It’s time for the annual print Yellow Page count. And I promised last year to stop beating that dead horse… so this year I will beat several. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Page counts in my local print version have declined once again by over 10%. The good news for the Superpage print directory? The rate of decline seems to have slowed. The other good news is that their niche has become clear. They are still doing reasonably well and are still used (believe it or not) in rural areas, the mid-west and by older shoppers (ok very old shoppers). In my research they appear to have a mindshare that exceeds Yelp country wide.
The other good news? Well this isn’t really good news just news that means that the Yellow pages are not alone in the boat. Every other local advertising medium has seen similar declines and similar demographic shifts.
Local newspapers are in decline on all measures, radio is becoming extremely fragmented with local stations loosing share to various online alternatives and local TV, despite strong financials due to cable monies, is seeing similar declines particularly amongst younger watchers.
The other reality that most internet marketers seem to ignore is that most online, locally focused properties are experiencing similar distress. Patch failed, the deal sites went south and many other locally focused projects have failed. Even the Wall Street darling Yelp seems to have less mind share than the Yellow Pages nationally and is mired with a no profit, non-scalable model & saddled with smb resentment and no clear prospects. Yelp seems to survive on the hard sell, a tactic that is snaking back and biting them. The vaunted cooperation that has occurred (Yahoo using Yext & Yelp for example) is not a sign of strength in the industry but rather one of resigned retrenchment.
The hard cold fact is that currently only two sites; Google and Facebook have a wide reaching, market covering local presence. They are by no means the only sites making a go of it in local but the only two that have achieved the broad, demographic and geographic coverage capable of delivering customers to local merchants. And of those two, Facebook really has yet to pull the trigger on an obvious local strategy. They both have scale and as such they can successfully deliver cost effective, performance based advertising solutions to the local market.
Whether offline or on, it seems that most local properties that rely on advertising for sustenance face the same dilemma. It’s a vicious cycle – they don’t have enough scale to offer performance based advertising and they can’t really compete with the Google’s and Facebook’s ads without it. At this point, advertising spend in local markets is very fragmented. The local incumbents are in a slow steady decline and most internet efforts have not yet measured up as a way to finally unseat them. Facebook, while having potential has moved very slowly. Google has, over the years “thrown a lot of [local advertising] shit” on the wall but little of it has really stuck.
What is clear is that impression based advertising and various forms of arbitrage have difficulty competing against a straight up performance based bid model. This will become more obvious as local SMBs develop a fuller understanding of the new realities of the local marketing landscape. The local advertising game so far has gone to Google through their persistent investment in the space. Although it would appear that investment has left them in a strong competitive position it is not clear whether it has generated significant profits. Their strategy has been to beat the other competitors at their own game (or at least limit their growth) but has not been to build sustainable value in the space with the exception of the ever present Adwords.
The final story is still yet to be written on the fragmented local media and advertising platforms. The incumbents and the online alternatives are never going to be able to really break out of the pack or likely even survive by offering the same old, same old expensive advertising. What will emerge, besides Google and Facebook, as viable marketing channels is still not clear but it seems unlikely to be one of the current incumbents.
The Annual Print Yellow Page Page Count And Other Dead Horses by Mike Blumenthal