The future

An interesting quote that i received by email today:

“The successful companies in the local space will have organic traffic, unique distribution, self-service products, direct access to merchant budgets and low-cost burn rates, she said. Meanwhile, companies that overly rely on search engine marketing, have high sales costs and churn rates, and require major rounds of funding will struggle.”

I’ve omitted the source to protect the innocent 😉

The long term life expectancy of the print Yellow Pages…

Kelsey Group (Kelsey Group is the leading provider of strategic research and analysis, data and competitive metrics on Yellow Pages, electronic directories, local search, SMB advertising and local media) run a group on

linkedinLinked In where I saw the following question today:
What is the long term life expectancy of the print Yellow Pages. Please state your opinion in years and facts that promted you to come up with that conclusion.
So I felt compelled to respond:

Two thoughts for the group:

1. I use Twitter (http://twitter.com/marc_lyne) and Tweet Beep (http://tweetbeep.com/) to hear all the comments that are made about Yellow Pages. I would say that 95% of the comments are about the wastage they feel they are creating by taking the 4 thick directories that they have dropped on their door step each year and putting them straight in the bin. Irrespective of the fact the directory may be printed on recycled paper, they want to opt out and not receive them at all. The caveat on this comment being that Twitter users are heavily internet savvy, unlike other parts of the population. The ‘take out’ however is that this group is growing and they want choice.

2. When does advertising become information? And then at what point are people prepared to pay for advertising because it is information they want. This is a subtle twist in the new world we are living in. The old ways are no longer good enough, we all expect not to be sold to on a mass basis, we expect to seek, easily find, choose and then engage. Or alternatively to be targeted with products and services that meet our current requirements exactly eg the right brand, the right price, the right time, the right personal referral…

In conclusion what I am sure of is that Yellow Pages as they currently stand have no future unless they radically re-invent themselves. I am positive that there is still a place for a printed product, distributed to certain people promoting certain types of businesses in certain areas – almost on a personalized basis and possibly including additional types of information.

And regarding on-line, well I have to confess an interest here as I am one of the founders of www.brownbook.net, where we have turned the current ‘centrally produced, centrally sold’ YP model upside down – we encourage everyone to instantly edit our data, just like Wikipedia, and now we are rewarding people who contribute to Brownbook with 20% of the life time value of our customers. All our customers self-service and pay via Paypal. We have the benefit of no legacy cost model, no shareholders that are demanding a return to the halcyon days, no debt, and no highly profitable cash cow. We are pioneering a new way with really interactive, engaging and innovative products for businesses on a very low or no cost basis. This is where we see the future…

Important update for business owners

Hi guys

Important changes with your Brownbook.net listing – some things you’ll want to know

This update applies to all members that have claimed a business listing and have added one or both of the following promotions to your Brownbook business listing page:

  • Photo & Video Gallery
  • Detailed Text Description

We’ve made some improvements on these that you’ll want to know about.

Here’s why…
We’re always striving to improve Brownbook.net for all our members and users, and there are two major new Promotions we’ve launched:
1.    Customise my page (Customisable business page)

  • Drag and drop to re-order the basic information on your page to present your business more uniquely
  • Add external widgets
  • Re-use Brownbook.net features on your other website (eg your Brownbook.net reviews)

2.    Create my website (DIY business website creator)

  • Create a professional website in minutes, with photos, videos, maps, and more
  • No technical expertise required
  • Simple online website creator

How you’re affected…
The Customise my page promotion offers improvements over the Photo & Video Gallery and the Detailed Text Description you’ve previously had, so we’ve phased those out and migrated you to the new promotion (of course there is not charge for this).  We’ve moved all your photos, video, and text too so you don’t need to upload them again.

The improvements…
Previously – You had up to four slots for photos and videos, and you had no control over where or how they were displayed.
Now – You can have up to 99 photo and/or video ‘units’, and they can be larger than before, you can rename them to be anything you like, for example “my artwork” or “my office”, or “my work” too.  Plus you can drag and drop to move them around independently on your page, so for example you could show an intro video at the very top of your page if you wish.

Previously – You had one space for text, you were pretty limited in how you could format it, and you had no control over where it was displayed.
Now – You can have multiple text ‘units’, and we’ve given you a much improved text editor.  So you can make the text MUCH better looking, colored, formatted, new fonts, include tables, and more.  You can also name each text unit independently, so for example you could call one “my pricing”, and another “my services”.

