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How Yahoo Can Get Its Mojo Back (Not With Free Food & Acquisitions)

Read with interest an article in the Wall Street Journal about Marissa Mayer's early moves as Yahoo! CEO. She's got a lot of things right, but the branding element is not there yet.

From a human capital perspective, these good things jumped out:

  • Regular, open Friday meetings with staff
  • Personally vetting all new hires
  • Making cafeteria food free

From a general leadership perspective -

  • Focus primarily on the user, not on selling the user to the advertiser
  • Stop obsessing about the stock price
  • Wait to talk about strategy till you're on firmer ground

The branding part is not there. I wouldn't expect anyone to announce their strategy right off the bat but I get the feeling she is either taking a copycat approach or being mischaracterized that way. Generally it seems to me that technology companies over-rely on human capital and utility and under-rely on the image element (Facebook and Google are both prime examples) so I am not sure what to think.

Obviously Yahoo! isn't going to succeed by literally copying Google...we know that right? (Title of WSJ article: "A Makeover Made In Google's Image") Because to succeed in marketing anything you have to have either a monopoly or a position. Google and Facebook were early monopolies at what they did...Yahoo! has no such luck. Copycatting is not a position, so I winced when I read that she was working on Google's specialties, email and search:

"Since taking over Yahoo three weeks ago, the former Google Inc. executive has talked with Yahoo's product leaders about how to reverse the declining usage of the company's search and email service, said people with knowledge of the matter."

Yahoo! needs a position that it can defend, not better email and search. Already, people use the term "to Google something" to mean searching for it online. Yahoo has to get away from that.

Yahoo! can position itself in one of two basic ways:

  • Demonstrating functional superiority at meeting a need - pursuing the monopoly approach, by finding something new to do. Example: A lot of companies make coffee, but there is no coffee that tastes as good as Starbucks, period. Forget everything else - I just can't drink Dunkin' or Panera. Even illy tastes thin half the time.
  • Convincingly creating an image that people want. Example: Prana T-shirts have that image of meditation, New Age wisdom, etc. that provides me a shortcut to that Zen state of mind. They charge in the $50 range for T-shirts and yoga pants I can get for less than half the price at Target...and although I know they're a waste of money I understand why other people buy.
It seems to me that Yahoo! has all the makings of a good challenger brand. I remember the early days, the funny commercials, the guy yelling "YA-HOO!"

There are probably a lot of people who don't want to be cultish Google-ites and have their entire lives governed by Big Data.

Mayer should take everything she learned about why people loved Google, and turn it into a strategy for appealing to people who hate it, or might hate it, or at the very least what it stands for.

She could pursue the approach offered by Adam Morgan in Eating The Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders. Remember Avis - "We Try Harder"? That's what Mayer has to do. Convince people that Yahoo stands for something people really, really hate about Google.

Of course the big challenge is accurately discovering and defining what that is, then repackaging it for a buying public. But it could be less of a challenge than people think, especially if one sees Yahoo! as ultimately a niche or accessory brand rather than a direct competitor to Google. From an economical standpoint, it might even be useful to go back to the brand's heritage, maybe take the old Yahoo! commercials from the '90s and put them back on TV.

"Do You Yahoo?" I don't, but can imagine people who would answer, "Yes, I Do!"

It's Not What You Say, It's What They See

That is the whole of branding in a nutshell: People see right through you, for better or for worse. So instead of **saying** what kind of organization or person you are, simply **be** that, and you'll be fine.

Thanks to my husband for reminding me of that.

Lost In A World Of Brands

Snapped this photo in midtown D.C. It sort of says it all.

Celebrity, Celebrity Endorser, Brand: What's The Difference?

Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, has written a useful article for students of brand: "What Justin Bieber Can Teach Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and Other Superstar Athletes about Being a Super Brand." To summarize the somewhat complex language:

  • A celebrity is someone who has achieved fame.
  • A celebrity endorser either has credibility in endorsing the brand or there is some sort of "credible rationale" for the pair-up (for example, in terms of the image of the celebrity and the image the brand seeks to portray)
  • A celebrity brand is someone whose image goes beyond a single point of expertise or distinction to multiple categories.
In matching celebrity to brand Adamson offers a few tips but the most important concept is focus - ensuring that the positioning of the celebrity and the brand (or the celebrity as brand) is careful, specific, and unique.

