The local media marketplace continues its rocky road through the current economy, but many companies are bullish on their futures given the moves they have made in diversifying their product portfolios with new digital offerings to balance their core media products.
In order to maintain leadership positions in the small and medium-sized business marketplace, the key it seems, is developing and maintaining the sales agent and customer relationship. Smart media companies are using their sales approach as a competitive differentiator as they move to more consultative multimedia approaches.
As Kevin Payne from Local Insight Media said: “We want to own the customer relationship to keep out other local media competitors. Our goal is to be the best, most customer-focused agent they meet with. We want to own the local media relationship.”
Adding on to this thought, Jim Smith, a senior advisor to Yellow Pages Group New Zealand, supported the idea that “the added value not only comes from the sales interaction but the entire chain from customer support, product fulfillment, and data reporting that builds customer loyalty and satisfaction and sets a local media company apart from the rest of the pack.”
Data also seem to be part of the reason for being optimistic. Advertisers are becoming more conservative with their marketing budgets and measurement and ROI data are becoming incredibly important.
Eric Webb, president of Marquette Group, hammered this point home: “We need to get our clients addicted to data because we can deliver deep data that shows the value of their marketing dollars. This is very different from other local media who are not as focused on driving leads and calls.”
According to Nick Veronis, managing director of Veronis Suhler Stevenson: “It is difficult to duplicate the depth and quality of the database and local base of SMB customers directories have created. This is a factor that makes it difficult for other local media players to compete against.”
Looking into the future, many of the panelists felt that some level of consolidation will occur, but not on a massive level as some might have thought. Mat Stover, CEO of Local Matters, said: “Those players who do not have a strong digital presence may be most at risk and are key targets for consolidation. The flip side is that there is too much competition for the market to consolidate into just a few key incumbent players.”
All the panelists felt moving to a multimedia organization was a must, and that the time to build out this portfolio of products is a priority to compete and thrive. Webb received a round of applause saying, “multiproduct portfolios need to be developed, but local media needs to stop selling on price alone.” His point was that the value of the media solution needs to be stressed to SMBs so they understand what they are buying and what they will receive in return.
Asked if there will be massive turnover if they retrain their sales force on multiproduct selling, most felt a sizable portion could make the transition, if they are supported. Smith added, “the companies that manage the transition well will train reps on the value of a better customer experience and show how each of their offerings addresses SMB needs on their own and in combination.”
The final burning question was about the value and viability of self-service purchasing of local media. While most felt that local media is sold rather than purchased, Chris Spanos, GM Local & Search Verticals AOL, brought up the point that, “self-service helps to on-board new clients particularly if the focus is on supporting services such as reputation management to help get them linked to your company for upselling opportunities.”
Webb also added, “local media companies need to look at ways to use self-serve as a way of automating part of the sales process to increase productivity and efficiencies.”
Change is under way in the directory space with most feeling there is no time to wait to make the change because customers and the local competition are demanding a better approach to supporting their needs and delivering multimedia solutions that make sense.