When I was first out living on my own, the arrival of the latest copy of the yellow (and white) pages was a big deal. Since my parents had always received these huge volumes, when I got mine I felt that somehow I was now a “grown up”. Fast forward to the 21st Century and man have things changed. There still are Yellow Pages®, but is it possible that owning this product is the worst product management job ever?
What Happened To The Yellow Pages
Once upon a time the Yellow Pages ruled the world of local search. Everybody in the U.S. had a phone and we all got service from the same phone company, AT&T, so it was simple for AT&T to create a Yellow Pages product and drop it off on the doorstep of each one of their existing customers.
Then things started to get weird. AT&T got broken up by a Federal judge. All of a sudden, we still had AT&T, but we also had 7 local new companies that provided local telephone service. There was also a bunch of new guys who were starting to also provide local phone service. What this meant is that if you had a phone, then you started to getmultiple Yellow Pages-like booksdropped off on your doorstep.
Just to make things even more complicated, the online world started to explode. The mean that the stronger local provides could start to push their online equivalents of the Yellow Pages such as SuperPages.com (offered by Verizon). In case that didn’t confuse you enough, both Yahoo and Google started to customize the results that people started to get when they’d do searches for local businesses.
What A Yellow Pages Product Manager Could Be Doing
Pity the poor Yellow Pages product manager. Once upon a time he/she was king/queen of the hill in the kingdom of local search. However, now they are just another player and they keep finding themselves losing ground to the new entrants (when you own a market, what else can happen to you?)
The local search marketing agency TMP Directional Marketing | 15miles, did a study of how consumers were searching for information on local businesses. What they found was that in the 3 years from 2007-2009 consumers reported that their use of the print version of the Yellow Pages to find a local business went down by 5% during that time. This was coupled with 71% consumers reporting that they use the print version of the Yellow Pages less than once a week.
So what’s a print Yellow Pages product manager to do? I believe that this is one of those marketing conditions that screams out for “out of the box thinking”. Here are three ideas for what Yellow Pages product managers could do:
- Syndicate: What this means is that when a local business agrees to place an ad with the Yellow Pages, make sure that that ad starts to show up in more places than just the printed book that gets dropped off at people’s houses. Dare I say that the Yellow Pages needs to become a portal? Instead come up with a way to offer local discounts and promote a vendor-of-the-day, etc.
- Go Mobile: let’s face it, who wants to take the time to find their printed copy of the Yellow Pages let along open it up and try to find what you are looking for when you can do the same thing quicker on your mobile phone? The Yellow Pages needs to come up with a local search “app” that everyone instinctively uses when they want to find a local business.
- Get Social: Give it up – Facebook is here to stay. There has to be a Yellow Pages angle to all of the social networking that everyone is doing. Yellow Pages product managers need to become the conduit between their advertisers and the local customers who are using everything from Facebook to Twitter.
What All Of This Means For You
Don’t laugh at the yellow pages product managers too loudly – you could be in a similar situation with your product some day in the future. What we need to do is to understand how they got into this situation and what they are doing to get out of it.
The Yellow Pages is a product that competes in a market segment called “local search”. Once upon a time, the big Yellow Pages book that got dropped off at everyone’s house owned this market. Now new competitors such as Google Maps have taken the lion’s share of the market away from the Yellow Pages.
Yellow Pages product managers need to be willing to change with the changes in their market. This means that they need to find ways to have their product be effective in multiple channels. Additionally they will need to move aggressively into new media areas such as mobile devices in order to remain relevant.
Being a Yellow Pages product manager is not an easy job. However, if you really wanted to go to work every day and face a challenge that would allow you to make a difference, then perhaps the Yellow Pages is the place to be!
Question For You: If you were a product manager who was responsible for the Yellow Pages product in your area, what would you be doing right now?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Not to date myself or anything, but can anyone else remember going to the video store on a Friday or Saturday night? I’d wander the aisles and take a look at every movie on the “just released” rack in order to decide which one or two videos I was going to rent. Netflix and the Internet have pretty much killed the video store these days and so what’s a video store product manager to do?