Should you be so kind as to spare me a few moments, A couple thoughts on the opportunity before a company with such a renowned history and such incredible possibility. I share these thoughts without consideration of the recent trials and tribulations that have garnered attention; instead, from the perspective of one who, in a small way, pays the bills to keep the lights on. As to who merges with whom and what powers what, I care not. Let’s talk as a user and advertiser.
As I look to the evolution of the internet, and its vast and ever changing opportunities, there are only a couple concepts which repeatedly drive success for a company. Concepts which Yahoo! has seemingly struggled to hold dear; instead, chasing trends or seemingly low hanging fruit, oblivious that said fruit has all but been picked clean competitors. Two words to summarize those concepts: Simplify and Innovate.
Consider the unparalleled network of properties you have developed; easily the envy of any internet company. A Sports property that rivals ESPN, Finance that gives Bloomberg a run for its money (ahem), News that gives CNN pause; you have hot jobs and photos that make screens flickr. It could be said that your most significant competitors are trying to replicate Yahoo more than the internet race is about search. You hold so many cards, knowing peoples’ horoscopes, the cars they drive, websites they like, and who they date! Why is the plight of an advertiser therein so challenging while the experience of a user, so fragmented?
A few years ago a young guy essentially took MyYahoo, Yahoo Mail and Address Book, IM (chat), Y! Groups, and a few personal preferences, smashed them together and made an straightforward site that defines social network. An impressive experience, one can interact with millions of peers in an environment that improves as it learns more about you. Plug in widgets designed by people that aren’t even on their payroll and on it goes. Innovation. I’m in awe and filled with disappointment at what an amazing experience that would be, should be, were it on Yahoo! You have my calendar, address book, and travel plans; bookmarks and even what pets are in our family. Heck, you once had a killer app on Yahoo! Finance that centralized all my finances and transactions – it was Quicken online merged with net worth calculators and personalized opportunities based on my financial needs – you knew my deepest financial secrets. One day, in an example of reverse innovation, that was simply shut off, while walls remain between those immensely powerful properties.
There is a valuable lesson in the social networking experiments of the last few years; the size of your audience does not determine one’s fate or success. Sure, every site with more than 10M uniques is considered successful, and I could hardly argue that social networks are struggling, but I think it is fair to say that merely aggregating users is no more attractive to an advertiser than a Zombies App on said social network. In truth, one network was replaced by another as is so frequent in this industry. Size did not determine one’s persistent success. The real, and frankly only, appeal to an advertiser’s dollar is efficiently reaching the right audience at the right time and having the analytics to validate and optimize budget allocations. Instead of delivering the later, that which Yahoo is uniquely qualified to provide, Yahoo builds out new properties faster than American Idol churns through America’s talent. Has anyone counted this list lately? I didn’t even know you had Green (which is great because St. Patricks Day is coming up), Family Accts (apparently AKA Yahoo Safely (?)), and have I caught a typo or is there something called People SRCH? As an advertiser… well… I shudder at the prospect of getting a media plan that has a dozen different properties, with hundreds of lines for ad placements that I then turn over to an agency who I pay double-time to build as many ad formats, each with unique tracking codes, that don’t really matter anyway as no one spends the daunting time required (nor understands how) to evaluate performance – let alone benchmark it (That sentence runs on intentionally: exasperating isn’t it?).
But we don’t stop there, let’s throw in Bix, Buzz, Zimbra, Voice, OMG and Shine (By the way, I fail to see the real difference between these two) and 360 to the incumbent del.icio.us and flickr aliases to keep us confused. At least HotJobs infers “Jobs”. Of all, Zimbra might best summarize the message of my post as it is the very enhancement of Yahoo Briefcase, Mail and Calendar – so why isn’t it the enhancement of Yahoo Briefcase, Mail and Calendar? Please understand I mean to point this out with only the most passionate plea that you redirect resources from more layers and sections. I love Yahoo yet you have Yellow Pages AND Local, and Maps, and… Upcoming. Throw in Real Estate and Travel and what’s a local advertiser to do??
Yahoo has the potential to be so much and yet it seemingly prefers to attempt to be everything by repeatedly reinventing the wheel (or buying new ones) instead of making the wheel fit a better car.
Put yourself in our shoes. Think of an online advertising opportunity in which, though perhaps complex, you need only make a straightforward, single purchase. The buy is so simple it can be done without Sales support, while performance data is so rich and clear that you can easily justify the spend, optimizing in your sleep to later budget more. Raise your hand if you aren’t thinking of Google Adwords right now? Why isn’t that Yahoo? And I don’t mean that in the context of search, Yahoo’s tremendous opportunity lies in Advertising – why isn’t online advertising as simple? That local advertiser should need only buy one thing from Yahoo – X million impressions in their metro: a buy which includes a business listing, promotion of sales and events, and a pinpoint on a map. What one could garner from Procter & Gamble alone makes Google blush, yet no opportunity exists online as easy and effective as is TV. Disappointingly; as without question, online can be so much more valuable when you consider the possibilities available through few but Yahoo.
