Are Local Publishers Focused On The Wrong Thing? Products vs Content
o2o wants to solve the classic Product vs. Content debate by offering up the Local Knowledge Graph
What is the essence of a media publisher? Essentially, it is to create and collect, organize, manage and distribute information. Users in turn spend time and attention consuming this content. To monetize their efforts, publishers either charge for access to the information or subsidize their service with advertising.
For YellowPages (YP) publishers and other local media companies, the model is no different. They also create and collect business information, organize it, manage it, and distribute it through their media channels (print, internet YellowPages, SEM, websites, video, etc.).
For these publishers, their value to both advertisers and consumers is driven off of the quality of their content. The catch is that many publishers struggle to effectively drive value because they focus on distribution rather than on the quality of the content.
Defining Content: Packaging vs. Payload
I have spent a lot of time inside and alongside this industry and the problem is prolific amongst most publishers. YP companies have traditionally been product focused organizations.
- They organize themselves around product platforms (print, IYP, new media)
- They structure their goals, objectives, and KPIs around the performance of these distribution channels
- They develop technical infrastructures to support their product platforms
What they don’t do is organize and structure themselves around their content.
- How many YP executive dashboards describe the accuracy and completeness of information?
- How many YP employees spend time using their own companies digital tools to find local information?
What is a product? In the publishing world, it is simply a “view” or representation of content. If the content is bad, then the value of the product is low. Imagine a world where the editorial content you read every morning was incomplete or had incorrect facts and information – as a consumer, how often would you return to that source for content.
What media companies, publishers and entreproducers need to understand is that the content is the product.
What is the Silver Bullet When Content Is the Product?
I was asked once what the silver bullet was to fixing the problems facing the YP publishers related to the transformation from Print to Digital. My answer was always short: “There isn’t one.”
But, now I believe that there is a potential candidate: a focus on quality content.
If publishers want digital revenue growth, then they should focus more on content and less on the packaging.
Ok, seems obvious and simple, so why the revelation?
The digital age has exposed one major issue for most publishers: their inability to effectively manage the quality of their content.
Digital media demands much more timely information that its print predecessor. Consumers expect information online to be up-to-date and accurate. They understand that the directory labeled 2011 would have old information in it. But they don’t expect the same when they visit a local search site.
Digital media, especially mobile, demands very accurate location information. This was not a requirement in print media, but consumers expect to find information nearby or get accurate directions to visit a business. Because consumers demand this level of accuracy, advertisers will too.
Most publishers have not taken a content quality oriented view of their business. Instead, they focus on product initiatives to drive short-term revenue growth, offset the decline in print revenues, and reduce advertiser churn. Unfortunately, these new products are simply distribution methods for the same bad content they have collected and managed for years.
So why don’t publishers spend time and resources to fix their content?
- It is not a priority. They don’t see a direct correlation between content quality improvements and revenue lift.
- It is too difficult. Most YP companies internal systems are not capable of improving content. While some have self-service capabilities, they are often limited to digital content components for products. If an advertiser wanted to fix their address or phone number, that is often more difficult (requiring this to be done inside of their publishing platform or print YP CRM).
- They are not equipped to do it. YPs are not effective at managing and organizing content. They have basic taxonomy systems that typically just map print headings to internet categories for product bundling purposes.
- Their processes don’t support it. YP’s have a heritage of pulling data listing feeds from telephone companies or data providers and populating a database with the information. Adding in additional sources creates complexity they can’t handle. For example. many have limited ability to reconcile conflicts between multiple content sources (consumers, advertisers, sales, data providers).
Even if they did address their content management issues above, many publishers and media companies (especially YellowPages) treat content as an attribute or element of a product (i.e. distribution channel). In other words, any content collected is subsequent to the sale of a product to an advertiser.
- You buy a priority listing online? Publishers will collect only the content elements associated with that sale.
- What about all of the rest of the business’ information? If they didn’t purchase the “full profile”, it is often not collected.
- Case in point: If you want to know whether a small business advertises with a YP, just look at the amount of content that they have on IYP/Mobile. The non-advertisers often have sparse or empty business profiles.
So if they are not focused on fixing their content what are publishers doing?
As a reaction to the disruption of digital in the local space, publishers have upgraded their infrastructure to support digital products and services.
These upgrades largely intend to:
- Provide more flexibility and visibility for sales: customer history, single view of customer’s products and services purchased.
- Enable flexible ordering, pricing, and billing systems that can support non-annual contracts and usage-based billing
In other words, the objectives are focused on expanding on the publisher’s ability to sell more products.
What is often not emphasized or included is a complete redesign or upgrade to how the business collects, organizes, manages and distributes content.
In fact, we have not seen a single publisher, who has undergone this digital transformation, place enough emphasis on fixing their content problem.
So what is the silver bullet? Do what no one else has done: develop a publishing business based on a flexible, ontology driven, content framework that puts an emphasis on accurate, up-to-date content.
The o2o Approach: The Local Knowledge Graph
There are billions of data points that describe the local ecosystem from businesses, addresses, products, services, offers, customers, loyalty information, ratings, reviews, etc. Defining how all of those connect and managing it is a daunting task. Traditional methods will quickly tire out.
To solve this problem, we subscribe to a centralized framework that is driven off of a local business ontology. We call this the local knowledge graph as it models and manages all of the information you need for local.
The local knowledge graph should:
- Describe every relevant type of local business including what they sell, where they are located, how they sell it
- Connect various local elements to businesses (customers, products, reviews, transactions, etc.)
- Dictate how information is collected and stored
- Define relationships between elements (businesses, products, services, data sources, etc.)
- Determine how information is exposed or distributed (products)
Most publishers already have a local business ontology. It has historically been used to map print and internet categories, define synonyms in the search engine and power search refinements. Often times, the ontology is stored in a relational database or spreadsheet which provides limited capability to dynamically control and expose information throughout the business.
With a local knowledge graph, the content problem will be much easier to solve and manage. In addition, products and services will be much easier to create while providing greater value to the consumer.
We firmly believe that this approach is sensible, proven, and the only logical one for any publisher that wishes to succeed in local.
Publishers need to realize that they are in the business of content - they always were and always will be.