When one looks across the local digital landscape there are many companies and apps but few consumer “brands.” In specific verticals, like travel or automotive, there are companies such as TripAdvisor or Cars.com. But “horizontally” on a national level there are very few top-of-mind, major players.
That list starts with Google and Yelp and could include Apple (re maps) and maybe Foursquare and Groupon. Mapquest has faded and Facebook’s local efforts are still what we might call embryonic.
The various yellow pages and directory publishers, once dominant in local, have had great difficulty building consumer brands in the digital sphere. They’re struggling with whether to focus equally on consumers and advertisers or to shift to a mainly agency like advertiser focus.
YP (formerly yellowpages.com) is a company that has continued to evolve its brand and invest in consumer marketing. The company’s new campaign is “the new way to do” and it’s spending real money in multiple markets to generate brand awareness (see embedded video below). The utilitarian notion is about getting things accomplished — as opposed to simply accessing information.
Newly appointed YP CMO Allison Checchi thinks that YP can and ultimately will be directly competitive with Google and Yelp. Checchi is a Harvard B-School grad, who was with consulting firm Bain & Co before she entered YP as “SVP of Transformation Initiatives.” Immediately before becoming CMO Checchi was SVP of Business Development.
Now her job is to elevate the YP brand and make it part of the consideration set when consumers think about local search or discovery. She’s also responsible for B-to-B marketing initiatives. On that side of the fence, the company (jointly owned by Cerberus Capital and AT&T) has 4,000 “media consultants” (sales and account reps) to support and retain nearly 575,000 advertisers.
With its recent acquisition of Sense Networks the company will gain additional mobile technology and capabilities (e.g., advanced targeting and tracking). It will also be better positioned to go after large national accounts. Still the company is already doing well in mobile, with $350 million in mobile ad revenue in 2012 (out of $1 billion in total digital revenue). YP points out that it has “roughly 5x the digital revenue Yelp reports.”
Today between 40 and 50 percent of search on YP’s network is from mobile. The company also says that it reaches “more than 90 percent of monthly internet users” through its YP Local Ad Network. And the company says it has 70 million monthly uniques overall.
All these stats are formidable for an underdog. Yet YP will need to build out richer and deeper content as well as differentiating features on its site and in mobile to truly be competitive and transform consumer perceptions of digital “yellow pages.”
Part one was the brand change from “yellow pages” to “YP.” Part two will be a range of improvements and enhancements to the user experience.
CMO Checchi plans to focus on personalization, more content depth and multi-platform experiences. Personalization (and multi-platform) will revolve to some degree around YP’s MyBook, today a favorites list that will be expanded and greatly enhanced in the coming year, according to the CMO.
Checchi sees MyBook as a tool that can help more deeply connect consumers and local businesses. She’s also interested in building out transactional and CRM tools for business owners.
I was impressed by Checchi and her solid assessment of YP’s strengths and weaknesses. I do think that if YP can execute on its vision it does have the potential to be a top-tier local search brand along with Google and Yelp. But today it’s still an uphill climb.