Marissa Speaks! CEO Mayer Lays Out Where Yahoo Needs To Go

Marissa Mayer

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

It’s a quarter that probably doesn’t matter much, but Yahoo eked out a small rise in profits on slightly higher sales in its third quarter.

It’s the first full quarter since CEO Marissa Mayer joined the company, and while investors are more concerned about the future, so far they like what they see in the last quarter. Shares are rising about 3% in after-hours trading following a decline of less than 1% today, to $15.77 a share.

Yahoo’s third-quarter revenues rose 2% to $1.09 billion, earning a 35-cent profit per share. Operating income came in at $150 million. Wall Street analysts were expecting net revenues of $1.08 billion, operating income of $180 million, and GAAP earnings per share of 26 cents. Including a onetime gain from the sale of shares of China’s Alibaba, Yahoo’s EPS was $2.64.

Those figures are minus the costs of acquiring traffic from website partners. Gross revenues fell 1% to $1.202 billion, a touch below analysts’ $1.206 billion estimate.

In particular, display ad revenue, Yahoo’s mainstay business, came in flat from a year ago at $452 million, but search ad revenues via its multi-year deal with Microsoft were better than expected, up 11% to $414 million.

And we’re underway on the analyst call with Mayer:

Mayer says she’s thrilled to be hear, naturally. She says she has been having a lot of fun. Why did I come to Yahoo? This job is tailor-made for me. Search, mobile, ads, home page, etc.–all things I built my career on.

She’ll talk about priorities and vision–great! First she addresses the people problem–that is, all the ones who have been leaving in droves for years. She says she has instituted new goals, metrics, etc. for people. True cultural change can’t be bought. The vast majority of what we’ve done hasn’t cost much, she says. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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Google CEO Larry Page Speaks! Big Reveal: $8 Billion In Mobile Revenues

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Investors have had a chance to digest Google’s third-quarter earnings longer than they expected, but they still have indigestion over the disappointing results. Can CEO Larry Page (yes, he will speak!) and his executives provide a Maalox moment on their earnings analyst call?

We’ll find out shortly, starting at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. You can watch it here as well. Keep refreshing for updates through about 2:30 p.m.

Update: It looks like Motorola was the chief culprit. Yes, less lucrative mobile ads seem to be a factor, but not one Google seems overly concerned about–it’s at least the third time I’ve heard executives say that mobile eventually could be better than desktop ads. Indeed, I was struck by the mention that one reason for the rise in costs that led to lower profits was sales of the probably near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet–which was striking for a single, non-advertising product. For better or worse, Google’s betting big on mobile, from ads to devices, and expects whatever shakes out to be positive. Investors clearly aren’t so sure.

And we’re underway. Page still has a strange froggy voice–seriously, really strange like he inhaled too much helium, so I can understand why he hasn’t spoken much in public. Anyway, he’s keeping his remarks short. You can read the prepared remarks on Google+. We had a strong quarter, he says, and I’m really happy with our business. Revenue was up 45% from a year ago.

Today, we leave in a world of abundance–abundant information and abundant computing. Many of us feel naked without our smartphone. Google is super-well-placed to take advantage of these opportunities. We’re seeing tremendous innovation in mobile advertising. Eventually, he adds, it will work even better than desktop ads.

We took a big bet on Android back in 2005. Most people thought we were nuts. Today, there are over half a billion Android devices, with 1.3 million more being activated every day. He suggests everyone go out and buy a Nexus 7 tablet.

Our run rate a year ago for mobile advertising was $2.5 billion. Along with apps and Google Play, it’s now over $8 billion. That’s quite a business, he says mildly–though based on the new way it’s calculated (see below), it may not be as amazing as it seems.

We had spread ourselves too thin. We sunsetted 17 more products last month. It’s more important than ever we converge our services.

We want to make advertising super-simple for our customers. Today, separate campaigns for desktop and mobile makes it more difficult and mobile opportunities often get missed. Advertisers should be free to think about their audience while we do the hard work optimizing across channels.

That’s the gist of his first widely public remarks (he spoke the other day at Google’s Zeitgeist event to the media elite).

