Yahoo Woos Mobile App Developers In Hopes Of Boosting Ad Business

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

From my Forbes blog:

Yahoo wants app developers to know it really, really likes them. But even if they return the affection, will that be enough to turn the company around?

Today, at its Mobile Developer Conference in San Francisco, the Internet company rolled out a suite of new products and services aimed at helping mobile app developers make money. It’s the latest and most aggressive move in a two-year effort to prove that it has fully joined the mobile revolution.

More than 1,000 mobile app developers gathered to hear how the still struggling Internet company plans to help them acquire, analyze and make money from users through advertising, app purchases, and other means. Yahoo billed the conference as the first annual, but it’s an outgrowth of an annual conference held for years the mobile analytics and ad network Flurry, which Yahoo bought last year. That was clear when Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf got somewhat more enthusiastic cheers from the audience than Mayer when he was introduced.

Yahoo offers the software tools–including a way for apps to embed in their software Yahoo search, video and so-called native ads that match the context where they’re running, as well as a new analytics dashboard from Flurry–for free. In return, it hopes the apps, 630,000 of which use Flurry’s software, will run its ads, for which they get 60% of the revenues. Yahoo hopes that will vastly expand the places its ads run, especially on mobile devices where people increasingly spend most of their time and, increasingly, money online. That in turn could make Yahoo more attractive to advertisers. …

Read more details in the full post.

Jerry Yang’s Revenge: Yahoo Shares Top $31, The Price Microsoft Offered In 2008

Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang

Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang

From my Forbes blog:

Somewhere out there, Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang must be shouting his company’s name for the first time in years.

That’s because Yahoo closed above $31 a share–by three pennies–for the first time since October 2007, a few months before Microsoft made a blockbuster offer to buy the company for that same price per share. And for all that current CEO Marissa Mayer has done to revive the long-dormant company, it’s finally worth giving Yang due credit for Yahoo‘s stock success for the past year–not to mention its very existence.

Investors can reasonably argue that Yahoo‘s shares were dead for years following Yang’s much-criticized intransigence against Microsoft‘s buyout offer. So simply because they’re now worth a few cents more than Microsoft initially offered (though still a little less than the $33 Microsoft later offered) doesn’t mean Yang’s decision was the right one at the time. Or even now, five years later, given where Yahoo investors’ money could have been better deployed. Google’s shares, for instance, while volatile over the years, are about 75% higher than in February 2008.

Still, at least in Silicon Valley, no small number of people at the time thought Yahoo deserved more than to become a unit of Microsoft. Really, does even the most bearish Yahoo investor think that the company would have been better off today–if it still existed–or that it would be producing more value to investors or users if it had been consumed by Microsoft back in 2008? It seemed apparent that whatever was left of Yahoo would slowly wither away inside a software giant that has never seemed committed to media, technology-powered or not. …

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13 Questions For 2013 In The World Of Online Advertising

questionsCross-posted at my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For the past few years, I’ve offered predictions here and on The New Persuaders for what’s likely to come in the next year. This year, I’m going to shake it up and throw out a few questions instead. I think I know the answers to some of them, but if many won’t be answered definitively by year-end, they remain top of mind for me and probably for many others in online media and advertising.

So in this, the first full week of the new year, here are some questions to which I hope to start finding answers:

* Will image advertising finally take off online? I have to believe that as people spend more and more time online instead of reading print publications and watching TV, brand marketers will want and need to reach them there with ads that are aimed at creating consideration for later purchases, not just eliciting an immediate sale like Google’s search ads and too many banner ads. We’re already starting to see signs of such advertising with the early success of Facebook’s Sponsored StoriesTwitter’s Promoted Tweets, and YouTube’s TrueView ads–not to mention the explosion of tablets, which provide a lean-back experience more compatible with image advertising. This won’t be a sudden change, since brand marketers and agencies don’t move quickly, but you can’t tell me there aren’t going to be increasingly compelling ways for brands to influence people online.

