When I started living alone, the arrival of the last copy of the yellow (and white) pages was a big problem. Since my parents had always received these large volumes, when I received mine I felt that I was already an “adult” in some way. Fast forward to the 21st century and man has changed things. There are still 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 in the Yellow Pages (or “YP”, if that sounds cool to you) ruled the world of local search. Everyone in the US had a phone and we all received service from the same phone company, AT&T, so it was easy for AT&T to create a YP product and drop it at the doorstep of every one of their existing customers.
Then things started to get weird. AT&T was dissolved by a federal judge. Suddenly we still had AT&T, but we also had 7 new local companies providing local phone service. There were also a bunch of new guys starting to provide local phone service as well. What this meant is that if you had a phone, you would start getting various YP-like books delivered to your doorstep.
To further complicate matters, the online world began to explode. The means by which the strongest local providers could begin to boost their online equivalents of the yellow pages like SuperPages.com (offered by Verizon). In case that didn’t confuse you enough, both Yahoo and Google started customizing the results people started getting when they searched for local businesses.
What a Yellow Pages Product Manager Might Be Doing
Shame on the poor YP product manager. Once upon a time there was king/queen of the hill in local quest kingdom. However, they are now just another player and they keep losing ground to new entrants (when you own a market, what else can happen to you?)
The local search marketing agency TMP Directional Marketing | 15miles, conducted a study on how consumers searched for information about local businesses. What they found was that in the 3 years from 2007 to 2009, consumers reported that their use of the print version of YP to find a local business dropped 5% during that time. This was combined with the 71% of consumers who reported using the print version of the YP less than once a week.
So what is a YP Print product manager to do? I think this is one of those marketing conditions that cries out for “thinking outside the box”. Here are three ideas of what Yellow Pages product managers could do:
- Labor union: What this means is that when a local business agrees to place an ad with the YP, make sure that ad starts showing up in more places than just the print book that is dropped off at people’s homes. Dare I say that the YP needs to become a portal? Instead, think of a way to offer local discounts and promote a vendor of the day, etc.
- GoMobile: Let’s face it, who wants to take the time to find their YP printout, open it up, and try to find what they’re looking for when you can do the same faster on your mobile phone? The YP needs to come up with a local search “app” that everyone instinctively uses when they want to find a local business.
- Socialize: Give up – Facebook is here to stay. There has to be a YP angle to all the social media that everyone is doing. YP product managers must become the conduit between their advertisers and the local customers who use everything from Facebook to Twitter.
What all this means to you
Don’t laugh too hard at the yellow pages product managers; could be in a similar situation with your product some day in the future. What we have to do is 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 page book that was left at everyone’s house owned this market. Now, new competitors like Google Maps have taken most of the market away from the yellow pages.
Yellow Pages product managers must be willing to change with changes in your market. This means they need to find ways to make their product effective across multiple channels. Additionally, they will need to move aggressively into new media areas, such as mobile, 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 Make a Differencethen maybe the Yellow Pages is the place to be.