one discussion at the EASDP in Toledo, this message emerged: Yellow Pages need to be the total online service partner for their SMEs and merchants. One young conference participant spoke passionately about this new role they apply now. He left his YP employer four years ago and came back two years ago because he now is part of the new role.
Google has acquired the market of self-service ads. Yellow Page publishers on the other hand have sales teams in the streets. With them they can serve the SMEs much better, and in the process make a nice living out of it. The young sales team manager who came back to his YP employer is right. He embodies the future of Yellow Pages.
The EASDP has been a client of mine ever since 1996. In all these years that I put together the programmes of their spring conferences, I have witnessed the long path of change since the start of the internet. Never have I been more sure that there is a way out of the turmoil and into success.