Friday, July 10, 2009

Yahoo deserves a break today

One of my Twitter friends, Nilofer Merchant, recommended a good column of advice to Carol Bartz on how Yahoo can revive its struggling brand.

The column by Nicholas Carlson offers examples from McDonald’s, Harley-Davidson, Gucci and Apple. Given industry fit, the first one on its face seemed the most improbable:

Stoke employee passion with promises of upward mobility. McDonald's CMO Larry Light has a new book out called Six Rules for Brand Revitalization. It's about how McDonald's went from a stagnant brand in the the 1990s to the once-again-growing powerhouse that it is today. It's full of groan-worthy business book jargon like "the eight P's."

One lesson from the McDonald's turnaround is very relevant to Yahoo, though. Back when Larry joined the company, McDonald's HQ in Oak Brook, Ill., was full of a "sense of malaise and dispirit." He writes, "people who were working on the brand did not really believe in the brand."

Yahoos know the feeling.

Larry writes that McDonalds got past this problem by marketing internally about the upward mobility available to employees of even the most humble, french fry-serving beginnings.
This advice rings true. Yahoo (like Google and other information worker shops) is defined by its people, and the company has taken a non-stop beating of ongoing layoffs even after ousting two Yahoos who claimed qualified to be CEO. I know someone who decided to stay at Yahoo — despite the bad news — in hopes of advancing in his career while others jumped ship: his plan was to get the new responsibilities, prove himself worthy of the company’s trust, and then decide whether his best options were inside or outside Yahoo.

Carlson’s other advice: fix the product (ala Harley), buy something sexy (as Gucci bought Yves Saint Laurent) and explain who a Yahoo user is (ala Apple’s “Think Different” campaign).

BTW, when Bartz was appointed six months ago, I encouraged her to reach out to employees and buy successful startups. Carlson’s advice today is more focused and better supported by evidence from business history.

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