What we can learn from Marissa Mayer’s new logo for Yahoo

Marissa Mayer’s newest bit of non-strategic putzing around — which I fear may be the case in the acquisition spree she’s been on — is the unveiling of a new logo for the internet giant that she personally developed over one weekend with the help of five other Yahooligans.  She tells the story in Geeking Out on the Logo, which reads like a ‘what I did on my summer vacation’.

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The new Yahoo logo

I won’t get into the details of the logo, how bizarre this approach is, and how a multi-billion dollar company might want to bring in a branding agency and highly trained logo designers for a project like this. I will let Oliver Reichenstein do that, in his well-named Logo, Bullshit & Co., Inc. The conclusion of his righteous fisking of her memo:

Designing a $10 Billion Dollar company’s logo over a weekend, without considering the whole of the brand identity and what it needs to do… this is not serious.

Now, again, let’s assume the best case. Let’s say that all of this is just a marketing stunt, and while for unknown reasons the logo is technically not quite on par with the $10 Billion Dollar brand it represents, everything has been calculated and thought through. This is very unlikely, but let’s assume it anyway.

For a brand like Yahoo there is something more important than spacing, kerning, colors, serifs, or making designers angry at this point. No, it’s not getting attention. It’s gaining trust. Ironically, for that you need a reflective, clear, and consistent brand identity. A different logo powered by bullshit doesn’t convey identity and trustworthiness. It conveys desperation.

The intern working with Mayer on the logo made his own pass at a logo, and I like it better. Especially losing the dumb exclamation mark, which seems like the worst reminder of how boring Yahoo has become, or the irrational exuberance of the dotcom era.

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I think Mayer demonstrated with this logo episode — like she did with her “no remote work” edict (see Marissa Mayer talks about ‘no remote work’ edict) — that she makes precipitous and sweeping changes to the business without actually getting deep into the actual hard work of thinking it all the way through.

In this case she complete dismissed the idea of going through a conventional rebranding exercise and instead played around in Adobe Illustrator and cooked up a slapdash logo, which trivializes branding. In the no remote work brouhaha, she sidestepped the work of building deep cultural norms inclusively and broadly. Instead she simply pushed her own bias down everybody’s throats, and called it “culture building”.

Why is Dan Loeb selling his Yahoo stock? And why now?

Dan Loeb, the activist investor and CEO of Third Point, is selling a substantial part of his Yahoo stock, making a profit of $655 million and leaving the board along with his two appointees. The question is why, and more importantly, why now?

Marissa Mayer’s had a year at Yahoo, and I’ll give her a B

After a year at Yahoo, I have to give Marissa Mayer at least a B. She’s managed to keep investors happy — partly by a fairly aggressive stock buy back, using funds from sales of Alilbaba stock — but also because her fast clip of acquisitions and strong morale of Yahoo staff look like she’s actually building something in the formerly inert web company.
Let’s revisit that acquisition spree. In just the last few months, Yahoo made nine acquisitions: Summly, Astrid, Milewise, Loki Studios, Go Poll Go, PlayerScale, Rondee, Ghostbird Software and Tumblr. Some of these are acqui-hires, but Tumblr is potentially a huge deal, if Yahoo can figure out how to make money there.
Actually, I think making money on ads should be straightforward on Tumblr, since the company curates so-called ‘topics’ (more or less tags), like ‘design’ and ‘tech’. It would be fairly simple to rent ad space on those topics (and all the others) to brands wanting to be there. And they probably get good traffic, and could get more if Tumblr made the pages public, so visitors wouldn’t have to login to get there.
But money is exactly the point, because Mayer apparently is spending a lot, and ad and search revenues are falling. Ad revenue fell 12% to $472 million from $535 million a year earlier. Search is a mixed bag, but revenues are down 9% since the year before, but Yahoo’s deal with Microsoft means that Microsoft will make up for poor search revenues.
All told, Yahoo has spent $1.2 billion since the start of the year, even after selling $846 million of Alibaba stock back. Yahoo still has an estimated $10 billion in Alibaba stock, and $4.8 billion in the bank, but $1.2 billion in six months is worrisome.
However, Yahoo’s market perception is falling, down from an index of 38 in July 2012 to around 25 today, as measured by YouGov. That was much higher than competitors, but now the difference is negligible.
So, the bottom line: can Mayer build a new social media centered leviathan quickly enough to satisfy the market and her shareholders? I think the jury is out, but she is making the moves that would be the first steps of a future winner. She’s made some fast cosmetic fixes to existing properties (although I think the Flickr ‘upgrade’ just moved the ugly around), and the acquisition of Tumblr could be the start of something gigantic, if she can get David Karp to open up the topics to Tumblr non-users.
We’ll see if she can pull together some other monster product from the tiny start-ups she’s fond of buying. She’d better, or it will just look like expensive hiring.
And finally: the ‘no remote work’ policy is a step backward for worker rights. Yes, Mayer believes that it is necessary to create the kind of culture at Yahoo that she believes is the foundation for being a better company. So if it is a short-term, ‘let’s act like a startup’ sprint, maybe we could all just hold our noses for a year. But the proof is in the pudding, even in that case. If she does get that culture to ferment, then she’ll have to relax the rules, or it’s simply building a stress factory that will drive away anyone who wants a life, or children, or needs to care for aging parents. So, we’ll have to see what sort of culture emerges, and what it produces. I’d give her a B+ if she’d figured out that a great corporate culture can support remote work, even when trying to turn it around.
So, she’s bought herself time, but the clock is ticking.