Carol Bartz

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On Sept 7, 2011 I predicted Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! would be out within a year. It happened in July 2012. I’ve followed and blogged about Yahoo since the beginning of What’s the Idea? and was internet raised on Yahoo.  I want it to succeed, but it has been a messy go the last 5 years. Perhaps that is changing.

According to new CEO Marissa Mayer in an article from today’s New York Times, Yahoo’s top priority is to “Make the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining.”  I smell a brand strategy.

Over the years, Yahoo has had many leaders, many missions and many goals: Become the Internet starting point for the most consumers. Become a ‘must buy’ for the most advertisers. Become an open technology platform for developers.  Become an innovative content company. A mobile leader. And and and…

“Make the world’s habits inspiring and entertaining” is a brand strategy that has ballast.  Remember it’s not the creative, it’s a strategy. Support it with three endemic and meaningful brand planks and you have the start of something – a brand plan. 

I’m not going to parse the sentence yet and frankly a brand strategy with a conjunction (“and”) is a bit of a weasel, but the exciting keywords are: world, habits, daily, inspire, entertain.  Were I a Yahoo brand manager, CMO, or VP and if someone brought me a new mobile app or content idea, I could easily use this strategy as a litmus test for approval.  It’s still broad and in need of refinement but it’s a start. As my daughter used to say “I yike it!”  Peace.

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Carol Bartz was let go yesterday and not a moment too soon.  A smart lady out of her element – she, a good enterprise tech blocker and tackler – Ms. Bartz in the near term will be replaced by an army of herself.  An army of bankers and financial advisors that will chase the numbers — chase and plot the lines of business.  An army that will evaluate global growth, sales, competitors whiles using Wall Street formulas to predict market capitalization.  Not one Carol, 20 Carols.  And while this is happening the call will go out to high level search firms and tech recruiters.  The board of directors, headed by adman Roy Bostock, will do some trail covering and soul searching and become a story in and of itself. This is how we do-oo it.

But what needs to be done here, as well, is a brand audit and a brand plan. A brand plan is an operating principle guided by consumer needs…delivered in the form of the product experience, marketing and messaging. People think a brand plan is about messaging alone and they are wrong.   

All the financial work the numbers consultants will do is important. The CEO hire is important, but what Yahoo IS and what Yahoo DOES (for consumers) is more important. This is called the Is-Does.  Right now Yahoo IS a Portal. And what it DOES is serve web pages.  Yahoo wants to be an innovative content company, but hasn’t delivered.  If consumers can’t pass the Is-Does test, it’s a fail.  Right now Yahoo’s Is is weak. And the Does doesn’t.

My prediction:  in 12 months there will be a new CEO, a new logo, a new campaign (Yahoo would be smart to keep ad shop Goodby), and no brand plan.  Brand diaspora, brand diffusion is what kills great companies.  Stop the madness. Peace!

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Back in the 90s when Yahoo! owned the airways (okay, the cables and pipes), my favorite thing to do was log on and scour the list of new sites that joined the Internet that day – all available on Yahoo!.  New sites were organized by topic and type and the growth the wild west was so young, it was manageable.  I loved Yahoo! for that.  Indexing new sites, organizing and sharing them and providing links so one could explore the growing medium. Tres cool. 

According to Alexa, “What’s the Idea?” is the 586,688 most trafficked website in the world.  And holding.  It used to be moving down but the number of new websites turning up every day is startling. That growth has caused Yahoo! to cease publishing all the new sites.  But if Yahoo’s strategy is about content, they might want more and newer ways to make me stop by the site.  Fantasy Football is over and I probably won’t be back until August.

Yahoo needs a focused brand strategy, an idea, and some tight execution to turn this thing around quickly. They’ve got a smart ad agency, lots of people who know and love the brand, but for all the billions in ad revenue they don’t know how to package what webizens want.  The Yaaaah-hooooooo is gone!  Now it’s more like Yah-Who? Or Yah-Why?  Come on Ms. Bartz; you have two more quarters (is my guess). Bust a nut.

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There are hints in the press that Yahoo might be broken up. There’s also talk that if big things don’t happen soon, Carol Bartz will be out in a year. Can anyone imagine the internet era without Yahoo? 

When was the last time you went to Yahoo to look at something? When was the last time someone sent you a link to Yahoo to see a video, or read a story or view a picture?  I go all the time to check my Fantasy Football stuff, but that’s about it. Yahoo Fantasy Sports is probably Yahoo’s biggest asset; they do some nice video programming (Charissa Thompson is a star in waiting.).

But Yahoo still seems rudderless.  I know it wants to be in the content business but it’s not buying any properties that I can tell. In this area it is losing to AOL, who seems to be spending wisely on content… TechCruch, for instance.

Carol Bartz is keeping her head down. Elisa Steele, CMO and Penny Baldwin, SVP Integrated Branding are also sub rosa when it comes to the plan forward. The latter two should be helping form the product, and I’m not seeing it.  I’m seeing some tilling of the field but not a lot of growth.  Yahoo needs an idea! Peace.

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Where’s the thought leadership in digital publishing? 

Magazines on iPads and other to be developed mobile devices are a nascent commercial endeavor.  At no time before have we had an opportunity to thread together storytelling with text, pictures, video, authorship and curation as have today.  If you think ad agencies haven’t figured out the silo-ization of marketing commerce, what about magazines and newspapers?

