Fresh Ideas from a Stale Sector


Pinch me, I must be dreaming: I am seeing product innovation and fresh thinking coming from a most unlikely source: a major yellow pages publisher, in this case, Idearc.

I wrote several weeks back about the new Idearc "Super Guarantee" program. Participating yellow pages advertisers get (for a fee) to run a special logo in their ads that guarantees customer satisfaction with Idearc as the arbitrator. If a consumer is dissatisfied with one of these participating advertisers, Idearc steps in to mediate. If no happy compromise can be arranged, Idearc will pay the consumer up to $500. Now here's a real reason to use a specific yellow pages product.

A recent FT.com article points out a host of other innovations, starting with a "Super Trade Exchange," an online barter site for the exclusive use of Idearc advertisers.

But perhaps the most intriguing idea out of Idearc is to re-position itself as "an ad agency for small businesses." The company's vaunted salespeople have been re-branded as media consultants, and they're being trained to help small business advertisers with all their advertising needs, including direct marketing. Idearc is even contemplating the idea of becoming a sales rep for its arch-enemy: local newspapers.

I've talked for many years about this notion of buying guide publishers filling more of the advertising needs of their small business advertisers. In fact, many online buying guide publishers are already driving significant revenue by helping their advertisers build and maintain websites and manage their search engine pay-per-click programs. Key to the success of initiatives like this is a simple fact: almost nobody talks to small businesses about their advertising and marketing needs. Anyone who reaches out to this community has an immediate opportunity. That's why yellow pages salespeople, who at best visit their advertisers once a year, can still morph almost overnight into trusted advertising advisors: there isn't anybody else out there. Buyers' guides in vertical markets are arguably in even a stronger position, because they know the industry's products, its issues and its lingo.
Keep an eye on Idearc. The ideas are strong, they're being put to use quickly, and execution looks strong. Maybe someday they'll apply some of this creative energy to developing a better company name!

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