Sep 19

Does your business suffer from “Yellow Fever”?

This is the third post in my Yellow series. Given the steady decline of the Yellow Pages over the years, there may be limited scope for many more posts. My first two were directed at Yellow Pages Group in New Zealand:

1. Why Yellow® made me see red
2. Time to show Yellow® the red card!

The first was caused by surprise at being sent an invoice for $0.00 and the second anger by being sent an invoice for a chargeable entry that I did not order. I can hardly be described as an ardent fan, but there is no emotion this time.

I was aware from media reports that Yellow Pages in many countries were declining as part of a shift away from printed to on-line directories. This was brought to my attention when I received the new set of 2012 Auckland Yellow Pages. I was about to put my 2011 edition into the recycle bin when I noticed that there was a significant difference in terms of its size as compared to the 2012 edition. The Auckland Yellow Pages 2012 has 1061 printed pages while the 2011 editions had 1440 printed pages. That is a reduction of 379 pages or just over 25%.


Suffering a 25% reduction in your business is bad enough by itself, but having customers and competitors see this makes in even worse!

Looking back, the decline in Yellow Pages is all too visible. If you compare the 2004 version to the 2011 and 2012 versions, the 2011 and 2012 versions are reduced to almost half the size of the 2004 version. The page reduction is not the only indicator that the Yellow Pages is on the decline. The decrease in the usage of the printed version, the low financial performance of some of the world’s top Yellow Pages companies, and users searching less for “Yellow Pages” online are some of the prime indicators.

Where Are We Heading?

Print may not be dead, but the days of printed directories that start to get out of date before they are even published are numbered. This does present real challenges for companies that have print as their core business. Aside from the value of their fixed assets on their balance sheet, they are hindered by a “print” mentality. This presents opportunities for new companies specializing in digital media that have far lower costs and a more importantly a more flexible mindset.

How Do You Cope?

Are you in the same situation as some of the Yellow Pages companies? Is your business fighting to survive in a declining industry? Making small changes to reduce costs as well as to increase revenue may only delay the inevitable. Beware of making “the wrong things” better.

Now is the time to do some thinking and consider which path is the best one to take. You need to ask some tough questions and it may help to have someone from outside your industry pose these questions. There are a number of options and you need to work out what works best for you. Here are some examples:

1. Recognise the decline and plan accordingly. You might need to compare scenarios and then opt for the one that works best for you. Have a firm end date or event that will trigger closure.

2. Decide to change your business model in line with market trends.

3. Make a radical change to deploy your capabilities in a different market sector. The Finnish multinational Nokia made the huge shift from paper and rubber to mobile phones.

One question you should consider is “what business are you in?” If you think of this in too narrow a way, you are in danger of being overtaken by fundamental shifts in technology and consumer demand.

Let’s go back to the Yellow Pages. If your response is “printed directories”, your future does not look too bright. A response of “business information” is more likely to lead to a future.

So if your business is in decline because of external forces, such as technology and consumer behaviour, the sooner you recognise this and take some tough decisions, the better.

There is another side to this. Your business may be doing well because you are” riding a wave”. Your success may come more from the market trend and anything you are doing. Your success may not last and you need to be on the watch for changes and the next wave.

Contact me if you are up to tackling some tough and searching questions.


Simon Fawkes
Accredited Mindshop Facilitator
Business to Markets Ltd