Now CFO Patrick Pichette goes into some detail….

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Advertising Experts: Ignore Google’s Earnings, It’s Doing Just Fine

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After reporting disappointing third-quarter earnings, and giving investors a few extra hours to sell their shares to boot, Google saw its shares hammered before trading was halted. But while Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May, clearly is a big drag on the company, ad folks say its core business is just fine.

Bryan Wiener, CEO of the digital marketing agency 360i, a specialist in search advertising in particular, says Google’s core business still appears healthy. The only hitch, he says, is that mobile ad prices per click are still 30% to 50% lower than desktop clicks, but he says that gap is narrowing as mobile cost-per-click continues to rise.

The main issue is not so much that advertisers view mobile ads as less effective. There are actually two other issues.

First, there’s still less competition for mobile ad space. And since Google ads are sold by auction, less competition means lower prices.

Why is competition less? That brings up the second issue: It’s not yet clear precisely what impact mobile ads have. They don’t work exactly the same as desktop ads, where people customarily conduct a search, click on an ad, and then a certain percentage buy the product. That’s easy to track.

On their mobile phones, however, people are more often searching for a store, rather than looking to complete a transaction online. They may well end up buying in that store–some companies are starting to provide ways to track that connection, and marketers anecdotally know it’s happening–but separate databases for online and store activity still means it’s tough to close the measurement loop.

Wiener thinks that will get solved eventually. Even in the short term, mobile search ads that are still Google’s bread and butter are better positioned to show their value than mobile display ads, which may appear in hard-to-track apps and still aren’t standardized enough for marketers to spend big bucks to reach broad scale. That means Google for now is likely to fare better in consumers’ rush to mobile than, say, Facebook and Yahoo. “Everybody is still bullish on mobile search,” says Wiener. “But it’s still very early in the game.”

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter and beyond, says Wiener, “our clients are cautiously optimistic” about search ads in particular despite the uncertainty of the economy and the election. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

3 Reasons Google Missed Q3 Earnings Estimates

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Google’s shares plunged this morning by 9% after the search giant’s third-quarter earnings came in considerably lower than expected. The results were accidentally released hours earlier than expected, leading to a halt in the shares’ trading for a time.

Google earned a $9.03 per share profit before certain expenses, far below the $10.63 Wall Street consensus estimate, and down 20% from a year ago. GAAP profit was $6.53. Net revenues after paying partners for traffic were $11.53 billion, up 19% from a year ago. That also missed the Street’s estimate of $11.9 billion. Paid clicks, a key indicator, rose 33% from a year ago, and cost per click, another key measure but one whose meaning is murky, fell 15%.

So what happened? Here’s a quick assessment, which will be supplemented in a new post following the 1:30 p.m. Pacific earnings call:

* Costs jumped. They were up 71%, to $11.4 billion. It appears much of that increase came from Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired for $12.5 billion in May. After all, the acquisition added more than 20,000 employees. As Citi analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note to investors: “Bottom line divergence partly due to Amortization expenses, which came in at $317MM vs. our $197MM estimate. That contributed perhaps $0.40 of the EPS shortfall.” Update after the earnings call: But not just that. CFO Patrick Pichette specifically mentioned costs of selling the likely near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet Google released during the quarter–a single product line, so the company’s is clearly pushing it hard.

* Motorola losses were huge. The unit posted a $527 million loss on a GAAP operating basis. Mahaney again:  “Another major delta was Motorola, which generated $151MM Op Loss vs. our $28MM estimate.”

* Ad revenue didn’t set records. It was up 16% from a year ago. Although lower cost per click isn’t always an indicator of a problem, in this case, the fourth consecutive decline has investors wondering anew if it’s due to the lower prices mobile ads get or even competition from the likes of Facebook. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Live: LinkedIn Revamps Profile in New Product Push

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

As Forbes observed in a cover story earlier this year, LinkedIn has become something of the anti-Facebook–except that following an uninspiring Facebook IPO, that term is now meant as a compliment instead of a dismissal. Only nominally a social network in the conventional sense of the term, LinkedIn has grown from a company that seemed hopelessly mired in a business niche into a profitable powerhouse that is now indispensable to both recruiters and the rest of us who want to get recruited for a better job.

