Hibu in need of direction

Hibu: in need of direction
Hibu: in need of direction

The Yell Group's rebranded digital business remains mired in debt, writes Kim Benjamin.

In July, Yell Group, the owner of Yellow Pages directories, rebranded the digital side of its business as Hibu (pronounced 'high boo'), while also posting an annual loss of £1.4bn.

The brand decided it needed a dynamic identity to signal its repositioning as a digital business of the future, with a strategy aimed at creating a transactional platform. It has been trialling a local 'emarketplace' in Oxford and enabling participating businesses to create basic web and ecommerce sites.

Four months later, it is obvious that Hibu's performance has been anything but dynamic. The business' share price recently slumped to less than 0.5p after it issued the latest in a long line of profit warnings.

The brand has been struggling in the past few years since a debt-fuelled expansion drive, where it snapped up rivals in markets such as Spain and parts of Latin America.

It recently appointed Laura Broderick as its global chief marketing officer. Broderick, who has worked at the company for six months as vice-president of ecommerce at Yell, filled the position left vacant by Jenny Ashmore, who left the company in May without a job to go to.

But what does the future hold for Hibu and its directories business, particularly as consumers are tending to turn to the internet to a greater degree when they want to find local services and phone numbers?

We asked Kris Lea, managing director at KL Marketing Consultancy, who has held marketing roles at Thomson Directories and was most recently head of marketing at Touch Local, and Bridget Angear, joint strategic officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, which previously managed the Yellow Pages account.


Hibu's share price has fallen 90% this year

The company employs 13,000 people

It had borrowings of £2.2bn as of July this year

Source: Hibu

DIAGNOSIS - Brand Health Check

Two industry experts on what steps Hibu should take to turn its fortunes around


I worked for several years for Yellow Pages' main rival and confess that at the time I was envious of its established brand and healthy ad budgets.

However, this now feels like a distant memory. The annual distribution of more than 20m directories can no longer ensure dominance.

The market has evolved. Directory publishers must embrace technology, so business owners know that they can be found and contacted, regardless of where consumers search.

With directories seemingly dying, Hibu must identify product and partnership opportunities to strengthen its portfolio and deliver results. In the days of JR Hartley it was simple yet effective - Yellow Pages. There's a risk that the rebrand, even if only for the digital proposition, will take significant time and investment to gather momentum.


- The shelf life of directories is limited, so digital products should sit above print, not alongside.

- Adopt a sales strategy that reflects greater emphasis on digital.

- Identify partnerships that enhance the digital portfolio.

BRIDGET ANGEAR, JOINT STRATEGIC OFFICER, ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO (which previously managed the Yellow Pages account)

In his management book Good to Great, Jim Collins uses Charles 'Cork' Walgreen as an example of someone who transformed a business, by getting rid of more than 500 restaurants and focusing on making it the US' most convenient drug store.

Something as transformational needs to happen at Hibu if Yell is to survive. It must work out what business it wants to be in. This is certainly not the printed directory business, and probably not even the online directory business, longer term.

What could a brand that has always understood the needs of small businesses offer? Website design? Database management? Mailing lists and relationship marketing?

Yell must invest its diminishing print revenue in emerging technologies and platforms. It must step into the future or be consigned to the past.


- Decide what business it should be in.

- Deliver core expertise on the needs of small businesses.

- Invest in technologies and platforms of the future.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug
Thetrainline.com backs 'rubbish' mobile app with TV ad