Directory enquiries calls on design for assistance

The directory enquiries market rings in the changes on Sunday, with BT’s 192 no longer available, but designers believe very few of the 15 companies operating the new 118 numbers have made a strong connection with consumers as yet.

Oftel has handed licences to around 80 companies in all, though only ‘four or five’ are likely to remain after deregulation ‘settles down’. In the short term, however, new entrants are struggling to build distinctive offers, while the sector’s ‘big guns’ still need to engage with customers.

Corporate Edge director of strategy Marcus Mitchell thinks The Number, designed by Wolff Olins, has gone some way toward making an ’emotional connection’, but points out BT and ‘champion brands’ like Tesco will be stepping up their marketing in the sector.

Innocence strategist Glyn Britton thinks the market must shift from being ‘just directory enquiries-plus’ to offering ‘paid-for information on the move’.

‘There won’t be a better time to recalibrate the industry, but only two brands have made any impression so far,’ he says.

‘[The Number] 118 118 simply stands for cool. They haven’t communicated any benefit of their offer. 11 88 88 has been quite successful in saying it’s half the price of BT, but with only “cool” and “cheap” out there, there are many more positionings to go.’

Mitchell says consumers face ‘a real learning curve’ and will ‘tend to go with what is safe’ initially.

‘Tesco is good on price and good on service, [while] the likes of Yell, Thomson and Ask Jeeves have a real opportunity to extend the equity of their brands and our understanding of what they’re about,’ he adds.

Wolff Olins senior designer Jon Edge says the group was ‘well-aware’ that most companies would scramble for ‘memorability’, resulting in more noise than differentiation, and so opted to ‘create an attitude’ with The Number.

Edge says The Number is ‘standing out and being a brand rather than being a service’ and has deliberately avoided positioning on price.

‘Price is the most obvious route, but in market terms only one [operator] can be the cheapest,’ he says. ‘It could turn into a bit of a bun-fight for those just competing on price. All are competitive – there’s not a luxury 192 service – but we’re concerned with being the best and the most real, the most human.’

The Number talks of ‘directory assistance’, which involves listings information. However, Dublin-based Conduit – the company behind the other big-spending new entrant 11 88 88 – thinks most UK consumers only want the basic service.

Edge says The Number is accessible to ‘anybody and everybody’, but ‘the key thing is empathy’. Callers should not be given the hard sell if they just want a number, but staff should respond if people want more, he adds.

Charges of consumer confusion about the changeover are denied by Oftel, which claims 30 per cent have been using new operators since the April launch and 80 per cent are aware of changes.

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