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I am writing from Los Angeles as we prepare for our DDC2006 conference, which begins tomorrow. I plan to kick things off tomorrow with a discussion of key themes we see driving the industry today. These are among the topics we will address during the conference.

Without going into too much detail, here are the themes:
1. The stubbornness of print
2. The drive to diversify
3. The evolution of PFP into the mainstream
4. The implications of user-generated content
5. The lure of self-provisioning
6. The emerging reality of voice search.

This list is not exhaustive, but we feel it touches on some of the issues that drive this business — or will drive it going forward.

On print, for example, the picture is mixed, with some publishers growing print modestly and others struggling mightily to keep print in positive territory. Our own usage research from around the world also shows a mixed picture, but overall it supports the view that print is hanging tough as the resource of choice for consumers finding local businesses.

The second point addresses the explosion in new products (print and otherwise) and acquisitions aimed at broadening directory publishers' offerings. This is all about growing the top line, spreading out risk and adding new long-term opportunities for growth. This covers everything from companion products to classifieds to competitive DA products.

PFP is entering the mainstream — slowly. Publishers are expanding into SEM/SEO products that enable them to participate in the explosive growth in search advertising, as growth in fixed-price IYP begins to slow.

User-generated content is a wild card for directory publishers. Consumers love it, but getting to a critical mass of user reviews is a huge challenge, and directory publishers have an understandable phobia about anything that might conflict with the sale of advertising (i.e., "Bob's Pizza tastes like ketchup and Velveeta baked onto cardboard …").

Will SMEs build their own online advertising — or print for that matter — in large numbers in the future? Today, the numbers are tiny, and it is hard to imagine the end of the one-on-one sales call. But could self-provisioning become a significant element of the sales mix, which has implications across the enterprise?

And finally — voice search. This has the potential to transform how consumers find local listings. And the portals may hold the key.

Each of these themes will be explored in some depth in at least one session at DDC2006. For those TKG clients who are not attending, we will have some coverage in next week's Local Media Journal and will also produce an Advisory with a detailed recap of the key learnings from the event.

Also, keep an eye on our blog, where we will keep up with DDC events more or less in real time.

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