Today starting a little after 10 a.m. Pacific, it’s holding an event at its Mountain View headquarters offering the press a chance to “meet the new LinkedIn.” Long seen as a fairly static site, LinkedIn earlier this year promised it would be gearing up product innovation. That’s what we’re likely to hear about today. On the agenda are CEO Jeff Weiner; Deep Nishar, senior VP of products and user experience; product manager Aaron Bronzan; Ryan Roslansky, head of content products; product manager Caroline Gaffney; and Joff Redfern, head of mobile products.

I’ll be blogging the highlights here, so keep refreshing for the latest. You can also watch the livestream.

And we’re underway. … OK, now to the news! Mainly, it’s a new LinkedIn Profile. Bronzan says it’s streamlining profile editing, with new tools to connect with your professional network. Top of the page is simpler, with a more prominent photo. Also at the top: a more, yes, Facebook-like (and Twitter-like) section to update your activities instantly. It’s also easier to add new products, skills, etc. on the profile.

There are also more visual indications of your connections. You can zero in on companies, groups, and locations that you have in common with another person with a quick look at his or her profile. Essentially, it’s easier to find common ground more quickly.

To sum up: simplified editing, easier ways to build relationships, and richer insights. This will roll out to all users starting today. You can sign up for an early look here.

Tom White of Macquarie Securities issued a note to investors affirming his “outperform” rating based on the potential for the new profile to spur more user engagement and thus LinkedIn’s value to its core recruiter customers:

We found LNKD’s newly streamlined profile editing tools as perhaps the most interesting take-away from today’s announcement. These new tools aim to make it easier for members to add content and otherwise enrich their overall profile by streamlining how members add data such as skills, certifications, language proficiencies, industry specialties etc. to their profile. By contributing more content to their profile and otherwise ensuring that it is fresh/accurate, a member can improve his/her chance of being “found” on LinkedIn for a potentially interesting professional opportunity. We don’t believe that the average LinkedIn user fully appreciates this dynamic of the platform, and, if LNKD can encourage its members to spend more time updating their profiles, it could drive incremental user engagement on the site (as well as provide more value for LNKD’s recruiter customers). …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Facebook’s Mobile App Install Ads Get Moving

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Exhortations to install apps are likely a significant chunk of Facebook’s advertising revenues, and now they’re poised to become an even bigger factor in the social network’s future. Today, two months after offering app install ads for mobile devices to a select group of app developers and their marketing partners, Facebook opened up the ads to anyone.

These ads appear right in people’s mobile news feeds, providing prime placement for games and other apps in Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads and Google’s Play store for Android devices. Not surprisingly, Facebook says in a blog post that mobile app install ads are already working:

In early results, beta partners like Kabam, Fab, TinyCo and Big Fish were able to reach a more relevant audience and efficiently drive installs. For example, TinyCo saw 50% higher CTRs and significantly higher conversion rates compared to their current mobile channels, as well as a significant increase in player engagement.

A select subset of Preferred Marketing Developers (PMDs) has been testing mobile app install ads and saw similarly positive results. For example, Nanigans’ clients efficiently achieved 8-10x the reach compared to other mobile ad buys. Ad Parlor saw consistent CTR’s from news feed of 1-2% from engaged users looking for iPhone and Android games that their friends were playing.

No doubt those numbers will come down as the novelty factor in any new ad or feature wears off. Still, even a fraction of those results would still be valuable to advertisers.

That’s assuming–and this is a fair assumption given Facebook’s wariness about ad overload–that the company doesn’t go over the top and overload people’s mobile news feeds with the ads. Avoiding overload is especially important for these ads because unlike many of Facebook’s marquee ads, they don’t have a social component, meaning they appear strictly in response to developers paying for them, not because a friend liked an app.

Too many of these ads that don’t have the appeal of a friend’s connection, and the dreaded banner blindness is likely to set in.

