Editors Corner –BIA/Kelsey DMS ’10 (Kelsey) Review

The BIA/Kelsey (Kelsey) Directional Media Strategies 2010 Conference in Dallas was held last week, another solid effort in both execution and content for the BIA/Kelsey folks.

While there are any number of places you can go to read more detailed reviews (Kelsey Blog, YPA, and Search Engine Land), this effort is intended to offer some high level observations you probably won’t find anywhere else.

If there was one theme that dominated the conference, it was the overweighed discussion of the emerging/developing digital and mobile platforms which will supposedly change the way we shop.  The Kelsey research presented showed that local businesses are now spending more advertising dollars on digital/online media than “traditional media”.  For example, Steve Marshall, Kelsey’s research director, shared results of the annual Local Commerce Monitor survey (up to 2009 as 2010 results are held for their clients) which indicated that advertisers are also increasingly “restless” as they try to adapt to a world where consumers now have a growing number of media choices they can now use to search for local products and services. In Q1 2010, consumers used 7.9 media sources when shopping locally, up from the 5.6 media sources used in Q1 2007— a pretty significant leap in just 3 years.  With all that said, I left many of the sessions with the feeling that this was still a lot of technology in search of a viable business market.  No doubt, the newer digital media will evolve.  The questions I still have are when and how far.

Here’s just one example:  Mike Wilson, the GM/VP of Digital Media for Yellow Book, demoed an iPad tablet application.  If you haven’t seen these iPad’s close up, they are really neat devices.  And while it is exciting to see a company like Yellow Book test an iPad apps which includes things like embedded video, links to local business websites, and the ability to contact a local business via Skype, how long will it be before a publisher can really significantly leverage the opportunity??

Kelsey conferences are notable (notorious?) for being the one conference where numerous future predictions are bantered about freely.  This conference was not different.  Here are several of their predictions with my thoughts following:

Under the main title of “By 2015”:

  • Most marketers will be at 50% or more of the revenues coming from digital – so it’s still going to take 5+ more years for digital revenue to catch up to print??  We all know how accurate long term predictions can be. Sounds to me like print has a lot of runway left to go
  • Some of the current publishers will be acquired/de-merged/seriously overhauled – probably going to be true if this economy keeps bumbling along.  The two that have been restructured already DEX One (aka RH Donnelley) and SuperMedia (aka Idearc) have already experienced significant price drops in their new, reissued stock already, and their debt loads while reduced, weren’t totally eliminated.  Even independent goliath Yellow Book parent Yell has been under a cloud since last year due to exceptional weak conditions in some of their other markets like Spain.
  • Business will be a leads based selling environment – hasn’t it always been that?  The only difference is the industry is now selling leads over a wider range of platforms.
  • Term “Yellow Pages” will be seldom used in their names, business descriptions or promotion efforts – unfortunately this is already evolving to be a true state.  And it’s the one that to me is incredibly short sighted.  Keep reading.

"Let your fingers do the walking"

Of course predictions of the demise of the Yellow Pages brand have been ongoing for years – here’s a more recent one – “Is Yellow Pages Becoming An Obsolete Concept?”.  The term “yellow pages” is as generic as “coke” or “Xerox”.  It’s perfectly understandable the future will most certain be a marketplace where multiple distribution channels will be available – print, online, mobile, and whatever will be the next new thing.  But to give up a brand identity as strong as “yellow pages” and even the walking fingers logo??  By doing this I think the industry cedes creditability to any new entry that has the deep pockets needed to establish a new brand identity.

Here’s a great example of what I mean by this – at this recent Kelsey event, a small number of suppliers rim the outside of the primary meet and greet areas (about 20 in total).  Of the 20 that were exhibiting at the conference, I could see only one (Acxiom) that was actually at the same conference just two years ago.  Net net:  we have lot of new start-ups with perhaps great technology or business models, but these are still products or services that will require any publisher to do a lot more education with potential users and advertisers.  If it was just called another type of “yellow pages” wouldn’t the discussion be jump started to the all important value conversation, and not the often long education process on exactly what it is you are selling, and why do I need it.

My final comment about the conference was that there was a noticeable lack of independent publishers on those panels where “experts” were discussing the current status or future of the industry.  I thought this a little strange as many of the independents are still showing positive market gains even in a tough economic client.  Perhaps they could have provided some real world success insights at a time when most media are struggled to match last year’s results and many of the larger industry publishers view a -10% campaign as the new positive.  For example, one speaker even acknowledged he knew absolutely nothing about the industry.  You can imagine I was really excited to hear what earth shaking comments he was going to offer.  Instead, after hearing that it seemed like a good time to get a coffee refill.

And lastly a great job shout-out to the Kelsey staff for putting together another great event.

Look for more about the print environmental issues discussed at the conference in the next blog…..

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