How is this still a thing? Yellow Pages’ expansion from book to digital database

Last month I arrived home to my Auckland apartment and found stacks of plastic-wrapped Yellow Pages in the building’s common area. As a millennial who’s grown up in a digital world, Googling a business and its phone number is second nature, and yet I felt compelled to pick up a copy and make a home for it on the bookshelf.

Time will tell if my flatmates or I actually use it but I figured it had to offer more than just the qualities of bookend or the pile outside would still be there.

Full of intrigue, I got in touch with Yellow to find out what value remained in the book that was first delivered in the 1960s, and what I discovered was that Yellow’s more than just a phone book, it’s a multimedia offering that’s kept up with consumer habits and responded with an array of digital solutions.

“Every media business in the world is working really hard to build a sustainable model in the digital world, there’s just been a huge consumer shift in how people consume all types of media. And that’s the challenge we’re all dealing with, which is both exciting and created opportunities, and at the same time is challenging you to think differently about how you work, what you need for consumers to engage with you and the content you put out,” says its chief marketing officer Darren Linton.

While the Yellow Pages is delivered to 2.1 million homes and businesses throughout New Zealand—a number which has remained relatively stable—and used nine million times a month, Yellow also boasts a massive digital presence with over 240,000 business listings on Yellow Online.

Those listings generate over 692,000 users on the site each month, and when its five apps are added to the mix, Yellow’s digital properties host 2.4 million sessions monthly. Those apps include the White Pages, Yellow NZ, Yellow/home BusWise and menus.co.nz.

However, despite access via the computer and smartphones, Linton says older demographics, and those in regional New Zealand particularly, find the Yellow Pages valuable to look for local businesses. He also adds that regardless of age or location, a flick through the Yellow Pages can be quicker than logging into the computer and venturing into the digital world.

There’s also the chance you might miss a local gardener, hairdresser or plumber because Linton says 50 percent of small New Zealand businesses don’t have a website or any other form of digital presence. But that’s something Yellow hopes to rectify as it’s 350-strong nationwide team has set itself a goal to make New Zealand the most connected country in the world.

Linton says Yellow’s become an important part of New Zealand’s fabric of connecting Kiwis to local businesses and it’s continuing that by offering businesses a free profile on Yellow Online.

“If we can do that, we can make ourselves arguably the most connect country in the world because you can find everybody,” he says.

“We feel that’ll help communities, it’ll make people’s lives easier and it’ll help small Kiwi businesses with their customers. It’s a big goal, but an exciting one.”

It’s also a financially viable goal, despite the free offering.

Yellow places huge importance on providing a compelling digital product for both businesses and users and to do that, it crowd-sources content. Linton compares it to the likes of Booking.com, Trip Advisor and Book a Bach, which use ratings and reviews as Yellow has been doing the same thing for the past six years.

However, with it taking four years to generate 16,000 ratings and reviews, it’s recently signed a partnership with Loyalty NZ to encourage Kiwis to leave reviews for local businesses in return for Fly Buys points.

Linton says the six-month trial has been so successful, it generated 40,000 ratings and reviews in that time alone. And that was without it promoting the deal.

On top of the ratings and reviews, businesses can pay for things like an extended profile or a priority listing.

“So if someone searches for a particular category in a geographic location, for example ‘plumber Ellerslie’, and you’re a plumber in Ellerslie and you’d like to be at the top of that listing page, you can pay to be at the top,” Linton says.

It’s a similar offering to Google’s, but Yellow doesn’t see the search engine as a competitor, instead, Linton says it’s a partner because when someone searches for a business with Google, Yellow often appears at the top of those search results. Yellow manages over 2000 Google AdWords campaigns and is one of the largest premium partners of Google in New Zealand.

With offers like this, Yellow currently has over 20,000 digital customers and 40 percent of its revenue comes from digital. The rest comes from print. However, looking ahead, Linton says in the next 12 months it’s expected to be 50-50 digital and print.

There’ll still be value in it for some time yet, he says, but Yellow’s just looking at the best proposition going forward.

“We’re talking to our customers and consumers all the time and yeah, print is in decline,” says Linton. “The challenge for us is to make sure we’re taking our customers on the journey to digital and that we’re providing compelling digital properties for our consumers.”

A good example of this is Yellow/move, which is Yellow’s response to the pain points of moving house. At a time when people have so much to do and think about, Yellow’s “mMovologists”, as they’ve been dubbed, leverage Yellow’s database of local businesses to match those moving with services to get it all done.

“Tell us where you’re moving from, where you’re moving too and what date you’re moving and we will guarantee to get all of your utilities up and running on the day that you’re moving—that includes Sky, broadband, electricity, gas, water etc.,” Linton says.

And soon, it’ll be expanding that service out to include things like window cleaning, carpet cleaning and lawn mowers.

And for those not moving, the Yellow/home app gives homeowners recommendations of businesses to get jobs done, as well as information about their property like council value, estimated market value, the size of the house and when it was built.

Being more than a directory, and thinking about how to make it easier for people to find what they need and when they need it, is how Yellow’s moving itself into the future. This year it’s Yellow NZ and White Pages apps will be getting an overhaul to further achieve this.

It’ll also be continuing its role to help Kiwi businesses navigate the digital landscape and digital marketing. Linton says it’s on hand to help them find the start point, identify areas to spend marketing budget online and how to trust and understand they’re getting a good return on investment.

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