There also more coming to improve these ads, according to Facebook engineer Vijaye Raji:

In coming months, we’ll continue to make updates that improve the user experience and the performance of mobile app install ads. For example, you may be able to customize your ad unit based on your audience, ensure that your ads are only shown to people who have not installed your app on iOS or Android devices, and allow people to start installing your app without leaving Facebook.

Mobile Ad Spending Doubles in 2012’s First Half

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Mobile ads drove a 14% rise in online advertising revenues, to $17 billion, in the first half of 2012, according to a report out this morning from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

According to the IAB’s latest half-year report (full pdf here), mobile ad revenue jumped 95%, to $1.2 billion, or or 7% of total online ad revenues. That’s up from 4% a year ago. The reason is fairly obvious, and something every company from Facebook to Google is struggling with: People are increasingly accessing online service through smartphones and tablets, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone, the iPad, and Android devices, and advertisers are following them there.

The 14% rise pales next to a 23% rise a year ago, though the IAB attributes last year’s jump to a recovery from the recession. Online ad spending continues to far outpace overall advertising spending, which rose less than 1%, according to both Nielsen and Kantar Media. Television remains the one relatively bright spot in traditional media, though its growth also remains far behind digital. Cable saw a 4% increase, to $10.9 billion, and broadcast rose 3.3%, to $11.1 billion.

Performance-based ads, those seeking to elicit an immediate purchase or other action, remain dominant, and even gained ground over more brand-oriented ads. Chief among these ads are search ads, which despite their 48% share of overall online ad revenues continued to gain as a category in the first half, rising 19% to reach $8.1 billion. That means search giant Google, which reports its third-quarter earnings a week from today, still reigns supreme in online ads.

Display ads rose only 4%, to $5.6 billion, reducing its share of overall online ads from 36% to 33%. Although the IAB didn’t mention it, no doubt part of the relatively slow growth is due to the rise of more efficient (that is, lower-priced) banner ads placed via real-time bidding through ad exchanges.

“Brand dollars are moving online, but at a slightly slower pace than the last two half-year reports,” Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s senior VP research analytics and measurement, said in a conference call this morning. That’s a problem, indeed perhaps evidence of a problem, for companies such as Facebook that are depending on brand marketers moving television and magazine ads online. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Google: Here’s How Well Mobile Ads Can Work

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

The big rap on mobile advertising from marketers is that all they get is a tiny piece of a tiny screen to tell their stories–nothing like TV spots, print ads, or even Web banner ads. That’s one reason spending on mobile ads remains so small that it’s worrying investors in every online company from Google to Facebook to the New York Times, all of whose audiences are using their services more and more via mobile phones and tablets.

The other reason the year of the mobile ad always seems to get pushed out to next year? Marketers aren’t sure how to measure their impact. Measure only clicks on the buy button, without tracking how mobile ads lead customers to physical stores as they surely do, and it doesn’t look like many mobile ads pencil out as well as Web ads. It’s no wonder that a new survey out this morning by the Chief Marketing Officer Council shows only 14% of CMOs are satisfied with their mobile efforts, and 43% definitely aren’t.

Google, for one, is pushing hard to change this situation, especially since both these concerns have emerged front and center among marketers in the six months since Google launched its Mobile Playbook intended to help brands do more effective mobile marketing. With a new update to its own mobile marketing vehicle announced this morning, Google is aiming to answer those concerns using a raft of real-world examples.

First, several examples of mobile campaigns illustrate that the main problem isn’t lack of screen space, but lack of imagination by marketers. “Mobile is a great canvas for brand-building,” says Jason Spero, Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy. “It’s going to produce some of the greatest campaigns in digital. But it’s shocking how far behind the [consumer] consensus the broad base of companies are.”

But some are managing to use the distinctive features of mobile devices to vault ahead of that laggard pack. Google points to several award-winning mobile campaigns from this year’s Cannes Lions Festival that showcases creative advertising. They look nothing like standard banner ads and, for better or worse, nothing like the “native” ads that are nearly hidden inside the news feeds of Facebook and Twitter.