And, as a bonus…
And because Customize my page does more than the old Gallery and Text promotions, you’ll automatically get all the new featured too, including:

  • Logo Unit – upload and present your company logo
  • HTML Units – use external widgets, like Meebo’s excellent Instant Messenger widget, MeeboMe
  • Get Bidgets (Business Widgets) for you own website – you can now embed and use Brownbook information and features in your other websites (for example, your Brownbook reviews or map on your own website)

Need some help…?
We’ve created some new help pages that describe the new features, and we hope you find the improvements easy to use and to your liking.
http://help.brownbook.net

We’ve aimed to make the transition as smooth as possible, but if you get any problems get in touch and we’ll see you right.

All the best

Dave Ingram
CEO, Brownbook.net

Extinction Threatens Yellow-Pages Publishers

This is the headline from a piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. I have got to say that this does not suprise me its a foregone conclusion… a quote I saw recently from Charles Darwin stated: “it’s not only the strongest of the species that survive, nor is it the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” and they have not changed enough…

wsjExtinction Threatens Yellow-Pages Publishers
By Emily Steel
November 17, 2008

The yellow-pages industry is running out of lifelines.

In recent years, as its customers migrated to the Web — flocking to sites like Google — the telephone-directory business followed, hoping the Internet would be its salvation.

But that strategy hasn’t panned out. Now, the economic downturn is sending the already ailing business into a tailspin.

The audience for online yellow pages remains relatively small, and traffic growth is slowing. So many directory services are vying for the ad dollars of local businesses that no single site has an authoritative roster.

Meanwhile, ad dollars are drying up as small businesses — the industry’s bread and butter — find it harder to pay bills or have cut their spending sharply.

Print and online ad spending on yellow pages will plummet 6.3% next year, more than double the rate of decline expected for broadcast TV, according to forecasts by Wachovia analyst John Janedis. Within the next four years, ad spending will fall 39% in print directories alone — the steepest projected decline across all local-media categories, according to media-research firm Borrell Associates.

“It’s pretty darn hard out there for everybody, and those that have less staying power, it just looks like it’s going to be a difficult environment to be able to hang on in the long term,” said Dave Swanson, chief executive of R.H. Donnelley, a Cary, N.C., yellow-pages publisher, during a conference call on the company’s third-quarter earnings.

Facing the real prospect of extinction, the publishers, many of which have considerable debt, have been slashing jobs, scrapping dividends and exiting unprofitable markets. Shares of two of the biggest publishers, R.H. Donnelley and Idearc, have plummeted 99% in the past year.

“The main pure-play companies do not have capital structures that would enable them to endure perpetual high-single-digit or double-digit declines in cash flow and remain viable entities or solvent entities over time,” says Mike Simonton, an analyst with Fitch Ratings.

Yellow-pages publishers have spent the past several years attempting to reinvent themselves, launching a slew of digital offerings for advertisers, and retraining their sales forces to sell digital ads alongside print ads.

But Internet revenues remain anemic. At less than 10%, online-ad dollars make up only a modest portion of total revenues and aren’t growing fast enough to offset steep declines on the print side, says Mr. Simonton.

Analysts say yellow-pages sales teams face an inherent conflict. While they are pressured to sell both print and online ads, Internet ads are often a third of the price of the print product. The top priority for the sales teams often is to sell the print book first, then sell the digital products.

Even if online revenues were growing at a faster clip, analysts are cautious about the prospects of online-only directories. Yellow-pages ads are the only form of advertising many small businesses buy, and the online ads are typically sold in conjunction with print listings, Mr. Simonton says. That means that if businesses aren’t buying the print ad, then the online ad disappears too.

In a last-ditch attempt to succeed online, some publishers have struck ad-sale partnerships with Internet companies like Google. White Directory Publishers, which publishes directories in 90 small to medium-size markets, says it is often more effective for small businesses to have a presence on Google than on a directory Web site. But many small- to medium-size businesses don’t have the expertise or time to create effective Web sites or buy and track search ads, so White Directory is offering to do it for them.

“They all believe they have the URL and the Web site that’s going to win,” Jeff Folckemer, chief operating officer and chief executive-designate of White Directory, part of Hearst Corp., says of the directory companies. “Our philosophy immediately was to go right to the big guys.”

Mr. Simonton cautions, however, that even if publishers survive, any growth they achieved since the last downtown, in 2001, will be short-lived. “That extra growth coming from new businesses are the first to fold in a downturn. You basically give back in one downturn what took seven years to grow.”

Link to the article here.

Who has the most friends?

This is todays (10th December) ‘top 10’ leader board for ‘friends’ on Brownbook:

9 friends – Martyn Regan
4 friends – YOURTRUSTEDTRADESMEN
3 friends – Hippy
3 friends – mickdavies
3 friends – Healdsburg Prop Mgmt
2 friends – neil@nhaaccountancy.co.uk
2 friends – Michelle Jones
2 friends – carol1
2 friends – Blindology Blinds
2 friends – DaveH

where-is-invite-a-friend

So how do Brownbook registered users get more friends? We have made it really simple, just register and then use the invite friend button to tell your friends about Brownbook. You’ll earn points when your friends

join, which adds to your reputation in the Brownbook community, you’ll also earn points when their friends, and their friends of friends join, its a kind of ‘pyramid’ points system… so you will go on earning more points as those people invite more people.