* Can advertisers and publishers make ads more personal without scaring people? That’s the $64 billion question, and it likely won’t get answered in full this year. It’s easy for headline-hungry politicians to make a big deal out of Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe or the Wall Street Journal’s or the New York Times’ latest scare story about an ad that followed somebody all over the Web. That’s especially so since Facebook really does push the privacy envelope too far at times, and too many advertisers idiotically chase one more sales conversion at the cost of scaring off hundreds of others or inviting onerous legislation. But making ads more useful to each individual person is not only crucial to online commerce, it’s potentially better for most consumers as well–seriously, I don’t need to see another ad for a fitness center or a new credit card, but that ad for Camper van Beethoven’s new CD had me in a split-second. The answer lies in these two words, everyone: transparency and choice.

* Will mobile advertising work? Well, some of it already does, to hear Google and Facebook tell it. And while those already devalued digital dimes so far turn to pennies when it comes to ads on smartphones and tablets, this still feels more like growing pains than a crisis in online advertising. Sure, the screens are small and people don’t like to be interrupted in their mobile cocoons. So a different kind of advertising is probably needed–clearly, banners don’t cut it on a four-inch screen. But the value to advertisers of knowing your location and maybe the apps you’re using, coupled with knowledge of what your friends like–all with permission, of course–is huge. That permission may be really tough to earn. But if advertisers can offer tangible value, perhaps in the form of useful services related to what you’re doing or looking for or shopping for–and isn’t that the ultimate native ad?–people may loosen their hold on that information.

I have a lot more questions, but I’ve got to stop before too much of 2013 is gone.

Check out more questions at the full post.

Job One For Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer: The Vision Thing

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer (Photo credit: jdlasica)

Cross-posted from my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Everybody has all kinds of advice for Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa MayerHire great engineers. (Well, duh, but how? Big money alone won’t do it.)  Fire 10,000 people. (Sure, Marc, easy peasy–that should help with recruiting too.) Fix Flickr. (Right, and 47 other services while you’re at it.) Go mobile. (Years late, that should work.)

Granted, most of those things may well be necessary at some point, and probably soon. But here’s what everyone from employees and advertisers to users and investors needs to know first: What is Yahoo?

It’s a question that has produced unconvincing answers for so many years it’s hard to remember by now what made Yahoo unique. Yahoo itself takes a direct crack at it on its “Investors FAQs” page, answering the very same question, “What is Yahoo!?”:

“Today, Yahoo! Inc. has become the world’s largest global online network of integrated services with more than 500 million users worldwide.”

Ugh. “Digital media company”? Makes my heart, uh, flatline.

It also has an actual “mission or vision statement,” a clear carryover from Carol Bartz, two CEOs ago:

“Yahoo! is the premier digital media company. Yahoo! creates deeply personal digital experiences that keep more than half a billion people connected to what matters most to them, across devices and around the globe. That’s how we deliver your world, your way. And Yahoo!’s unique combination of Science + Art + Scale connects advertisers to the consumers who build their businesses.”

A little better, but really, “Science + Art + Scale”? Hard to imagine that means much to advertisers, let alone consumers. (I was always surprised Bartz didn’t call it Art + Science + Scale to provide a more characteristically salty acronym.)

Still, there’s a kernel of something in the part about keeping people connected to what matters to them. I will hazard an unpopular view that Yahoo’s original mission as a portal still has fundamental appeal to many people. Most digerati will say the portal is dead, and good riddance, as people flock to more focused services such as Facebook’s social network and Google’s search engine. So if Yahoo comes out and says it’s a portal, it will become even more of a laughingstock in the tech community.

But even Google and Facebook increasingly are becoming hubs for all kinds of activities, even if they will never utter the P word. So it seems clear that a very large number of people out there want someone else to help them decide the best services and apps to use online–and provide a way for them to work together and share data in ways that are useful to us, not just advertisers. It’s also clear that many people are leery, thanks to privacy concerns or simply because they may miss the latest and greatest from that new upstart, about going all-in on Google or Facebook or even Apple.

At its heart, Yahoo’s value, when it has had value, is providing people easy, curated access to the best online services out there, whether they’re Yahoo’s own or others’. That’s a media company, however that’s evolving today and will continue to evolve in the future.

