As a child, I remember walking home to find the big Yellow Pages phonebook waiting for my family at the door. It was placed in a plastic bag and left at the door–very few mailboxes could handle the size anyway.
The Yellow Pages book was a treasure trove of information. It’s where you found people to repair your old sewing machine (true story) or a new takeout restaurant to try. I remember the clever categories and sub-categories, and I loved exploring how many kinds of lawyers, mechanics and bakeries there were.
And then the internet happened, and the big old printed Yellow Pages became only useful as a door stopper. What has happened to this 100-year-old brand between then and now? I had the amazing opportunity to discuss this topic with Nicolas Gaudreau, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Yellow Pages.
Yellow Pages is a large organization. How do you successfully steer this kind of company into the digital age?
When I joined Yellow Pages in 2009, 95% of our revenues were print-based. Today, 55% of our revenue comes from digital products and services. Digital is going full speed ahead, and there is no going back.
With a large-scale digital transformation underway, we did what every company should do: we leveraged our assets. We didn’t turn our backs on who we were; instead, we treated our company like a 100-year-old startup. I still consider us to be in digital startup mode.
We leveraged three main assets: our employees, our data, and our marketing coverage.
Our employees fully grasped the importance of digital and were eager to move the company forward in this space. A team with a common, shared objective is an amazing asset.
Because of our long experience with businesses in Canada, Yellow Pages has always had–and still has–the best data in the country. Our customer base of over 250,000 businesses is still the largest and most comprehensive in Canada, and represents a quarter of the small business market here.
Our last major asset is our sales force of 1100 people all across Canada. These people have been in Canadian neighbourhoods and on Canadian streets for 100 years. Our intimacy with the business community has established trust and credibility.
Of course, we also decided to leverage our brand, purposefully choosing to keep the name Yellow Pages and instead modernize the preception. It’s a well-known, respected and trusted brand, which resonates with our customers.
How do you let your customers know that you have embraced digital?
We started by establishing our digital assets. Our digital network of properties see 1 million visitors from Canada every day, which puts us in most trafficked Canadian networks.
The core of our strategy is to build a great product that people want to use. We began with a user-friendly website and a mobile app. We are now adding specialized apps, in key vertical search segments, like YP Shopwise and YP Dine.
Around 2013, we started to communicate more aggressively. Canadians in large urban markets may have noticed our “local market attack” marketing strategy: we heavily invest in advertising takeovers to promote the local, neighbourhood information contained in our flagship YP app, for a six week period, each year. We also launched, in 2013, our Shop The Neighbourhood initiative, a campaign in support for local businesses, across Canada, through encouraging local shopping.
Our mission has always been to champion local economies and the neighbourhood; digital hasn’t changed that. However, websites and especially apps are making it easier to promote local businesses to consumers.
What about your business audience?
Aside from the traditional print directory, we now offer multiple digital products to our business customers, including online and mobile advertising and Social Media marketing.
We’ve also been offering free seminars, in collaboration with local Chambers of Commerce, to businesses that want to learn about digital marketing. This has helped spread the word about our digital services.
How else are you reeducating the public about your digital products?
Mobile is absolutely critical to YP’s current digital strategy. The smartphone has single-handedly changed the entire industry. Mobiles are now the primary vehicle for search, no matter what kind. Owning that space is essential.
In the summer of 2010, we launched the first Yellow Pages app. It has been downloaded close to 8 million times. It has won prizes and mentioned in “top apps” lists.
We have started deploying specialized apps in certain verticals: YP Shopwise for local shopping, YP Dine for restaurants. We’re working on an app for homeowners and another one for leisure and entertainment. These apps take advantage of our data and spread the word about Yellow Pages in a digital form.
What was the most important element of your transformation to digital?
Early on, we realized that mobile was really where all of it was going. So we used desktop assets as a middle point towards the true goal: mobile. We decided to become the leaders in the mobile industry.
Another important decision we made was to keep our name. As I mentioned earlier, we leveraged who we are. Instead of negating our history, we used it to propel ourselves in the future. Our name inspires trust, confidence and recognition; no money can buy a successful 100-year relationship with the public and our customers.
What kinds of challenges have you had offering these new services to your business customers?
First off, our business customers face many challenges. Marketing has become very complex. It used to be just putting an ad in the phonebook; now it’s Facebook and Twitter and SEO and PPC. A small business owner can’t learn all the tactics effectively, but their goal is still the same: to get new customers and be known. We’ve just changed how we address this need.
On our side, in order to address this need and and to offer full-service digital marketing solutions, we’ve had to learn it all ourselves. We had to learn how to build websites and be effective digital marketers, and we had to learn how to communicate these new products as well. We needed to build a strong yet scalable infrastructure on our side so we could rapidly develop and scale these products on a national level. Thankfully, we’re getting better every time!
Let’s talk about trends. Where is digital going?
When I started working in this field in 2001, digital had only started and TV, radio and newspapers were still massive media properties. Over the years, digital has grown bigger and bigger, finally surpassing traditional media. Digital is now the #1 advertising investment in Canada. But we can’t effectively deal with digital in a silo–as many companies still do. The barriers between digital and traditional media are artificial, and they must (and will) come down to form a single category of “media mix”.
Digital must be integrated in operations and become part of the fabric of any company.
What’s on the horizon for social media?
Social media has gone from “nice to have” to “must have”. Small and medium businesses cannot ignore social media anymore.
It used to be handled by friends or neighbours, people who knew how to use the tools but didn’t necessarily have marketing expertise. SMBs should look for expertise, because their presence on the market depends on it. For example, we’ve introduced Facebook Solutions, which helps businesses with their Facebook presence.
What trends do you think are the most important for business owners to know today?
This is now a consumer-controlled world. They are taking control with their devices, and marketing has to move from “convincing” to “participating”. Marketing has to be conceived in terms of participation, of being there at the opportune place and time for the consumer.
Small and medium businesses should try a lot of different things and invest time into learning about digital. You also shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help–experts can help you demystify what seems like utter chaos. Yellow Pages offers free seminars through Chambers of Commerce to teach businesses about social media and digital.
Yellow Pages shows that it’s perfectly possible for any organization to successfully manage a transformation to digital. With 55% of revenue coming from digital assets (compared to 5% only a few years ago), Yellow Pages has succeeded in maintaining its legacy and its branding while drastically adapting its products for today’s technology and needs.
If you want to learn more, don’t miss Matthieu Houle’s presentations at Social Media Camp! Matthieu is Yellow Page’s VP Digital Media and has plenty of knowledge and experience to share with you.