Monday, July 25, 2016

What is Yahoo? What is Every Firm's Toughest and Most Important Question?

The Wall Street Journal has a good article today about Yahoo discussing the company's lengthy struggles leading up to its sale to Verizon.  Jack Nicas writes, "Yahoo’s prolonged demise serves as a classic business case, with an existential question its numerous chief executives struggled to answer: What is Yahoo?"  He goes on to cite a famous memo written by Brad Garlinghouse, a former Yahoo executive.   That memo, written a decade ago, questioned the firm's strategy.  Here's an excerpt from Nicas' article today in the Wall Street Journal: 

“If you’re everything, you’re kind of nothing,” said Brad Garlinghouse, a former Yahoo executive who in 2006 wrote the “Peanut Butter Manifesto,” an internal memo criticizing the company for spreading itself too thin. “The sad reality…is it never solved its core identity crisis.”  Mr. Garlinghouse said Yahoo’s fluctuating strategies often confused employees. He recalled asking managers at a retreat in 2006 the first word they thought of when he named a company. Google, eBay and others yielded clear answers—“search” or “auction.” Yahoo didn’t. Managers said “mail,” “news,” “search,” and other things.

Does your firm have a good answer to this question? Can you define your organization's purpose/mission in a simple sentence? Marc Gobe, author of Emotional Branding, puts it slightly differently, but he gets at the same issue. He asks: Can you tweet your brand promise? In other words, can you express your core pledge to your customers in 140 characters or less? FedEx can do it: "Absolutely, positively overnight."  Ritz Carlton can do it as well: "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." What was Yahoo's brand promise? It's hard to find a way to describe its pledge to its customers in 140 characters or less. In the end, the lack of a clear identity led to its demise, and it hurts many other firms as well.

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