Friday, April 11, 2008

The Vertical Advantage...Know What I Mean?

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to work in the local media planning trenches. It’s been a real eye-opener to business models in the local landscape and one of the benefits has been exposure to the “feet on the street” and the role they play throughout the media planning and buying experience.

Working as an agent allows you to delve deeply into a business sector while representing the company’s media spend. In booking across various business verticals within a multitude of directories/engines, there have been some highlights (as well as bleaker realizations).

Here are just a few…

  • There is a major variance in sales service across the publishers. This includes differences in self-procurement, sales contact and follow-up techniques.
  • User experiences across the landscape leave much to be desired. Some sites with the most visually appealing content suffer from poor navigation, glaring typos, horrible grammar or confusing messages.
  • As new players gun for share in a difficult marketplace, the challenge remains one of positioning the property as a viable advertising platform while generating users to sustain client bases. Marketing budgets only stretch so far, making the right decision on budget allocations is essential to survive.
  • Vertical directories, by the nature of their focused content, have great potential to succeed.

Focusing on the last point, vertical directories have an advantage over broader based directories in that they have extremely focused operations. They tend to have been founded by industry members. These members bring a wealth of talent to the table. A deep understanding of a vertical is key to targeting advertisers through personal contacts and industry event networking. From a selling perspective, the ability to speak the same language as your buyer is priceless.

Industry language goes deeper than just lingo like skids, plates or seats. Each sector has its own business owner profile. Profile variances run anywhere from attire and level of professionalism to hard factors like seasonality and peek business day hours.

In the buying seat, being approached by someone close to the industry goes many miles beyond a homogeneous sales representative. They come at the right time, say the right things and most importantly have customized products that simply make sense to the business owner. One of my favourite added features is the business-to-business angle.

Splitting into verticals may not be feasible under all circumstances but for publishers that have a sustainable mass directory working the front lines (granted, not everyone has that luxury), there is time to develop deep content with industry specific customized features. The challenge is in bottling the winning model vertically while not making the mistake of hastily cutting and pasting across various sectors and renaming – that would just be silly.

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