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  4. > The Directory Assistance Experience: Marketing as a Service

The Directory Assistance Experience: Marketing as a Service

  • December 2013
  • -
  • Frost & Sullivan
  • -
  • 20 pages

Summary

Table of Contents

This report explores the directory publishing business in North America. In particular, it examines the impact of new modalities for directory access that present the best new opportunities for directory publishers.

Executive Summary

The news is bleak: directory publishing is a declining business. By some estimates, the directory publishing market has lost nearly percent of its revenue in the last five years. Consumers are increasingly turning to mobile search and online tools to do both number and business lookups.
It gets even worse when the tone of public policy is factored in. Public policy has turned against print directories. Representative of this tone, municipalities, worried about the impact of thousands of obsolete directories gumming up landfills, are enacting laws that make recycling mandatory. There are even areas where a new print directory must be requested; otherwise a new one cannot be delivered.

Consumers are speaking, and what they are saying is that they no longer want a five pound book dropped on their doorsteps once a year. In fact, they especially don’t want multiple competing tomes dropped on their doorsteps. Even popular niches, such as small community directories, are beginning to be transferred directly from the front porch to the trash can.

Why? The reason is convenience: it is far simpler to use a smartphone, tablet or PC to quickly look for business listings. And it is probably more up to date, as well as easier to understand and read. After all, consumers cannot increase the font size on a print directory. The future, it seems, belongs to the Web; both for local search and number lookup.

The end is near, it appears. But is it?
Arguably, directory publishers know more about connecting small business to local search than anyone; even mega-search sites like Google. Additionally, directory publishers actually have boots on the ground, with large sales forces and marketing professionals that are able to assist businesses in constructing integrated marketing campaigns.

So, the question is, are directory publishers just directory publishers or are they actually selling marketing on demand? In other words, are they are commodity vendors of want ad listings or are they service providers, with vast experience and deep pockets?

The answer to this question largely depends on the players themselves. Once upon a time, the railroads mistakenly believed that their business was to run trains on schedule, and overlooked the fact that they were really in the transportation business; then, airlines came along and nearly destroyed passenger rail service. Directory publishers are in the same situation now: they print directories, to be sure; but they are actually in the business of providing marketing as an on-demand service. Armed with the new technologies for mobile search, they can again become dominant in the consumer space. The question is, will they?

Introduction

There is a certain nostalgia for the Yellow Pages. Although most homes have at least one copy in a kitchen closet, the bet is that mostly it is collecting dust. For any nominally connected consumer, the print directory is simply too much trouble to find and use routinely. There is also the question of whether the directory can be up to date when it is only published annually.

Market metrics reflect this ambivalence towards the print directory. Estimates by various analysts and market participants themselves show up to 70 percent declines in revenue since 2008. This decline, in fact, is more than the similar decline in conventional voice telephony: consumers, it seems, are “cutting the cord” of directory assistance. At the very least, they are shaving the paper.

The news, then, seems bleak for directory publishers—and they know it. That is why every directory publisher also has a Web presence. Although late to the party, they all know that people are increasingly turning to the Internet for their local search needs. Unfortunately, for the publishers, a simple browser is generally as capable as any online directory, and is easier to find.

So, is the value a directory brings to retailers just the exposure, whether it be in the directory or on the Web? Or is it the marketing expertise that a directory publisher provides to retailers; some of whom cannot afford other types of marketing? Increasingly, the answer is the latter, rather than the former.
Nevertheless, directory publishers—especially those that are closely aligned with network operators—have opportunities that search engine providers do not. There are opportunities to deliver new forms of directory access over such consumer points of presence as the home television and new mobile devices such as heads-up displays.

This report explores the directory publishing business in North America. In particular, it examines the impact of new modalities for directory access that present the best new opportunities for directory publishers.

Ambivalence and Ambiguity

A discussion of directory publishing begins with the consumer. What do consumers want? How do they use a particular product or service?
In the case of directories, Stratecast has been especially interested in consumer preferences. Largely, this is due to the fact that, as communication service offerings go, directory publishing is not usually considered among the quad play services (voice, video, data and wireless), yet it generates a substantial amount of revenue for carriers. Also, unlike the other services, directories are actually tangible: they are not virtual, but are substantial documents that are traditionally issued once a year. As a consequence, it seems reasonable to determine how consumers utilize them.

When asked whether they use printed directories, the results are confirming but disheartening to directory publishers. Nearly half of all respondents indicate that they never use directories. Of the balance, a quarter of respondents use a directory only about once a year.

Since directory advertising sales depend on directories being useful to consumers, this would seem to indicate the opposite. Only about one percent of the respondents indicate that they use directories more frequently than once a week.

However, these survey results do not mean that people don’t use directories. In fact, when communication service subscribers are asked how they access directory services, as Figure 2 below illustrates, the answer is revealing.

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