A Comment on "Youth Is Different Now" (@GovLoop)

I appreciated this post but am not sure about the premise that us old folks (Gen Xers and Boomers) have trouble appreciating the contributions of Millennials. What's clear to me is that we greatly appreciate those contributions and that's why we work so hard to recruit the next generation into government and to incorporate what they have to say about making improvements.
As an Xer, the parent of a Yer and having worked with Yers a few observations. On the plus side:
  • When they are focused on a goal they work tirelessly.
  • They are competitive in a positive way - the competition is mostly with themselves, to excel or succeed in their chosen field or hobby.
  • They have an incredible ability to organize social networks quickly around virtually any cause, project, or initiative. (Actually GovLoop itself is an example.)
  • They know how to allocate different team members to different functions.
  • They trust one another and work well together.
  • They understand formal authority and know how to adhere to the chain of command.
  • They don't feel constrained by past traditions.
  • They have a great ability to use visual media to get the point across, and will subject virtually any process to improvement through technology.
Gen Yers tend to get along well with Baby Boomers also, I think because Boomers are more clearly in positions of authority and can help them advance. Like Boomers, Yers also see work as inherently a team effort. The difference is that Boomers build consensus more slowly and deliberately whereas Yers tend to have less patience with people from different generations...this is where some of the demoralization comes in as Yers want to move forward while Boomers want to be sure that consensus has been reached (even if it's not real consensus, they strongly believe everyone should at least express their opinion.)
Where some of the conflict surfaces is between Xers and Yers. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. One of the most basic is that Xers tend to see themselves as battling heroic odds to get an impossible job done. Xers work well with other Xers, as long as the territorial lines are clearly drawn - and they will pursue the mission tenaciously. On the other hand, Yers see work as only an aspect of a larger social grid called "life," and they don't relate to the individual focus at all. In addition, Xers are very good at identifying problems independently and innovating to fix them, whereas Yers (in the workplace) prefer to have someone tell them what to do first, or give them the green light. 
This is probably the single biggest issue between the generations at work - understanding the unspoken rules that govern the initiation of work. Boomers want employees to be self-starters, but they also want employees to check in and do things their way, which creates some lack of clarity for both Xers and Yers. 
All of this is made more complicated by differences in class, race, and gender because there are very marked differences in how various demographic groups approach work.
To give an obvious example more elite Yers have more of a sense of entitlement, probably because their Xer parents were determined to do better than their Boomer predecessors and so did everything to ensure they "lacked for nothing." 
Another example might center on gender. I'm not totally clear on the differences between Yer females and Yer males but one thing that stands out is that the females actually seem more achievement-oriented than the males - in the sense that they more avidly pursue traditional degrees, etc. while males are more comfortable checking out of the system till they feel comfortable with the track they're on.
It's funny, writing about it it seems more simple and clear, but in the day-to-day it's easy to lose sight of things. Miscommunication is so often simply a result of having been raised and socialized in a different time or environment.

5 TV Brand Predictions for the Coming Year

I don't have any inside information to inform these, nor do I have an interest one way or the other in the outcome. Venture capitalists, wake up.

1. Reality TV turns to alter egos: The Kardashian saga will evolve as Bruce Jenner gets a co-host role on a daytime talk show, successfully. (We are sick of Kris Jenner and she should not do one.) E! to lose money on the final couple of years of the Kardashians reality TV show.

2. Cable TV/streaming home video cross-promotion: To do well, cable TV shows must work with Netflix, Crackle, and other simple home-video streaming services facilitated by Roku, Apple TV, etc. to get prime billing.

3. We are entering the era of Gen X TV. This means sappy network TV shows are on the downswing. On the other hand, cable TV shows - particularly intense, dramatic, reality-driven Gen X-oriented shows with a survival/independence element - will do well (Hell's Angels, Sons of Anarchy.) So will late '70s/early '80s nostalgia shows like The Brady Bunch remake by Vince Vaughn.

4. TV networks will more actively pair with YouTube to recruit and commercialize self-styled YouTube stars, like Jenna Marbles. The vision of "Step Up" revolution becomes real as young people actively shape their own television presence from a young age. Income from mandatory ads upfront plus product placement.

5. Homeschoolers will benefit from the marrying of TV and educational content - commercializing the Khan Academy concept by adding branded content (e.g. "world-class," TED-level instructors). This trend will be boosted by the "World's First Online Ivy League University" The Minerva Project, opening 2014, which will succeed and open the door for virtual high school to go mainstream.