Marissa Mayer Doesn't Fit Yahoo!'s Needs

Yahoo! announced tonight that Google's Marissa Mayer would take over tomorrow as Yahoo!'s CEO and President.  Obviously Mayer has long experience in the space and brings good competitive knowledge, particularly related to search marketing.  But I'm disappointed by this choice, here's why.

*Yahoo! needs a strategic visionary, not a product engineer.  Yahoo!'s fundamental problem is that it has too many disparate products with no clear unifying thread that ties them all together. And Mayer's background is in product development...not corporate strategy, not marketing, not brand definition...the areas where Yahoo! has the most critical need.

Yahoo! needs a strategic vision, not individual product promotion.  My other worry with Mayer's appointment is that it signals yet another shift in strategic vision for Yahoo!.  I count four different strategies over the last four years.  Late Jerry-Yang era Yahoo! was all about building Yahoo! as a provider of ad management technology and a portable social ID for consumers.   Bartz era Yahoo! refocused the company on being "the best media company in the world," by developing content creation resources and proprietary online magazines.  Then, Scott Thompson re-introduced Yahoo! shopping and Yahoo! as a commerce technology provider.  Now, Yahoo! seems to be chasing a new vision: one which emphasizes individual Yahoo! products, over a big-picture brand. I am not a fan of this vision (see my first point above), but I also hate that Yahoo! can't identify and stick with a clear strategy for more than about 10 months.

The optimist in me hopes that the third time will be the charm here for Y! with its post-Yang CEO choices.  Mayer will prove me wrong if she can:

1) Define a clear vision for the Yahoo! brand;

2) Get rid of the extraneous Yahoo! products that have nothing to do with that vision (say its Web hosting or domain registration businesses?); and

3) Market the new vision clearly so that business and consumer customers know what Yahoo! is and why to use it.

Comments

Good points, totally agree.

Good points, totally agree. Yahoo was THE internet directory. Directories were replaced by search and Yahoo has been struggling ever since to define itself. Their best chance might be something in the news aggregation area, which Yahoo does have a pretty good starting point and reputation. Otherwise it's a mishmash of unrelated products (Flickr) and "Me to" entries.

Yahoo was added to the S&P

Yahoo was added to the S&P 500 on December 8, 1999. Google is currently not an S&P 500 company. To be added to the S&P 500 a company must have a market cap of at least $4 billion, be liquid and have a 50% float - all criteria that Google currently has. In most cases the S&P 500 likes to have four public quarters of earnings before a company is added. Google is a behemoth and will soon be added to the index. Once added fund managers (who cover the S&P 500) will be required to buy shares of Google which could potentially result in a stock increase.

Marissa might shock you...

I think Marissa might shock you. I get your skepticism. I'm skeptical about anything Yahoo does. They haven't done ANYTHING interesting for years.

But a lot of people in Silicon Valley know Marissa and would work for her. That means she'll get some very significant talent to come on board and help her build a strategic vision. Plus, she has something NONE of the other CEOs have: real engineering creds. The engineers will listen to her, and will code like mad to make a vision come true. But you are right, she needs to see a path to Yahoo's future and go and build it. That will be very tough.

That said, this is a very inspiring move and is -- by far -- the most interesting thing Yahoo has done in years.

@Robert Scoble -> great points

Good job with the counterpoints Robert; I see both sides and look forward to seeing what unfolds. How long until we know for sure? 3 months? 6? 12?

and 4) finally unlock the value of Y! users

Search may look like a lost cause, but revitalizing once-loved products like Mail, Flickr, and Messenger can create repositories of proprietary big data, which should be used to build better search in the long-term. Success will come from technology-driven shifts in the playing field - I think you're right that former CEOs were navigating by watching the rear-view mirror and while a focus on products might appear to be a similar, web 2.0 has a new end game beyond web 1.0's obsession with eyeballs for ad revenue.

The world loves a comeback story. So far Yahoo!'s been the "not dead yet" guy from Monty Python's Holy Grail...and everyone will be watching to see if this indeed turns out to be a comedy or something more like Rocky IV.

I like the idea of Y!

I like the idea of Y! becoming a data business. If that's where this all goes, I am all for it. Yahoo! has only ever under-leveraged its data assets.

Good to hear from you, Pete.

The Age old Brand Extension Trap

Back to basics. Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, Caffine Free Diet Cherry Coke, Extra Caffine... Yahoo! has spent years extending their brand to the point where it means too much to too many people... I agree. Back to basics for Yahoo! When Yahoo meant something it was when it provided simple things like communities, email, news and sharable content. Steve Case's original vision of AOL was a series of communities where people could connect. They got distracted, protecting the "walled garden", dial up, TW... etc. Yahoo! seemed equally distracted, handing Facebook, Linkd In, Twitter, Tumblr and now Pinterest an opening. Granted, 20/20 vision but had Yahoo! remained focused on the simple and original intent of the site (connecting people and informing them) it would not be where it is today, I am sure.
It will be interesting to see how a "Googler's" view and approach will play out.

