Marissa Mayer

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I talk to brand strategy clients in simple terms. Brand strategy — an organizing principle to improve product, experience and messaging — is the result of a bold down of consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”

Looking at Yahoo, as it begins what appears to be the final stages of life as we know it, I’d like to suggest a couple of observations. Yahoo customer care-abouts include: communications, digital content (not TV content), immediacy and sports. Yahoo good-ats include: ad sales, consumer reach, brand, fantasy sports and  production.

When care-abouts and good –ats don’t align, you have product failure which leads to brand failure.

I was speaking with a start-up owner recently and told him, when dealing with brand strategy for nascent companies I “follow the patent.” For mature companies like Yahoo! with lots of twists, turns and portal creeps, I suggest go back to care-abouts and good-ats. Make tough decision. Toss a few babies out with the bathwater. And get your olfactory on. Imagine if Starbucks also served garlic bread.

Yahoo may have one last chance. If Ms. Mayer doesn’t focus, her company, a beloved company, will be sold for parts. Peace.



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Digital magazines? Search? Buying traffic? Mobile advertising? Alibaba? These are the things discussed yesterday on Yahoo!’s earnings call. A call that announced revenue up 14% but break even earnings.

A couple of years ago Marissa Mayer developed a strategy I thought was on the right track: Make Yahoo! a daily habit. Well it seems the habit is more like a nun’s head cover than a web business. Mobile apps are a good path but I’m not feeling any results. People with mobile phones have hourly not daily habits — and frankly those habits are wearing thin. How many Facebook and Instagram posts can a body look at during the day. Yahoo needs to find enthralling apps. Mobile apps than haven’t been done before. Content served in ways never seen before.

Yahoo is chasing TV (Fantasy Football Live) and magazines (Yahoo Food or something) which is just repackaging old stuff with some new sheen. Ms. Mayer needs to innovate. Not cross over. Not repackage. She must start with behaviors that are habit forming. She was on the right track but hasn’t landed on a breathtaking innovation. Keep after it Ms. Mayer. You are probably closer than you know. Peace.



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Yahoo! Stuff-Makers.

I want Marissa Mayer to succeed. I want Yahoo! to succeed. What’s the Idea? posts over the years have perhaps been unkind to Yahoo! but only because I care.

Ms. Mayer’s strategy a year ago, to be consumers “daily habit,” was a good one. It was certainly measurable, certainly grounded in consumer behavior and most importantly aspirational. Habits can be ritualistic and mechanical, but they can also be born of the need for education, stimulation and positivity.

Ms. Mayer’s latest “follow-the-money” foray, however, into mobile technology is off center. And in the tech world she is not alone. Inviting a 1,000 mobile developer s to a Yahoo! campfire rally, to energize them to use new analytic tools and advertising plug-ins is goofy. Mobile app developers are no better at finding the next new habit than anyone else. In fact, they are probably less so.

Innovative daily habits are more likely to come from visionaries. Students of people. Behaviorists. Social scientists who like punk. Comedians. Artists. Creative directors. As Ms. Mayer looked out in the audience at her mobile app developer meeting last week, what do you think she saw? Did they laugh at her humor? Did they look up from their devices?

If she goes to SXSW, Ms. Mayer is more apt to find habit formers at South By Music than at South By Interactive. Trust me.

Ms. Mayer – please know, Katie Couric, David Poque and some mobile developers are not the future. They are stuff-makers. You need to hire visionaries. Peace.



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Yahoo! Treading Water.

Yahoo! is sitting on a bundle of cash and according to news reports stockholders are clamoring for a payout. The cash is from holdings in Alibaba which just IPO’d. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, is being pressured to not spend money on purchases of other tech companies a la the huge Tumblr purchase — stock owners want dividend checks. Can’t really blame them.

Yahoo is a media company and a technology company. And frankly, they are not excelling at either. David Pogue is not happening. Katie Couric, not so much. The new digital food magazine is not burning down the house. And mobile first – I don’t really know what that means other than make stuff work on smaller screens and invent fun phone apps – is not delivering differentiated value at this point.

Ms. Mayer needs to tell investors “snookie, shut up and get in your bed.” She needs to put the check book away and stop looking to buy side view mirror tech companies (companies fast approaching from behind). Yahoo’s new strategy is “be part of people’s daily habits.” A nice start. But weather, food, tech news and the Middle East have been done. Yahoo needs to invent in areas that are not saturated. And big data is a good place to mine for behaviors and habits. Focus on daily habits, innovate around them and deliver under the Yahoo brand. First understand the habits, then understand the pent up demand, then turn the engineers loose. I get the feeling the engineers are defining the need, which is backwards.

Too much company time is spent reinventing not inventing. Peace. 

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Yahoo has once again gone public with its strategy; this time Marissa Mayer announced it at a presentation to advertising buyers in NYC.  (I once accused Yahoo of having a lazy eye and must admit my view hasn’t changed too much, but I still believe Ms. Mayer is the right person for the job.  In a previous blog post I noted she may be on to something with a the germ of a brand idea, but yesterday may have dissuaded me.)

Yahoo needs to step up its original content game. And yesterday she acknowledged “premium content” as one leg of the stool.  The other two legs being: innovation and performance. I’ve heard innovation before – What technology company doesn’t use that one? –but performance is new. But you can also drive a truck through it.  At least she didn’t hang a brand plank on advertising. Last time out she talked about mobile, but I guess that falls under innovation. 

Every house has a foundation.  Every company needs a business strategy and a brand strategy. What I’ve found out in my years as a planner and consultant is that creating the brand strategy first is the best way to build a business strategy — because it’s built on customers and endemic business value.  There I’ve said it. Come get me Harvard Business Schoolies.

Yahoo is making money. Diddling around with mobile.  Promoting Ms. Mayers in lovely ways. But it still does not have a brand strategy. Ask Gareth Kay. Search this site for all posts on Yahoo if you would like to see the history of missteps.  Yahoo is pulling its nose up (aviation metaphor)…it just needs more time and a tight brand plan. Peace.

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I half disagree with Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s new CEO,  about Yahoo’s challenge.  When asked the question “Does Yahoo needs to define whether it is a technology company or a media company?” she responded “It’s not the right questions.  The most important thing is to give end users something valuable, inspiring and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo! every day.”  With that part of her answer I completely agree. But the way to get there — is to become content-focused.  In the NYT article Ms. Mayer’s quote came from, an eMarketer analyst suggested that Yahoo doesn’t own the operating system or the device and that there may not be enough room in the market for a 4th mobile platform. (I hate the “P” word, you can drive a truck through it.) Whatever he meant by platform, my take is there will certainly be enough room in the mobile world for a great content provider.

Ms. Mayer accurately feels that mobile is a growth zone for Yahoo!. If she provides content that is mobile ready, not technology ready – she will grow. Technology-enabled (other people’s technology) content is her north star. Any apps or start-ups that result are gravy.

This gem just needs a little cleaning off. 700 million people can’t be wrong. Peace!


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