Friday, June 6, 2008

Hoover's Continues its Freshen-Up With More Content and Features

Building on Wednesday's launch of free individual and bulk company data from Jigsaw there's an announcement from business information provider Hoover's on its addition of more than a million new contacts for mid-level executives in major companies from an unnamed third party source (but given which service is focused on harvesting mid-level contacts from sales professionals it's not too hard to figure out). Pull up the record for GE, for example, and Hoover's provides access to more than 4,500 employees, now including employees from subsidiaries as well. That helps to cut down on the "which of those doggone divisions is he/she in?" conundrum that can slow down the search for appropriate contacts. With company records becoming increasingly commoditized this emphasis on contacts data integrated in with its Hoover's Connect social media feature is a key component of Hoover's future.

The other neat function is the ability to add one's own profile into the Hoover's business information database, somewhat along the lines of what ECNext is doing with company information on their Manta platform targeted at small to medium sized enterprises. Add in your bio, education, memberships in associations, add an option to receive contact via the Hoover's platform and it's off to their editors for final review and posting. You have to go looking for the feature way down on a company page, but it's there and is a start towards enabling the gathering of the kinds of valuable information that LinkedIn and other business-oriented social media services are enabling.

Overall Hoover's continues its efforts on reviving the once-flagging brand that had been turned into a cash cow by D&B just about the time that it needed serious new investment. The need to turn the cow into a star again is now clear at D&B and many of the efforts are starting to pay off. Long a leader in pressing the envelope for online workflow design, The Hoover's interface manages to present a ton of information and a wealth of features in a highly usable form. The real question seems to be, though, when and how often people will visit the Hoover's portal - or any heavy-duty business information portal.

Business information tools like Zoominfo beckon with a Google-esque simplicity to its ad-supported design and fairly rich features, if with less in-depth content, from its subscription-level service. The growth of Zoominfo in particular seems to be putting a damper on both established business information services and up-and-comers as it aggregates content harvested from with web with licensed content supplements. Part of Hoover's response to this "stickiness" issue is to highlight their editorial staff via topic-oriented business blogs that are featured prominently on the ad-supported front page and elsewhere within the site. It's an innovative move, but one that seems to be still looking for a big payoff in improved site traffic.

The main problem that Hoover's and other business information services face is that it's hard to keep on heaping on great portal features and expect to get commensurate returns on the investment in those features every single time. With a wide range of contexts in which people want business information on a personal and professional basis the ability to integrate content in contexts far beyond one's portal becomes a key factor for building the brand value of business information. At the same time there are more opportunities to use the value of contexts in a portal such as Hoover's to gain more lucrative positioning of ad-supported content. Instead of having some mass-market ad show up when someone with a known business profile is looking at a company's information, isn't that the perfect opportunity for that company to tout itself or to have related B2B products and services crop up from a ThomasNet network or such? The ad value of business information is still very underappreciated and under-exploited.

So overall the Hoover's portal continues to make healthy strides forward but it must continue to build innovation in a year in which the economy makes "pretty good" free or more targeted substitutes more popular than ever. Both the short-run and long-run track for Hoover's continues to offer challenges that they must battle, but at least their sword is getting sharper in order to take them on.
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