Tim Schreier
New York, NY

What's good for Yahoo is good for people

Shar,

I couldn't disagree more with your position on this and your suggested go-forward business strategy for Yahoo.

I would argue that it ain't about the products, it's all about the human user experience. Why else would Yahoo continue to pull down traffic / MAUs in the top global three if their products didn't still have habitual users? Trouble is once you get there, they lose you --- to Google, to Facebook, to Bing, to your on-device apps, to Netlfix etc.

No, the trouble isn't product strategy, it's stickiness - and an utter overhaul of the user experience, one creating a pleasing & unified look, feel, nav and seamless visit is what is needed.

And if it were business strategy first, well why didn't the four previous brilliant digital business strategists come up with something to stop the bleeding? The answer to me is clear: they were trying to serve the shareholders first, damn the users.

To paraphrase the brilliant political strategist - it's the customers, stupid. So, a gifted up-thru-the-ranks product & experience designer like Mayer who gets how to design, develop and deliver digital products which are addictively easy to consume, return to and share is what a flailing Yahoo needs right now.

Thom Kennon
@tkennon | bigevidence.blogspot.com | +Thom Kennon

UI stems from strategy

Thom -- Thanks very much for your comment. And I definitely agree that the current Yahoo.com is clunky as heck, especially when compared to the much more pared down Google site. But I'm not sure that I can separate Y!'s UI issues from its lack of integrated strategy. I think the reason Yahoo.com is so congested is because Yahoo! doesn't know which of its assets to prioritize or even what it wants the Yahoo! experience to be. And then there is the whole issue of Yahoo! business customers' experiences. Advertisers have a panoply of media, technology and services resources they can tap with Yahoo! But most of the advertisers I talk to only scratch the surface of available Y! offerings -- because they simply don't know what else Y! can do for them.

So I'm with you, the UI for Y.com needs work. But in order to do this, I think Y! has to first answer the questions:
What is Yahoo! today, tomorrow?
And what does Yahoo.com need to be in order to fit into the future vision of Yahoo!

Spot on.

I couldn't agree more, Shar - this looks like a pretty big mismatch. Bartz had the basic strategy right, even if she wasn't able to execute on it: Yahoo's best chance of renewed success is to leverage its media-and-audience strength. Marissa, for all her engineering cred, doesn't seem well-positioned to do that.

Tim Armstrong failed to turn AOL around, and if Marissa suffers the same fate at Yahoo then Googlers will have built up a pretty strong reputation for not being able to cut it outside of Mountain View. The irony is that each should've taken the other's job: Marissa's service-building chops could've reinvigorated AOL, and Armstrong's sales background would be a better fit at Yahoo.

Nowhere to go but up

For Mayer, this is sort of a free chance to try anything. Any improvement would be highly noticeable. If they continue to fail, she doesn't get the blame.

Mobile???

Very surprised to see no mention of her Mobile experience here...

Given that she ran Local, Maps, and Location Services - I'd say she brings a tremendous amount of mobile insight and know-how to the table. And given Yahoo is almost elusively an all "desktop" web property (at least from a monetization standpoint), thought this would be brought up a bit more.

When Facebook says that Mobile is the single greatest challenge they face - where the hell does that leave Yahoo? Not many people are able to effectively monetize mobile, yet...but you gotta be mobile before you can start to worry about monetization....

I hope she can but agree with you

I certainly hope she can do something with the failed brand that is Yahoo! Unfortunately my perspective on product success at Google is that they have done a pretty poor job really executing on much beyond search (which, of course, is awesome) and GMAIL.

Wave?
Google Plus?
Buzz?
Picassa?

Google is an awesome AD / Media company not a technology company.

Also, she has only worked at Google. Ever. That is great, if you work at Google.

I would argue that Yahoo! needs someone with a broader base of experience than one single company.

Bottom line?

Go Marissa, make magic happen.

Shaun Dakin

Great point Shaun, but...

I think we have to give Google credit for a few cool technology implementations beyond search like the Android O/S, Maps, Earth.

Keep in mind too that the Yahoo Board may have had other choices first that turned them down.

In any case, Marissa will no doubt have a great support system of smart and motivated people around her. If given the leeway to create a market driven plan and resources to execute, I'd say she has a good chance of success at SOMETHING given the power of the Brand and the remaining large and loyal user base. Seems like a great start.

Nice chatting with you here pal. Hope all is well!

Doug