Jingle Networks’ free directory assistance (DA) service 1-800-FREE411 is slated this week to launch a new “category search” option, where you call to get matches of businesses in an area that relate to a category of interest (such as movie theaters in Los Angeles, or a dentist in San Francisco). To date Jingle has offered a free, ad-supported alternative to consumer-paid 411 services, which has largely duplicated the “what city, what listing?” model of conventional DA — albeit with ads.
With the addition of category search, callers will now be able search with more flexibility by business type and with more precise location options. The company says it now handles almost 17 million calls monthly, representing 6% of the mobile DA market in the U.S.
Jingle CEO George Garrick promised last year that category search was coming. But the need to implement this is made more urgent by several considerations:
- It turns traditional DA into mobile local search, offering an improved user experience
- Competitors, including Tellme, 1-877-520-Find and 1-800-YellowPages (in its test markets), already offer this capability
- Category search will increase advertiser response rates
Perhaps the final reason is the biggest driver of the enhancement. Jingle offers a wide range of ad inventory from sponsorships to preferred placement and direct response. But in terms of pay-per-call, response rates can be expected to increase when consumers are simply looking for a type of business and are exposed to relevant ads as opposed to being played a competitive ad for, say, Marriott when they’re looking for a Hilton hotel.
Jingle is in a very interesting position as DA morphs into voice-based mobile search, because that segment is poised for immediate growth compared with, for example, WAP-based mobile search. There’s a huge, installed base of mobile 411 users who will likely adopt these ad-supported services in the near term. That’s because there’s no learning curve, no awkward keying of queries, no downloads and no hardware limitations. Clearly these services have limitations but they work today and are rapidly improving.
As I said last week, one can almost feel the acceleration of competition in mobile. And there are several major players that will be aggressively competing in the free DA/voice-enabled mobile search category in particular:
- Jingle Networks
- AT&T (1-800-YellowPages)
There are others using a similar model but these are the major contenders today. While Google is unlikely to do much consumer marketing around free DA, both Microsoft and AT&T can be expected to run expensive consumer marketing campaigns to build awareness of their fledgling services.
Jingle’s head start in awareness and usage, as well as its “intuitive” brand (1-800-FREE411), may help the company weather the storm should Microsoft and AT&T start to pour money into consumer marketing. But the best, most reliable user experience will likely be the thing that drives consumer adoption more than any other factor.