LSA|14: Vertical Experts on the Advantages of Being Vertical

Neal Polocheck, independent digital media analyst and board advisor at BuzzBoard, Inc., and Greg Sterling, senior analyst at Opus Research, moderated a lively panel this afternoon on the advantages of vertical offerings in the local marketplace.

Neal and Greg started with the thesis that an enormous amount is at stake for those in local who are focused on vertical offerings. They said that because Google owns local horizontally, companies need to approach vertically in order to compete. Neal and Greg said that there were numerous start-ups focused on “owning” local verticals because they are still available. Greg said that given the rise and success of verticalization, those who fail to verticalize their ad sales may be left behind.

Neal and Greg introduced their panel of three vertical experts, who overviewed their company’s offerings:

  • Sendi Widjaja, CTO, Avvo, said his site is the largest legal marketplace in the U.S. Avvo helps consumers make smart legal decisions through real-time inquiries to real attorneys. He said that his site facilitates the answering of 60,000 legal questions per week. He also noted that his site provides in-depth attorney directory information, as well as provides profile and grades for every attorney nationally.
  • Chris Spanos, CEO and co-founder,, detailed his company’s mobile web app for towing, which launched in DC within the past month. helps consumers who need help now and don’t have towing coverage or need better coverage. He said his company helps connect towers with those who need their assistance, and vis-versa.
  • Ben Smith, CEO, Wanderful Media, provides a comprehensive collection of local sales available through 500 newspapers across the country. He said his company’s goal was to help consumers find local retail savings.

In discussing the benefits of verticalization, Ben said that if one looks at his company’s offering and user experience, they would find a completely different approach than what is provided through a horizontal offering. He noted that depending on what category a consumer is searching – salons, home improvements, dining, etc. – the core idea of the user experience is different. He said there’s no way an enterprise offering can provide a different promise to each consumer each time, in each category they’re searching.

Chris agreed. He noted that in the towing space, the goal is to create a user experience that connects the consumer with the right provider right away.  He said that verticals provide an opportunity to provide a deeper, richer experience that is difficult for a larger property to do – except through vertical partnerships.

Ben said that mobile provides multiple ways to reach the consumer and capture their attention that bypass the traditional search engine experience. He gave kudos to Yelp for achieving direct search within its mobile app that can bypass Google search. However, he said that companies like Google and Yelp can’t serve the consumer from end-to-end like a tailored vertical. Yelp, for example, provides a standard reviews option across categories, while a tailored vertical customizes its reviews option to be specific to that category.

Sendi talked about the initial challenges his company faced in getting started and in demonstrating that it could provide ROI and value to busy attorneys. He said the company benefited from being led by a lawyer who could speak their clients’  language  He also said that his company was interested in serving as a thought-leader to its lawyer clients and providing the transparency that they’re looking for on where their advertising spend is going.

When asked about the cost of securing a consumer to use their vertical offerings, Ben said that the cost to get a consumer to download a broadly used app ranged between $0.30-$2.00. Sendi talked about how useful it is prompt the consumer to download a mobile app at the moment they first arrive on the site. Chris noted the benefits of web apps that do not require downloads.

In closing, Ben said that unless one decides on the vertical they want to own, they are not going to own anything. Chris highlighted the opportunity to provide a richer experience through individual verticals. And Sendi discussed the value of knowing one’s consumer and supplier – doing the right research and interviews to determine what else can and should be done to cater to both sides.

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