Opus Research/LMS colleague Dan Miller and I met with new Idearc CEO Scott Klein last night for an extended period. Klein took us through an extensive tour of where the company is headed, new products in the pipeline and a range of other stuff that’s coming. There was so much information and so many changes it was mildly exhausting. It represented a condensation of eight months’ work in a couple hours (for us).
Klein, a seasoned executive with a varied background that includes CPG and Internet companies, is an impressive figure and probably the leader that Superpages employees have been hungry for. He’s also a turnaround expert who has helped past companies grow dramatically.
We were shown several new offerings that represent bold departures from what’s come before at Superpages and in the YP industry generally. Representative of Superpages’ new direction is an announcement the company is making today: SuperGuarantee. It also symbolizes the company’s new more consumer centric focus.
SuperGuarantee is a program that will be available for roughly 3000 (though not all) YP headings. (The company won’t guarantee, for example, the work of lawyers, salons or surgeons.)
Advertisers who qualify will be backed by this program and receive a logo (below) that will appear on their ads and can be used in their collateral. What it means is that Idearc is warranting the quality of the work being performed. If there’s a problem, Idearc will step in to mediate between the consumer and contractor or vendor. If it cannot be resolved, the company says it will pay the aggrieved consumer up to $500. Klein said that the company could also punish advertisers in various ways, as part of the program.
Users must register to become part of the program. In so doing they will be encouraged to rate and review merchants thereafter, which should help beef up Superpages and its other properties’ (e.g., Switchboard) user-generated content.
In response to me playing devil’s advocate, Klein said that this is no cynical “marketing” program or attempt to create the appearance of something — the company has invested substantial money to develop and prepare to support the program.
We saw some of the TV and online ad creative associated with SuperGuarantee, which is partially about differentiating the company’s brand from other YP publishers in the mind of the public. The campaign was impressive and effective in my view. The company’s new tagline, “It’s about time. Yours” is also clever and addresses both consumer-users and advertisers.
Among a long list of other changes coming, the Superpages site will soon receive a face lift and upgrade to make it more consumer friendly.
One of the subtle things that SuperGuarantee and some of the other changes coming at Idearc start to do is shift the nature of “yellow pages” from a product (i.e., print and online directories) to a service for both consumers and advertisers. This is a nuance but a critical one; it helps build trust or build on and solidify existing relationships.
Most analysts and writers on the Internet and technology fail to appreciate the importance of brand and trust, although there’s been some discussion of this with Google. Most of the attention is on functionality and features with the bias that the “coolest” site or service will triumph. Functionality and user experience are critical but brand and consumer trust are also potent factors. Look at Craigslist; it hasn’t changed in a decade, but it beats others that have lots of slick functionality.
None of the major YP players has really developed a brand per se. Arguably “yellow pages” has been the brand in the US and, offline, consumers have simply differentiated between the thick book and the thin book. AT&T has tried to “own the brand” with its acquisition of Yellowpages.com and YP.com.
Now Idearc is striking out in several new directions, with a new focus on consumers. And its SuperGuarantee strikes me as a real differentiator.