Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz is still in cleanup mode. That much is apparent following her typically forthcoming talk during yesterday’s annual meeting with stockholders.
After finalizing orders of business including the election of nominees to the firm’s board, Bartz spoke about her recent experiences running Yahoo. She reiterated several themes company observers had heard in the recent past: Yahoo is not just a search company; its strength lies in its display advertising capabilities; online advertising buying is complicated; and — perhaps most significant — the firm should not be compared directly to Google.
Bartz may not be revealing precisely what’s up her sleeve when it comes to the company’s plans, but it’s clear she believes Yahoo spent the last few years off on too many wild tangents. “We’re looking at space debris,” she told shareholders. She said Yahoo has been analyzing its sprawling properties, searching for businesses that should be shut down or repaired. The operations of some entities outside of the company’s narrowing scope may be outsourced, too, she added.
“A bad experience is a bad Yahoo experience,” she explained, noting that when neglected properties are visited by users, they could reflect poorly on Yahoo’s overall brand reputation. “It’s all about brand pride,” said Bartz.
Bartz did not hesitate to, yet again, describe the firm when she joined as CEO in January as a hodge-podge of businesses with a confused organizational structure. Yahoo had lost its speed, she said. Its organizational chart was not clear in terms of executive hierarchy. “Yahoo should be more efficient,” she said later.
That muddled approach appears to be something that compelled Bartz to take the reins in the first place. She wants to scrub Yahoo to the bone.
If Bartz’s recent pronunciations are any indication, Yahoo’s bone is its content and display ad prowess. “Yahoo is distinctly advantaged in this area,” she said of display, affirming a statement she’d made earlier in the month during the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch 2009 U.S. Technology Conference in New York. “[Brands] have to put a persona out there…The way you put a persona out there is to be able to present something, and that’s what display advertising is.” Likening display advertising to television spots, she said as much during yesterday’s meeting, noting the emotional response elicited through image-based online ad formats.
Bartz, who comes from the software world rather than the online advertising industry, again lamented the complicated online ad buying process. “It’s very hard to buy online,” she said.
Notably, Bartz did not mention Yahoo’s mysterious APT ad management platform, which the company touted more frequently during co-founder Jerry Yang’s brief tenure as CEO. The system is intended to pool together the multitude of ad management, targeting, and format offerings Yahoo enables on its own properties and through its content network. Still, the company appears to be using its newspaper publisher partnerships as a test bed for the system.
Yet again, Bartz also downplayed Yahoo’s search business. While under Yang’s leadership, Yahoo promoted its mission to couple search and display seamlessly through the developing APT platform, Bartz has made an effort to squelch the notion of Yahoo as a mere search firm.
“We are not just a search company,” she stressed. Indeed, she made a point of distinguishing Yahoo from search giant Google. “Google is basically a pure search company…They don’t have the same kind of sales structure,” said Bartz. We’re selling a ‘more complete you,’ an emotional brand.” She said regular comparisons between Google and Yahoo in terms of search market share are inappropriate. “This direct map comparison with Google is not fair for Yahoo and frankly not relevant.”
The new CEO made a point to mention Yahoo’s homepage redesign, expected to roll out in the fall. The plan involves integration of outside platforms and content from Facebook, NYTimes.com, and others. The goal is to keep people on Yahoo rather than using it as a mere portal from which to click away to other sites. Referring to Facebook, she said, “We want to organize around their success, help it be part of Yahoo.”
In developing the new “front page” the company has considered its advertisers. “Do they like the new page [ad] positions?” she asked. “Do they think it will create more opportunities for them and more opportunities for us?”
Bartz also mentioned Yahoo’s focus on mobile, particularly in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia. It’s important that Yahoo have “wonderful mobile phone apps,” she said, “because that part of the world is probably not going to have the PC…and Yahoo will be ready for that.”