Editors Corner — Yellow Page Industry Strategic Predictions for 2012

New Year’s is always a traditional time to sit back and reflect on what was and what will be.  It’s also the time of year where pundits feel compelled to offer their predictions for the coming year.  I’ve always thought this process to be a bit silly as they have no real impact on actual business strategies, and usually are just meant for a couple of minutes of shock value. 

So let’s tweak the process a little to offer some more strategic predictions on several key macro areas that I think should be the focus for successful companies in 2012 in the Yellow Page industry – suppliers, publishers, and CMRs alike.  I believe it comes down to these five basic things.

1.  Be sure to know where you are starting from

To know where you are going, you need to start with exactly where are we.  Looking back, it seemed to me that 2011 was both one of the most difficult and most rewarding years I’ve witnessed for this industry in some time.  Why so difficult?   Businesses of all sizes spent 2012 hunkered down, frustrated and skeptical about where the economy was going.  If something had to be cut, rightfully or wrongly, it was usually the advertising budget.  At the other end of the spectrum, consumers watched every penny to stay afloat, so by definition, they were doing less shopping and being more deliberate, doing more detailed research when they are ready to buy. 

Why so rewarding?  Because I also think some reality finally set in.  Online and mobile technology has wonderful potential for the future.  But it doesn’t come to life without comprehensive, accurate, and timely local data.  Who has the most complete set of that data now?  Not Google.  It’s the publishers.  And with each sales call, they can build a more and more detailed database.  As publishers rediscover that they have a database of incredible, unique core data, many of them will begin to address how they can leverage those assets, independent of getting too hung up on platform. 

A “Yellow Pages” can be in a book format, something running on your mobile phone, or searched online.  But at its most basic element, it’s all about the data, not the delivery mechanism.  I believe that is the starting point that the industry seems to have lost in its pursuit of new revenue streams.  No one, no other media industry, has a source like this.

2.  People – who’s rowing the boat?

Over the holidays I got to visit Asia and made a little detour to visit a major publisher there.  Their number one business issue?  Not the migration from print to digital products.  People.  Finding people who can sell in a solution provider mode, not just take orders.  That sentiment has been echoed across the globe with every company I’ve talked to.  Merge that with a very unhappy workplace where different HR experts have indicated that upwards of 40+% of your team is ready to bolt immediately should the job market improve, and you have the makings of a huge mess.

Right now, there isn’t a lot of positive energy in many companies in this industry.  Case in point is a major publishers like Dex One talking about changing out up to two-thirds of their entire team. To be successful, all companies in the industry, especially publishers, will need to find a way to identify, recruit, and compensate their people, especially their sales teams, in 2012.  It will be an uphill battle.

We’ll have a lot more on this in a coming article.

 

3.   Products – and your strategy is??

One easy prediction to make is that this year the economy will be better than the last few.  All kinds of opportunities are out there. But for which products?? 

Some macro level info to start from:  experts believe that weighed down by flat incomes and slow job creation; there is little chance that U.S. consumers will increase spending significantly this year.  One recent projection was a forecast for 2% growth in consumer spending in the first half of the year, compared with the estimated 3.6% increase in the fourth quarter of 2011.  But when those consumers are ready to spend, they will need that high quality local business information that only this industry can provide.

You’ve all heard that everything digital will be the rage again next year.  Digital advertising will make up more than 20% of all ad spending in 2012 and will account for half of all growth, predicts ZenithOptimedia.  In the Yellow Pages world, the BIA/Kelsey and Simba groups are both suggesting that 2011 will see a slower decrease in print revenues and a faster increase in digital revenues, but with print still being the predominant revenue generator at this point.

What keeps print going??  Things like natural disasters help.  And disasters will again occur in 2012.  For example, this past October, when an unseasonal snowstorm hit the Northeast from New Jersey to Maine, call tracking supplier Telmetrics found that local consumers flocked to their phone books to find a wide variety of important business services.  Call volumes shot up more than 18% across the region as a result of the storm, with Connecticut seeing a nearly 47% increase.  

This is another theme we will cover in future articles.  Yes, you need to be in digital, but it’s not time to give up on print yet.  Remember, it’s just another delivery mechanism.

 

4.  “Show me the money value…” – Value and service as the new differentiator

During my holiday travels I had the occasion to experience both US and international airlines.  It wasn’t even a fair comparison.  On the international flights, the carrier did a lot of little things to impress me and express how much they wanted my future business:  things like provided eyeshades, ear plugs, even a spare toothbrush, while managing to keep my wine glass full the entire time.  Domestically, it was get your rear end in the seat, here’s a bag of peanuts, and give me your wallet so we can gouge you for each piece of luggage checked.  When I have the need to fly next, which type of airline do you think I will use?  And given it was their peak season, why wouldn’t they hand out free cookies or something just to pretend they are happy tp have your business, that they want the whole experience with them to be pleasurable, and to have you back again soon?  Nope.  They didn’t even try.

Given that all advertising expenditures will be tight this year, and that publishers will be providing a wide smorgasbord of products, what will differentiate them from the 30 other guys walking in the door trying to get that small business to spend their advertising money?  Simply said it will be the one that can demonstrate the true value of their product, value seen from the eyes of the recipient not the provider, and then execute on what they promise.  You have to be able to justify why that business should be spending money with your company.  You need to find something they aren’t doing in their current ad program that will help generate more business contacts for them.

Keep in mind that our customers now have a choice.  They can remain our happy and loyal customers, because we’ve exceeded their expectations.  Or they can become our competitors’ customers because our competitors have exceeded expectations — while we haven’t.

 

5.  Planning is nice, but you need to execute your strategy.

Strategy and planning are important, very important.  A totally necessary component for success.  But strategy without execution is useless if nothing ever happens.  Execute!

If you are managing a team, you need to get your troops engaged in the plan.  Engaged people are not interested in leaving.  And they also aren’t afraid of tomorrow — they’re not afraid of change.  Engaged people try harder, do more.  They’re anxious to move, to succeed.  Their energy is infectious.  They’re the positive face of your brand and your company.  They’re your company’s most valuable ambassadors.  They’re the secret weapon for success as they execute your strategy.  Are you doing everything you can to get them engaged?

Also, let’s get personalWhat’s with you next year? How will you be better as a person and at what you do for a living? What will make you better?  Where is your focus? This is another area we will be writing on in 2012.

 

Welcome to 2012.  Put on your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride…

 

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