Who are you calling “the lunatic fringe”?

I was privileged to be invited to speak on a panel at The Kelsey Group’s annual conference last week in Atlanta (Directional Media Strategies).  Since Kelsey Group is the number 1 worldwide ‘yellow pages’ analyst firm and this event is a barometer of the market it was a real treat to go along, to listen and participate.

With participants from all over the world from both ‘traditional’ yellow pages type companies and from newer competitors it was sure to be an interesting event, and it did not disappoint.  There was a lot of talk about how the traditional companies needed to change their sales model to compete with the new competitors, indeed one presenter saw it as a need to ‘change the conversation’ during the sales process, from one of cost to return on investment – sounds like sales-speak to me.

Another spoke proudly of how their sales reps were now called Media Executives (wow, that’s going to make a BIG change to my small business – not).

As might be expected the subject of user contributions (like reviews, and the wiki approach that Brownbook.net has adopted) also came up, and you might imagine my surprise when a senior figure of one large very successful established company stated that user generated content and user contribution just were not important to them. Wow, that seemed very closed-minded.

If all that didn’t surprise me enough I was stunned by another speaker’s dismissive attitude to the newer online competitors, when he described the “10 to 15% of people who are self provisioning” – in normal-speak that means small business owners like you or me who are self-servicing our marketing campaigns online, without the pain of a face to face sales presentation from some jazzed up sales person – as “the lunatic fringe”.  What??? Is he joking, talk about not seeing the wood for the trees, does he not realise that as successive generations get more and more web savvy we’ll all go that route.

In the panel on which I was involved I spoke about one piece of research that was presented – the result of some Kelsey research into what consumers wanted from IYPs.  They’d run a workshop with a number of consumers who’d used several of the leading websites to complete a number of search-based tasks, then they compared this with the results of a survey which was directed at their advisory services clients – basically search and YP industry execs – then they compared those with the conclusions of nine of their own analysts.  When I looked at the comparison between user feedback and industry execs feedback I saw a very interesting mismatch:

Factors rated as important by industry execs
#1 Ability to get additional info on businesses
#2 Access to useful maps and directions
#3 Depth of information provided
#4 Relevance of advertising
#5 Availability of additional information
#6 Usefulness of ratings and reviews
#7 Quantity of ratings/reviews
#8 Ability to tell which results are sponsored

Factors rated as important by a user panel
#1 Ease of starting search
#2 Ease of navigating site
#3 Accuracy of results
#4 Overall layout/organization
#5 Ability to refine search
*** none of the above even featured in the industry list ***
#6 Ability to get additional info on businesses (rated #1 by industry figures)
#7 Access to useful maps and directions (rated #2 by industry figures)
#8 Ability to sort search results (did not feature in industry list)
#9 Depth of information provided (#3 for industry figures)
#10 Ability to tell which results are sponsored (#8 for industry figures)
#11 Quality of help function (did not feature in industry list)
#12 Availability of additional information (#5 for industry figures)
#13 Usefulness of ratings and reviews (#6 for industry figures)
#14 Relevance of advertising (#4 for industry figures)

Funny how not one the users’ top 5 wants even featured in the industry execs list.

Highlights for me were meeting some great people from the industry, many very forward thinking despite the stunners I have noted above.  Catching up face to face with some people I’d only spoken to by phone, email or Skype.  Also meeting the chaps at Kelsey, all extremely knowledgeable about their sector, seeing the great presentations from Kelsey and following some very well moderated panels.

All in all a GREAT event, informative, surprising in some ways, well attended and well put together.