That General Motors ad at the top, for instance, was a Game Time app that blatantly hijacked people’s attention from the game itself and, as the video says, “distracted them from watching our competitors’ ads.” Other mobile ads by Korean retailer eMart, Brazilian financial services firm Bradesco, Toyota, and others used smartphones’ cameras, touchscreens, GPS location data, and accelerometers to provide experiences not possible on the desktop, from back-seat driving games to QR codes that provide deals only at noon local time to attract lunchtime shoppers.

Second, Google’s calling out examples of how to measure the impact of mobile campaigns beyond the click, which may have even less meaning on mobile phones than on the Web. Adidas, for instance, with its agency partner iProspect, determined that including the real value of a click on a store locator button, which it had identified from store data, proved that mobile ads were paying off in in-store sales. “Mobile is driving behavior in the real world,” says Spero, and cases such as Adidas’ are starting to prove it.

Exec Survey: Obama Will Win, Tech Economy Will Lose

US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney following their first debate. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

A new survey shows a large majority of technology leaders thinks President Obama will win re-election. But by a somewhat smaller but still large margin, they think Republican challenger Mitt Romney would be better for the technology economy.

Those are the chief results of a survey conducted recently and released today by the law firm DLA Piper at its technology summit today in Menlo Park, Calif. They may not be particularly surprising, but the margin by which the tech executives assume another four years of Obama is likely seems striking–especially with Romney possibly gaining support in Silicon Valley.

Even as they believe Romney would be better for their businesses, their widespread assumption of an Obama victory suggests they’re opting not to engage in wishful thinking. (To be clear, however, there could be some selection bias, since only 220 executives out of 5,000 who were sent the survey responded.)

But the clear majority do wish Romney would pull off a come-from-behind victory. Some 60% said they’re skeptical that a second Obama administration would be positive for the technology business. That’s a complete reverse of their feelings four years ago, when 60% thought Obama would be better for tech than Republican John McCain. However, a separate question about whether executives agreed with the statement that Obama would be positive for the tech industry revealed that 42% did, while 21% were neutral. …

Read the complete survey results at The New Persuaders.

The Real Reason We Can’t Stop Talking About Steve Jobs

Why do we remain so obsessed with Steve Jobs a year after his untimely death?

Sure, a large part is that Jobs was a business legend who built what is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, thanks to innovative, appealing products ranging from Apple‘s Mac and iPod to the iPhone and the iPad. And he was a design whiz, a master marketer, a uniquely demanding leader, a disruptor of industry after industry, a visionary, a dreamer–any of which would warrant close attention during his life.

If he hadn’t been any of those things, and hadn’t done everything he did, we certainly wouldn’t be paying so much attention to him–least of all a year after he succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer. But he’s hardly the only phenomenally accomplished CEO or company founder. So it seems doubtful that’s why many of us, from the press to Apple customers even to people who don’t use Apple products, seem so interested in the man.

I think the biggest reason we can’t hear enough is simply because, like too few other CEOs, he came across as a genuine human being–complete with all the foibles and faults that today’s corporations so often manage to scrub clean from their leaders’ images. (You can certainly argue that he was a jerk, but that this was not hidden in the least is what I mean when I say “genuine.” You knew what you were getting with Jobs.) And this is despite Jobs’s and Apple’s own hermetically sealed environment when it comes to media coverage.

Jobs was fanatical about secrecy for his company’s doings, but his outsized personality defied any attempt to keep a lid on stories of how he operated as a leader, a friend, or even a subject of a random encounter. Plus, he was an inveterate storyteller himself, someone who seemed constitutionally unable to keep himself under wraps. It’s a lesson to business leaders that, while you have to deliver the goods, it also helps your company to show that you’re not just a talking head.

And so on this day when so many people are looking back at Jobs, his legacy and his life, here are a few places to indulge another look at the legend and the man:

* Longtime tech writer and Forbes staffer Connie Guglielmo’s magazine piece on Untold Stories About Steve Jobs.

* In an accompanying piece with videos, friends and colleagues reminiscenses about Jobs.

* A collection of stories on Quora, some from well-known tech figures as well as others who had personal contact with him.

* My own Five Small Stories About Steve Jobs from a year ago.

Read the rest of the list of story collections at The New Persuaders.

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