My column for Search Engine Watch this month, Pimp My Vertical Search, takes a look at some of the directions being taken in vertical search, particularly in autos. Autobytel has begun to do some interesting things with its recently launched MyRide, while Vehix is utilizing its partnerships with cable companies to create interactive television modules (explored in a past post). But there is more to the story; Vehix is also turning a corner toward positioning its online listing distribution as more of a valued asset in the tool belt of its cable partner sales channels.
Until now, Vehix’s role in its partnership with MSOs has been an enticement: free online distribution for local auto dealers that purchase a certain level of cable spot advertising. But like some directory publishers, the company is changing its thinking to place more value on its online distribution. This basically means selling online as more of a primary asset, and less of an afterthought to traditional media.
“Right now it’s the country club model, but where we’re going is the culmination of a year of strategy building where we’re moving to a Yellow Pages model,” Vehix CMO Glenn Morey told me. “Everyone gets a listing but some dealers will opt to have more features.”
Specifically, its new dealer inventory product has a few different price points and levels of service that correspond to interactivity, featured listings and multi-media capability. This is hosted by Vehix, including an admin module for dealers to manage campaigns, and also portable to dealers’ own Web sites.
The product itself is solid but nothing revolutionary as far as online product platforms go. But the key is that, through its tight relationships with cable companies, there is a sales channel in place to sell it. This is huge. (see comments made by Craig Donato in last week’s post, to this effect.)
Cable sales reps, meanwhile, benefit by being armed with an online product, which dealers are increasingly asking for. Dealer demand (in addition to user demand) is in fact a primary driver for this move to position online distribution more predominantly in sales efforts. Comments from auto dealers, covered last week, provide anecdotal evidence of this.
“Dealers are still figuring all of this out, and they’re going to continue to get better at it,” says Vehix CEO Derek Mattsson. “Our job is to reduce the amount of friction and make it easier for them to self provision.”
Adding High Touch to High Tech
So how is this parallel to directory publishers? In our Local Search and Directories forecast released in March, online revenues were broken up between local search and IYP. IYP was forecast to increase at a higher compound annual growth rate (29.9%) through 2011 than local search (23.2%).
The reason for this is the strength of the sales channel. IYPs are sitting on a valuable asset in publisher sales channels, which so far hasn’t been utilized to its potential for online sales. This will change, however, over the duration of the forecast period as publishers become more adept at executing cross-platform sales strategies.
Combine this with redesigns and the integration of video, mobile and social media (ratings and reviews) features at major IYPs such as Yellowpages.com, Superpages and DexKnows, and its clear that IYPs are beginning to position themselves to realize the revenue growth projected in the forecast.
Vehix is similarly well positioned with the cable sales channel in its back pocket (it’s also part owned by cable market share leader Comcast). Being the online distribution source of choice for the cable industry will allow it to scoop up a great deal of the auto dealers that will increase their online ad spend in the coming years. Cable partners’ high-touch interaction with local dealers should ensure this.
In other words, it’s a nice combination of high tech and high touch concocted by Mattsson and crew. Any online local media source with a combination of these assets (read: IYPs) will have a decided leg up in local selling and content building efforts.