I imagine a world in which I can buy the Superbowl online (and if you think I mean a distinct section about the Superbowl I’m going to smack you back to the beginning of this post). I’m talking about one ad buy that reaches so great a behaviorally targeted segment of the population that I can rest on my laurels the next 11 months. Possible? Where, online, can I possibly even reach 100M unique users in a day? I imagine a world in which that advertisement reaches only engaged consumers while delivering insight on brand recognition, purchase intent, and my impact on awareness and demand. Most importantly, I imagine that world as not requiring incremental nickels for unique targets, ad formats, tags, research, or studies. It so happens we marketers are already nickeled and dimed by third parties we have to involve in a vain attempt to create such a world. How can there not be an online property that delivers this? There must be a single domain capable.
Online Advertising Buy Yahoo! Corney I know. Did you catch the play on words as I tried to be whitty? *ahem* of course you did…. But that is, conceptually, who Yahoo should be. Without the complication of properties or categories – do I want geo or demographic targeting? Is this a pointroll, flash, or video ad? I imagine a world in which my Display ad (not a “banner,” “video,” or “rich media ad” but an ad, which people see) simply runs on Yahoo reaching an ever improving target audience based on data only you can see with such depth. As a user, you know what car I drive, where I live (*read* size of mortgage and lifestyle), my entertainment preferences, my favorite sports teams. You know what products I buy and where I shop. You know if I’m single (or pretending to be) and where I’m planning my vacation. Elsewhere, such insight can only be accomplished through complicated partnerships between other sites (some might call them ad networks were they so capable) but on Yahoo, a single domain has it all. As an advertiser, obviously I can only conclude that you alone are capable of delivering my ads to people who want them, not based on keyword context or stated preferences but truly matched to interests and intent. More importantly, you can surmise when that audience’s demand for such products wanes or ripens to optimize delivery of my ads where most effective. Why do I see ads for a new printer when a month ago I researched them? Bad Credit when you alone should know that I’m doing just fine? NutriSystem? I’m 140 lbs! (okay that’s extreme but you do have Y! Health) An online Bachelors degree? I’m all set thanks. You alone know better.
Frustratingly, that’s hardly even the potential. Google may own search marketing but few can deliver the promise of Online Advertising. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not asking for ROS (run of site) behavioral targeting or leveraging those user defined preferences or opt-in permissions. You alone see search behavior, an indication of my desires and intent, as well as the products I’m comparing or dumping, where and when I travel, who my favorite sports teams are and perhaps, what I eat for lunch (by the way, it is worth validating my consternation here as while, obviously, you’d know what I eat for lunch through Yahoo Food the validation is that you insist on calling it both Yahoo Food and “part of Shine” … a wholly owned subsidiary of Dunder Mifflin 😀 ). Not only should advertising on Yahoo be a single buy for advertisers, one which is completely personalized and relevant to users, but the entire Yahoo experience could be, should be, personalized, consistent, and ever improving given the comprehensive visibility you have to life.
Getting back on track – a question of Innovation?
I haven’t seen a formal study to validate this presumption but, established internet companies and traditional brands with an online presence seem to think there is value in constantly redesigning their website. Certainly at least, value which outweighs the cost of never ending redesign. Its as though an ad agency runs their websites (I shudder to think anyone does that). I get the sense that Yahoo launches a redesign of the homepage only to put heads down to start work on the next one. Worse, this habit is hardly limited to the homepage. Constantly changing. But ever really improving? At what expense?
Perhaps, just perhaps, considering the birth of Zillow (Yahoo Real Estate), Hulu (Y! TV), and Facebook (Y! 360 or one of the two iterations that preceded it), perhaps too many brilliant resources are spent on redesigning and expanding instead of integrating and innovating what you have? Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the pockets of brilliance: Mobile and Answers, recent Search enhancements, the way the tabs on the homepage open when I mouse over them (is it possible to shut that off?), but imagine what Yahoo could do if those properties functioned as one while Silicon Valley’s best developers, instead, work to evolve the experiences therein.
I don’t presume to appreciate how great a challenge such an evolution would be for the company. Many, far greater than I, have tried, while I propose this as a mere armchair quarterback. I wish you tremendous success with a company who’s heritage deserves to own online advertising. With hope, I look with excitement as a user and with confidence as a marketer.
Simply, please, knit together the dozens of properties and innovate; not just the properties and their features but, more importantly, the way in which Online Advertising works so when asked, Online Advertising? Whether who or how, the obvious answer is Buy Yahoo.