Pile on Yahoo! I’ve got my shovel

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I am not sure where all my ire for Yahoo! came from. Sure, the whole backpedalling on allowing employees a work-from-home option pissed me off even though I don’t work there. I think technology companies moving backwards like this is always counterproductive, a bad idea and not a way to garner employee loyalty or happiness – especially if you are taking away something that employees already had and valued.

I won’t even start on the tech missteps – not even getting the basics rights, like major Yahoo! mail and other service outages and redesign debacles that basically just piss off loyal users.

What is the trend you’re sensing? Yes, Yahoo! keeps making big, grand changes that piss everyone off. They are not making anyone happy, they are investing time and money and yet always come off like – first and foremost – they don’t give a shit what their users want. They are stepping backwards or stepping on someone’s toes or taking things a step too far. Or two-stepping to long-dead trends.

Today I was researching Yahoo!’s move to hire respected journalist Katie Couric as the face of its “media empire”. Smart move in that Katie Couric is a smart, respected journalist. But is it a smart move in terms of what they can actually do or expect to gain? Is it a smart move in terms of what Yahoo!’s audience and users want? I am sure they have run their numbers (although I cannot imagine that they take into account user needs given all the disasters they’ve launched into the world in recent years), and I want to say first of all that going in, guns blazing on hiring Katie Couric is a move that, on its surface, looks like wanting everyone’s 60-something grandma to stand up and take note. It’s not going to impress or attract a younger demographic. It’s probably not going to attract the army of women Oprah Winfrey once commanded (Katie sure did not manage anything like that with her daytime tv talk show).

Women in the 35-65 group might notice just because Couric is a marginally powerful and highly visible woman (not unlike Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s beleaguered and not very likeable CEO – not that I think CEOs need to be likeable, and I don’t love bagging on a female CEO since there are so few of them – but, from my outlying half-observant distance, I just think Mayer is not particularly good at her job). I doubt that Couric’s presence is going to interest anyone – at least not internet users. Maybe Yahoo!’s target demographic is 65-year-old women because everything Yahoo! has done seems remarkably in line with what older audiences, just on the edge of not understanding the digital world but trying to, might be into.

Couric has also sort of failed at every major news anchor bid she’s taken on so far, so it seems counterintuitive to sink six million dollars a year on giving Couric an ill-defined, part-time gig that gets Yahoo! a few mentions in the mainstream and tech press. “Reading the headlines — Katie Couric, Saturday Night Live cast members, David Pogue all joined Mayer on stage — I wondered if it was 1999 again. Content as a core strategy rings of AOL in the early aughts. Let’s say it’s a good idea — are you really building a future consumer base on journalists from the most legacy of media? Probably not.”

Yahoo! might think that broadcast dollars will follow Couric to the digital realm and thus that’s the play. I have my doubts. “Faced with consistently declining ad prices, Yahoo needs a shot of exclusive, high-profile content to get viewers to stick around and advertisers — especially TV advertisers — to pay attention.” It’s thus not about the content the audience wants but more about ad pricing, which can be quite lucrative. From a content point of view (what viewers want), this seems like a really bad idea. From a revenue standpoint, it is more of a calculated risk – Mayer is probably betting that big-money advertisers and the types coming from broadcast media would be made of more traditional, possibly even conservative, stuff, and thus would put their money where Couric’s mouth is. Smart? Shrewd? Profitable? Remains to be seen.

The bottom line, as the cited Forbes article above puts it, is: “It’s one thing to acquire a demographic you want, à la the Tumblr acquisition, it’s another to find the developers who can figure out what that demographic wants next. If Mayer is going to win me back to Yahoo — and more importantly, those who never had the habit — it will be by figuring out what I want and need before I do.” (Emphasis mine.) It’s not sorcery. From my vantage point, it doesn’t look like Yahoo! knows or understands that – and it does not even appear to be the business Yahoo! is in.

Must I Paint You a Picture?

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