Apparently the best new idea at TechCrunch50 this year was a new way of finding Bob the Builder. The elevator pitch for the revolutionary and ultimately prize-winning RedBeacon web site went something like this.
“Simply type whatever service you’re looking for (be it plumber, gardener, or hair stylist), and the site will present a list of recommended service providers in your area.”
I know what you’re thinking: “Hang on isn’t this the Yellow Pages?” and, “Aren’t online directories a dime a dozen?” and also, “Hasn’t Google rendered business directories obsolete?” … “So what am I missing? Why all the excitement?”
The key word of course was referral. But let’s put those thoughts aside and rethink the opportunity. Let’s take a look at what the Yellow Pages could have become if the Strategic Planners of 1995 had been tasked with the BIG Problem of owning the future of business referrals.
- Step one was easy. All they had to do was put the Yellow Pages directory database online and they achieved that.
- Step two should have been to offer every listing in directory a Free “Yellow Pages” web page (e.g. Homestead). That would have allowed the customers to create their own web presence. This would have kept their customer’s close and added value to the relationship. A new revenue stream could have been created by offering customers the option to purchase an expansion package. Thereby extending their Yellow Pages branded web page into a tailored business web site . They should have also provided each business listing with an @yellowpages email address (e.g GMail or Hotmail). All this would have driven more business to their customers and added extra value to the Yellow Pages brand. Now, they could have done this in 1995, but let’s say this should have happened by no later than 2002. (By then the writing was well and truly on the wall for the online directories).
- Step 3 should have been to offer the email and personal web page to everyone listed in the White Pages. Again they could have done this in 1995 and it should have been in place by 2002.
- Step 4 should have been to allow business owners to enhance those DIY web sites with front office and back office eCommerce modules. They should also have provided traffic analytics. Plus online credit card and bill payment services. Again these could have been offered on a pay per plugin. This strategy could have been in place in 1998 and should have been in place no later than 2005.
- Step 5 should have been to introduce some type of referral, review or recommendation system into the network. Again this strategy could have been in place in 1998 and should have been in place no later than 2005.
- Step 6 should have been to expand the platform to include mobile phones messaging and browsing as part of the service. Again this could have been implemented as early as 1995 but let’s say it should have been in place no later than 2005.
Today, if they had done all this they would be profiting from an aggregated B2B and B2C transactions network. A “Walled Garden” that would allow them to not only charge for advertising in the directory but also collect fees for any transactions conducted across the directory network.
6 Degrees of Separation, and about 15 years, between being a Market Leader in Printed Directories to being the owner of a very profitable ”Whole of Market” eBusiness Transaction Hub.
Quite simple really. So why didn’t they do this? Good question.
I guess 20th Century Industrial Age strategic thinking and planning techniques just don’t cut it in a MobCon world… Certainly if you are just thinking about building a better search engine or online directory you are thinking about building a more intelligent node. What the Yellow Pages should have been thinking about was building a more intelligent business referral network. After all the network is the database? Right?
Could they still do this today? Of course they could. It would be relatively inexpensive to cobble together and integrate all the bits and pieces. After all, most of the eCommerce and web 2.0 technology required is probably at the “end of life cycle” stage.
The big plus factor of course is the Yellow Pages brand. There is still a lot of Brand Equity here than can be used as leverage with the SMEs and “Joe Public“.
The biggest barrier of course is simply the fact most of the potential customers already have a web site, an email address and an eCommerce solution. So they wouldn’t be able to charge businesses to join the network and they’d probably have to give away all the eCommerce plug-ins away for free as a hook.
They’d be building a B2B Facebook and hoping the Yellow Pages brand is a big enough magnet to draw a crowd.
Perhaps they could charge clients for branding their Yellow Pages web sites but the reality is the offering would look and feel “late to market”. More of a ME2 than an innovative “new to the market” offering. More a case of what should have been rather than a case of what could be.
So I guess they’ll just have to keep those printing presses rolling for a few more years and hope those strategic thinkers and planners can come up with some new and innovative ideas that will provide the Yellow Pages with a “Green” future.
After all, who knows what wonders the mobile web may bring.
Gomonews reports that AT&T believes mobile local search is the future of advertising.
YPmobile is the mobile version of AT&Ts on-line yellowpages service… Mobile click through rates are 2 to 3 times higher on mobile than online. And unsurprisingly, “call through” rates are 3 times higher… What are the most popular local searches? Banks, pharmacies, hotels, tires and pizzas.