Redefining Yahoo: Will $100 million in marketing do the trick?

Summary:Yahoo wants you to know that its new "It's You" campaign is all about customizing the experiences of users and advertisers to make each more relevant to the other. But the real campaign behind it all is Yahoo's attempt to redefine itself.

On the surface, Yahoo's new "It's You" campaign is supposed to be focused on customizing the experiences of users and advertisers to make them more relevant to each other.

But don't be fooled, though. This campaign is less about you and more about Yahoo and its attempt to redefine itself.

CEO Carol Bartz brought an entourage of execs from Silicon Valley to New York City for a big-city press conference at the Nasdaq headquarters in Times Square to announce the $100 million multi-channel marketing and product campaign. (Techmeme) They laid out the campaign, talked about strategy, fielded some questions and, in typical Bartz fashion, even managed to get a bit feisty with the reporters who questioned the company's moves - and motives.

"The focus of the company is really to engage and personalize Yahoo for customers," Bartz said, highlighting its 581 million users and emphasizing that 76 percent of Internet users in the U.S. use Yahoo in some way. "We're ready to deliver on this."

The global campaign - a first for Yahoo - is anchored by a recently refreshed Yahoo homepage, which gives users the freedom to embed favorite sites from across the Web, even non-Yahoo sites. Beginning as a marketing effort that will gradually shift over 15 months toward a focus on the company's products, the campaign will launch in 10 countries -- Brazil, Canada, France, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, the U.S. and the U.K. -- and aims to engage users with tighter integration of internal and external sites and a more useful, relevant experience.

Also see: A Yahoo face-lift: New look and feel for Mobile, Mail, Messenger and Search

A B2B campaign rounds out the marketing and product push.

"This is a highly-evolved concept," Bartz said, stressing coordination and integration across Yahoo sites. "How can you organize your life and have it your way?"

In turn, Yahoo plans to use its large scale to offer what Bartz called "micro-insights" about consumers to advertisers, to help them offer more relevant, and thus effective, advertisements to users.

Through surveys, the company has discovered that consumers actively seek out relevant advertisements. "We're really delivering an enterprise system to our ad partners so they can get their jobs done," Bartz said. "Consumers want good advertisers. It's a marriage made in heaven."

Still, the presentation was clearly about repositioning the Yahoo brand.

Bartz discussed how Yahoo's search will be integrated with the campaign, exchanging "worthless tons of results" for a "different experience." Unprompted, Bartz declared, "It's not Bing, it's Yahoo search."

But reporters had questions - specifically, whether the company was obsessed with pointing out how it's different from Google or Microsoft. Almost on cue, Bartz lashed out at the New York and Silicon Valley press for its skepticism about the company's moves.

"When you get out of New York City and Silicon Valley, people love Yahoo," Bartz said. "Why are you cynical about us? Get cynical about frickin' Google. Just leave us alone."

Also see: Bartz to Yahoo shareholders: Change is coming; We're not Google

Yahoo's search strategy: We're not fighting "the megawatt war"

Google comparisons dogged Bartz, though, prompting her to acknowledge that the company had "put a cloud over its head" in the past.

Yahoo and Google are different companies that are in different businesses, she said. "They aren't us and we aren't them... Google is maniacal about running an algorithm. We're maniacal about being relevant and personal."

So, if not Google, which companies would Bartz place on Yahoo's competitive landscape? The closest one, she said, is really AOL. "Managing the Web from one place is really the core of our product focus," Bartz said. "In reality, we are our own comparison."

Through still advertisements and videos, the company plans to reinforce a message that's happy and joyous, colorful and creative, fun and familiar. Expect to see real people, too - no makeup, no actors. And expect to hear some of these slogans, too:

  • The Internet is under new management. Yours.
  • Now the Internet has a personality. Yours.
  • There's a new master of the digital universe. You.
  • This time it's personal
  • Totally you.

"Our campaign is multichannel...but it's absolutely grounded in the digital discipline," said Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer Elissa Steele.

Bartz also played coy on rumors that Yahoo was shopping around Zimbra, an open source e-mail company whose technology powers Yahoo Mail.

"Things that might have been a good idea years ago we're revisiting," Bartz said. "Where it makes sense to sell, we will."

S

till, Steele said the success of the campaign will depend on whether it can draw new customers and keep them on Yahoo properties longer. In some regions, that means protecting its franchise; in others, that means using pageviews or unique users as a yardstick.

"This is not a campaign of a short-term nature," Steele said, noting that it's a company-wide initiative. "If this was just a marketing campaign, we would have [already] failed."

Leading the charge with a healthy dose of spunk is Bartz, who continues in her attempt to earn trust and credibility in the post Jerry Yang once occupied.

"The nice thing about being an old broad?" Bartz asked, rhetorically. "I'm tough."

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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