Of course, a vision only works if you act on it, so ultimately, what will really matter is creating new services people can’t live without. Those are now few and far between at Yahoo, though a few like Sports and Finance come pretty close. Spurring the creation and execution of new ones is where Mayer could shine where her predecessors did not.

But Mayer’s vision needs to acknowledge that Yahoo’s future can’t simply rest on pumping out cool products. It needs to be more meta than that in an era when only a couple behemoths can even think about providing everything on their own (and even Google has throttled back its habit of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks). And dozens of smaller companies are providing best-of-breed services that Yahoo will be hard-pressed to compete with.

The way Yahoo becomes a 21st century media company, a concierge of online services, needs to be fundamentally redesigned for the mobile era, of course. I still use MyYahoo a lot because I’ve populated it with stock lists, key news sources, access to email accounts, quick views into other services such as Twitter and Facebook, and more. But the desktop version is a fright on my mobile phone, and the mobile version is simply a long list of seemingly random feeds.

Yahoo, of all companies–the one that famously kept its home page simple enough early on that it wouldn’t take more than a few seconds to load on slow dial-up connections–should be able to figure this out. Even Apple, with the random scattering of apps across multiple pages on its iPhone, hasn’t figured it out. But I’d love to see it, and I and a few hundred million other people wouldn’t mind getting it from Yahoo.

For her part, Mayer provided a provisional vision of what Yahoo is or should be to the New York Times: “My focus at Google has been to deliver great end-user experiences, to delight and inspire our end users. That is what I plan to do at Yahoo, give the end user something valuable and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo every day.”

But that “something” is far too diffuse, and surely she knows that. As a former product chief at Google, Mayer may face a challenge doing the vision thing. She needs an elevator pitch, yes, but more than that: She must make a clear, bold statement of why we should continue to type Y-a-h-o-o into our browsers, or install Yahoo apps on our smartphones.

Google Makes Renewed Grab for the Rest of Online Advertising

New DoubleClick ad system heats up battle to create an operating system for digital marketing

Cross-posted from my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Hundreds of well-funded online ad technology companies have sprouted up in recent years, each aiming to make it easier and more efficient for marketers to reach just the target audience they want.

Terence Kawaja, CEO of boutique investment bank Luma Partners, created this now-famous Display Lumascape to show how complex the online ad tech industry has become.

Yet the result is a crazy quilt of companies–graphically illustrated in that mess of a chart on the right–that drives marketers and agencies crazy. The very existence of so many competing products, in fact, has made placing ads online and measuring their impact more complicated and cumbersome than ever. “Venture capital has supported and financed a bunch of chaos,” advertising veteran Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the trade group Interactive Advertising Bureaugriped at a recent ad conference.

The result: Most ad dollars, nearly $200 billion a year, still get spent on television because it’s so much easier.

That’s the problem Google aims to solve with a revamped ad buying system it will announce today at a private Future of Advertising event hosted by its DoubleClick display-ad management and technology unit. (Part of the event will be livestreamed here.) The company, which already dominates 60% of the online ad business–those little text ads that appear on the right and top of the page when you do a search–now has its sights set on the remaining 40% of the industry. That would be the $25 billion worldwide market for display ads, the graphical and video banners familiar on virtually every commercial website.

Google’s goal: Provide the leading one-stop shop for advertisers and publishers to buy ads on websites, mobile phones, social networks, apps, and whatever other new media the Internet spawns. Essentially, it’s building an operating system for ads much like Microsoft did with its Windows for PCs–with much the same appeal to marketers and agencies as Windows has for PC users. “When you’re putting together a campaign, you want everything connected vs. trying to piece it all together,” says Kurt Unkel, president of the online ad buying operation at Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi digital ad agency, a Google partner.

Google’s announcement is the latest salvo in a war to control the next era of digital marketing. After a decade in which Google’s search ads overtook display ads with an unmatched ability to turn clicks directly into sales, many advertisers and publishers expect–or at least hope for–a resurgence of new kinds of display ads that could woo brand advertising dollars from TV. Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president of display advertising products, has predicted that display will be a $200 billion industry in a few years.

Read the rest of the story at The New Persuaders.