Once magazines were glossy and delivered weekly or monthly.  Newspapers were matted on inexpensive newsprint and more likely a daily, immediate vehicle. Today, digitally, they’re the same animal. And they publish and update with a simple click.   

When it comes to the information architecture, screen layout, art direction, usability, bounce-ability, brutally honest copy editing and the integration of advertising, who is leading the way?  To whom do we turn as we try to systematize the new digital publishing business?  Mssrs. McGraw and Hill?  Mr. Sulzburger? Ms. Huffington? Mr. Zuckerberg? Ms. Bartz? Mr. Droga? Mr. Arrington?

When hiring, one of my favorite interview questions is “Who are your heroes?” Well, it will be very interesting to watch the heroes emerge in digital publishing as we move toward a multidimensional platform.  Do you have any nominees? Peace.

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Cambio is AOL’s first big bullet in the content strategy war with Yahoo. It makes me think AOL just may win this thing. I love Carol Bartz’s decision to go with the content approach for Yahoo, but still think her approach a bit too diffuse. They still possess a start page mentality over there – start page meaning, set your personal home page to Yahoo.

AOL, on the other had, spent enough time with Time Warner to learn a thing about packaging content.  They probably own a camera or two and kept some producers and directors around, so by signing the Jonas Bothers and their music company to a deal with the new AOL online music channel Cambio, cranking up some new content quickly may be very doable.   This is a transformative move. It may be the first real melding of music and new media we’ve seen; think Little Steven’s Garage (dot com) for kids. And, with a big, scalable company surrounding it.

AOL, BTW, should bring Little Steven and his garage over to the fold. No brainer. Why?  Because he’s a great curator, a special personality and he has a loyal following. The radio doesn’t do his project justice. I like this move for AOL — and though Cambio may only be the learning ground for something bigger, it’s a great idea. Tim Armstrong is human, but he’s beginning to hit stride.  Peace! 

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Yahoo is buying Associated Media and its federation of 380,000 writers (Posters) who according to ComScore generate 16M monthly uniques.  Yahoo is paying $100 million for the ability to advertise to Associated’s audience and the deal also includes some technology which allows for the monitoring and prediction of reader content proclivities. This is a big move for Carol Bartz, Yahoo CEO, and shows she is putting money into the content strategy.

I look at content portals like Yahoo and AOL a little bit like big retail malls. A good portal, like a good mall, has lots of tenants but there is always what is called an anchor tenant — a big store that draws in lots of people.  In my view, this $100 million play is more about finding an “anchor” tenant (or ten) among Associated Media’s writers who will propel Yahoo’s numbers upward, rather than a crowd sourcing effort to generate mass.  It’s like putting a seine net in the ocean to catch krill but finding some big fish.  Yahoo needs next generation big fish. Big Posters. It’s a very expensive move, but should work for them.  The portal story, IMHO, is about quality not quantity.  But that’s just me.  Peace!

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Aol. and Yahoo have both finally figured out that good content begets readership, viewership, referral, and participation which begets — the same.  These two seminal online brands will be dooking it out for years to come. They both took different paths to get here and both have CEOs with unique perspectives, but the battle should be fun to watch. Coke and Pepsi, AT&T and Verizon fun.

Armstrong vs. Bartz

My bet is on Aol. Tim Armstrong hitched his ride to a rising star (Google) and got that success smell on him — but I think he created some of that smell with his focus and good leadership. Carol Bartz’s career advanced by good blocking and tackling and good business decisions, something Yahoo hadn’t had for a while prior to her arrival.  Yahoo made lots of decisions, just not with a solid brand idea driving them. Until proven otherwise, I’ll give Mr. Armstrong the edge and write it off to “derring do.”

Ad dollars are moving online, no doubt, but those in the know will tell you the lion’s share are going to Google thanks to AdWords and their direct-to-consumer, DIY, analytics-powered ad model. As Aol. and Yahoo re-create their online brands and lead the market in the generation of original content (paid and contributed), search will stay a powerful, lucrative utility, but won’t be the best way to find good content. That will be the domain of Aol and, hopefully, Yahoo. Peace!

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I love to pay attention to great corporate leaders. They are decisive, make informed decisions and once you know what drives them are predictable. Always, they are always strategic.


Were my parents to comment on Michael Dell’s fall from corporate grace over the years, they would whisper “Is he on drugs?”  He was such a good CEO and now he’s all over the place.”  I am not at all suggesting Mr. Dell uses drugs, but he did go from the number one business executive in the country to someone who is unpredictable, a follower, unfocused and seemingly lacking in discipline.  He needs to be hypnotized and brought back to those days in his dorm room at U Texas, so that he can find his vision.


Carol Bartz on the other hand has moved into the CEO role at Yahoo!, a company which is more like five companies, and decided to “simplify.”  Bravo. Yahoo’s problem is that it has forgotten what it is, focusing instead on earnings, stock prices, business partners, platforms and, and, and… Ms. Bartz approach, after only a few weeks on the job, is less silos, less layers, fewer agendas, more focus, more Yahoo.  Today’s smartest marketers are simplifying.  


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