Tell your peers – it’s music to your ears – iPod reward

We have a bit of a competition this month for registered users to receive an iPod…

Who gets the iPod? The person who has the most friends at 12 noon GMT on 10th December 2009.

We will updated this leader board twice a week.

And if you need more information, there is a help page here.

Get more business

Brownbook V10 went into test today, should be live in two or three days.  We have 3 big new features for businesses, all aimed at helping you get the attention of new customers and of course win more business:

1. Customize your Brownbook listing page
Why are all directory listing pages the same?  And how can you distinguish yourself from your competitors?  Well, we’ve always allowed you to add a little extra detail like a photo and video gallery and some detailed text, but we’re about to take it to the next level.  In this version you’ll be able to move the standard page elements around to present your listing as you wish, so for example you can move your reviews right up top, followed by your map, of that is your choice.

But thats not all, you’ll be able to add almost unlimited photos and videos, in new ‘video units’ and ‘photo units’.  This means you can move those around independently too, so you can head up your page with a promotional video if you choose.

You’ll also have some more new ‘units’ of information, including a logo unit (display your logo), a text unit (add details, including some snazzy formatting), an HTML unit (add external widgets, like Meebo’s IM widget), and more.

2. Bidgets
Yes, you heard it Bidgets.  These are Business Widgets, and they allow you to take key elements of your Brownbook listing page (like your reviews for example) and reuse them on other websites (like your own business website if you like).  So now you can add reviews, maps, your photos and videos, in fact just about every element from your Brownbook page to your external websites.

3. Create my website
An amazing 60% of small businesses DON’T have a website, and without a website you’re missing out to your competitors.  Even if you do have a website, can you update it as often as you wish to keep it fresh.  But websites are expensive, right?  And take time to set up, right?  Plus you need to be, or know, a techy, right?  WRONG.  Now you can create your own website, courtesy of us here at Brownbook.  Our online website creator lets you quickly and easily build your website, with up to 99 pages, 99 images, 99 videos, in your own style instantly.  Plus you can update it as often as you wish.  You can include your Brownbook reviews, maps, videos, in fact just about any information that’s present on your Brownbook listing page.  And we’ll link to your website from your listing page.

Thats a quick preview, more info will follow in the next few days as we update the help system and build up some demo pages for you to see.

Advertise smarter, not harder

As much as I hate to admit it, it seems we’re in or entering a recession.  And that can spell bad news for small businesses.  I recall hearing anecdotes along the following lines from various people throughout my life:

“ah, but it’s the best time to advertise”
“if you can make it now, think how you’ll do when the boom returns”
“it’s the best time to start a business”
Etc, etc.

(You know the sorts of things, and you can even picture the people that say them, right?)

But someone actually sent me more than just anecdotal advice just yesterday, and here it is, research that backs up the claim that businesses that maintain or increase the ad expenditure during recession have significantly higher sales during and for three years following.

recession.JPG

Now that sounds like common sense, right? But let me add another twist.  How about if its nothing to do with how MUCH you spend, just HOW you spend it?  The ‘how much you spend’ model is very traditional and in simpler times when all advertising was created equal maybe it WAS just a case of spend more and get more.  BUT, today we have more choice, and more ways to promote our businesses.

You can see where I’m heading right? What if you didn’t spend more, but you just took advantage of new ways to find customers and promote your business online?

I’m constantly amazed at how few of the ‘regular’ local businesses are really taking advantage of the many opportunities to attract customers online.  If only I had a magic wand that I could wave to make them all aware of Brownbook.net.  Seriously, I meet with a bunch of local business men and business women in my home town for breakfast once a week and I am amazed at how web-unaware they generally are.  Up ’til now they’ve had it good, but what about when times get tight?

What this means of course is that its not necessarily the businesses that spend more on advertising in a recession that will win, but its also those that spend wisely AND embrace new methods of attracting customers.  And you know, over time I actually think it’s the latter that will overtake the former.

Its a bit like the old adage, work smarter not harder – perhaps I can coin it “Advertise smarter, not harder”

Online Word of Mouth Marketing

I have written an article featured on the Small Business Development Center National Information Clearinghouse (SBDCNet) about online word of mouth marketing for small businesses. The post points out several things that small businesses can do to create buzz for their company online. Feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback about Brownbook in the US by e-mailing me at christine@brownbook.net. You can also connect with me on Twitter: @ChristineMAdolf.