What is Yahoo? (2013)

The design process Marissa Mayer utilized for Yahoo’s new logo was pretty awful, but I don’t really think that is the primary concern.  It is this article on Techcrunch, where Marissa defines Yahoo as a personalization company.

WTF is a personalization company?

To be clear, the job of “fixing Yahoo” is ridiculously hard and Marissa is doing alot of things right, including dealing with their brain drain.  However, I think the problem is so deeply rooted in their identity, only a major heart transplant will do the trick.

Yahoo started with a simple premise:  Let’s catalog the web! Yahoo! It was a gigantic tree structure that had human beings figure out the categories.  They made money with banned ads at the top of the page.  Their home page was a representation of their brand.  “The web is messy, our website is messy.  Here are links to every place on the web we could fit.”  Their identity was clear and they made alot of money.

Then came the big sea change: Google. Google said, “Screw it, this tree is too big.  We need a good search.”  Their homepage represented the new reality: No more links.  Just the big ole search box, which is still present to this day, despite having many properties.

At the same time Netflix, AOL and others tried to be a “portal”.  It meant they had a little of everything.  Their websites were cluttered and messy and had a little for everyone, which means they didn’t focus on one area.

Back to Yahoo.  They are still stuck in this portal mentality.  Their website has tons things on it.  There is no focus.  It’s entirely unclear these days what Yahoo is.  A personalization company is a word, but the word has no meaning.  How does Yahoo personalize my life?  What am I (or some company) paying for?

I imagined Marissa Mayer invited me over and asked, “What would YOU do smart ass?” (It’s always good to ask yourself the toughest questions.)

I have no idea what makes money for Yahoo and what doesn’t.  I don’t know their assets, people, potential, etc.  What I do know is that their brand presence is scattered and confusing.  I know that they have alot of people doing alot of things.  My advice would be to pick one thing that Yahoo does; the thing that makes the most money.  I would make that the only thing on the http://yahoo.com site.  I would take everything else and make sub-brands.  Let them live (or die) on their own.  Make it clear that the #1 thing IS Yahoo and Yahoo IS the #1 thing.  Everything else gets pushed to a different place.

We are simple people, us humans.  We can keep only simple thoughts in our heads.  Google is search, despite having tons of other properties, including Android.  Microsoft is Windows, despite having Office and xBox and lots of others.  IBM is a systems integrator.  Oracle is a database.  Dell is cheap hardware.  Apple is beautiful devices.  Exxon is gas. GM is cars. Tesla is electric cars. NBCNews.com is news.  Good brands have one answer.

You are allowed to do more than one thing as a company.  You are not allowed to confuse your customers day-in and day-out and not face consequences.

I said over a year ago, when Marissa joined Yahoo as CEO, that the brand identity is the #1 problem. This problem hasn’t improved in a year.  They have stemmed the tide of talent leaving their building, which is good.  They have infused new life into their culture, which is good.

However, they have left the core problem unchanged.  Who are you, Yahoo?  and don’t tell me some bullshit answer like personalization.  I want something I can understand.  Keep it simple.

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