Beyond digitising the directory
Few would have predicted 20 years ago that a printed Yellow Pages would ever be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Fast forward to today via the advent of Google search, superfast (mobile) internet and multichannel customer engagement, and the paper business directory could conceivably be entering its last days as a means of mass marketing.
Enter Truvo, proprietor of Belgium’s Yellow Pages equivalent, goldenpages.be. Having relied on print for 70 percent of revenues in 2008, the company has fully embraced digitisation and is now driving forward its digital transformation plan to provide all SMEs with a multichannel marketing platform, also including partnerships with Google, Facebook and Yext. Such has been the sea change in the business, its digital offering now accounts for 80 percent of income.
A central part of the digital transformation has been conducted by Truvo’s now centralised IT team, headed up by Chief Information Officer Allan Farrell, who joined with 16 years’ experience from Dell with a clear mission in mind.
“When I joined in 2010 Truvo was an international business with no central IT team or structure,” he explains. “The group owned companies in Ireland, Belgium and Portugal and had partial interest in South Africa. The landscape at the time was very much siloed IT organisations on a country level with no real synergies between them.
“The business was part way through some financial restructuring and business simplification, with lots of new products being introduced. The mission for me was to create one IT organisation and to enable a new digital business model within Belgium, which is now where the company solely focuses.”
Underpinning the shift from print to digital is Truvo’s belief that ‘professional marketing and communication advice should not just be reserved for big companies.’ Its mission, for ‘all Belgian companies to grow their business by offering them a comprehensive range of versatile digital marketing and communication solutions that are totally geared to their requirements.’
The most significant change helping to facilitate this has been the adoption of a flexible subscription-based business model in 2014. This allows customers to choose one or many channels for campaigns over a period they can afford, an important consideration given 70 percent of Truvo’s customers are SMEs with five or fewer employees.
“In the past if you think about the print business you would publish a book once a year and talk to the customer at the same time each year about renewing for another fixed 12 months,” Farrell says. “This change has required a very different sales approach, selling solutions that not only involve products but the service and expertise that goes with it.
“Our services and solutions are vitally important for small businesses as they may not have the time or resources to manage their own websites, content and other channels or campaigns. We have a local sales force in the field who stay with the same customers year in year out, helping to build up long term relationships.”
The company also puts on roadshows throughout the year. These 'Digital Days' are free to attend, offering interactive educational and inspiring seminars on how digital marketing can help smaller businesses to grow.
Goldenpages.be sees more than eight million visitors to its online business directory platform per month and has had more than a million app downloads to date. The company has also created 23,000 websites for customers, both standalone and listings within goldenpages.be.
That Truvo Belgium also has 1,000 ongoing Facebook campaigns, more than 9,000 ongoing Google AdWords campaigns and 6,000 mobile sites developed to date further highlights its multichannel focus.
Farrell adds: “The perception of Yellow Pages companies is either a listing in a telephone book or an online directory, but actually the reality is we are something quite different. It was much more simple 15 years ago!”
A lot has happened since the turn of the century. Indeed, goldenpages.be launched in 1999 under Truvo’s previous name, Promedia. Up to this point, the printed business directory had been unchallenged from its inception in Belgium in the late 1960s, the first Gouden Gids / Pages d'Or (Dutch and French Belgian brand name equivalent of Yellow Pages) being published in 1969.
With such a fundamental shift in how the company generates revenue, aligning and digitising key business processes is an ongoing challenge.
“Over the past few years we have tried to get a better understanding of what the core business processes and structures are and how they can be digitised from a customer point of view,” says Farrell. “Learning how to operate in this new world is a learning process for the whole company, and we have been leveraging one of our key strategic partners, Harman, to establish those business capabilities and processes, which has been invaluable so far.”
Truvo Belgium is also digitising and elevating its infrastructure to the cloud, a move which will provide further flexibility for customers. Farrell explains: “We have consolidated all of our digital and business infrastructure and landscape into the cloud and this is just the beginning. It is far more cost effective as it is priced on demand based on usage, making it easy to scale up and down in line with our needs. We don’t have to build and maintain hardware in-house anymore.”
Data security is another key area of focus, with Truvo Belgium implementing a number of measures, including new enterprise architecture, to help prevent its data from being taken illegally.
Farrell also cites the need for industrial-strength analytics capabilities to better understand customer audiences and behaviours; behaviours which are constantly changing in a world where consumers interact with businesses across a vast array of touch points.
“There are digital user experiences we haven’t even thought of yet and we must be set up to respond to changing consumer patterns in a much more rapid way than we can today,” he adds. “Using on-demand, best in class SaaS [Software-as-a-Service] solutions from the market and integrating them to our business landscape will help us to do this and become better than we are today.”
Industrialised analytics is one of several business optimisation trends highlighted by the likes of Gartner, Forrester and Deloitte which are currently shaping Truvo Belgium’s IT strategy. Making optimum use of data and leveraging the information of everything, advanced machine learning and the subsequent harnessing of autonomous machine capabilities are all trends Farrell and his team are keeping a close eye on.
Revitalising core IT systems and building capabilities in process and talent will also ensure Truvo can keep pace with the speed of change required to deliver its services in the best way possible. The end result, an ambient digital experience for customers across a full range of touch points and devices.
Despite the technological digital transformation at Truvo Belgium reflecting the increasing sophistication in the ways consumers interact with businesses, keeping it simple is what will appeal to SMEs across Belgium. Digital user experience has and will remain central to any further digitisation and lies at the core of the wider business strategy.
“It has to be easy for customers-entrepreneurs to interact with us and a lot of focus and effort is being spent on simplifying this experience,” Farrell says. “This is where our sales teams and the positioning of our solutions are so important. We have gone through a lot of simplification internally and that continues as we speak. By simplifying all of our offerings into something understandable as solutions rather than a list of 20 different digital products, we can really reach out to our market here.”
“The digitisation of the customer experience will be key both now and in the future. This requires the entire company to be focused on continuously thinking about optimising and smoothening the way how customers interact with us in order to create an outstanding digital experience.”