Yahoo!'s HUGE Branding Opportunity...Will They Succeed?

The biggest move in branding currently is Yahoo!'s announced new logo initiative that they plan to unveil this Thursday, September 5th.

This is Huge! Yahoo!, founded almost 20 years ago, is one of the pioneers and first major brands of the Internet. Today the company has a market cap of $27.6 billion, more than 11,500 employees, and delivers content, advertising, and tools to over 700 million global users every day.

As such, for Yahoo! this new logo initiative represents not only an effort to “reflect its renewed spirit of purpose and innovation,” as stated by Yahoo! executives, but it also as I see it, represents the opportunity of a lifetime for Yahoo! to galvanize and position its brand within the pantheon of the great brands of all time.

In order to determine whether Yahoo! succeeds or otherwise at its new branding initiative, let’s examine Yahoo!'s efforts to date as well as what they will show us Thursday, through the lens of disciplined branding best practices. Specifically, we will comment on the brand’s:

  • Roll out
  • Strategy, story, and ethos
  • Visual strength 

How well is Yahoo! Executing on its Brand Roll Out?

Introducing a new logo or brand evolution for a company of Yahoo!’s magnitude or any sized company for that matter, is non-trivial and takes great marketing skill to execute well. As a former software marketing VP and owner of a global marketing firm, I can appreciate the effort required for Yahoo!’s marketing and executive teams to pull off what I hope becomes a transformational moment for the Yahoo! brand.

To this end, I applaud Yahoo!’s unique and I dare say innovative campaign they call “Thirty Days of Change” where Yahoo! “warms us up” by posting a new logo variation every day until the big reveal on Sept 5th. This approach takes a page from Google’s playbook of modifying its logo on special occasions, certainly reflective of Yahoo!’s CEO's corporate heritage.

The campaign has generated incredible buzz - some supportive, some not so much, but to the marketers at Yahoo!, those comments are more valuable than an IPO. Such an approach reaches out to and includes the Yahoo! user community and empowers Yahoo! to assess real time feedback and make course corrections if needed, avoiding the disaster that was the new branding effort at The Gap in 2010, when the new logo died after just one week due to vitriolic criticism of the new logo's weak design, lack of strategy, and surprise introduction to the market.

As such, I give Yahoo!’s marketing crew positive marks for a unique, careful, and creative approach to introducing such a big branding change. However, as a professional passionate about branding, I can’t help but sense somethings are missing in the “logo variations” they have showed us so far during their 30 day warm up, namely an absence of Yahoo!’s strategy and brand story and dearth of the logos' visual strength compared to others.

Great brands have a story. What is Yahoo!’s?

To get a perspective of how strategy, storytelling, and ethos play an important part of building a strong brand and logo, let’s take a cursory view of a few of today’s great brands:

The Apple logo today is an evolution of their very first logo depicting genius, Isaac Newton, sitting under an apple tree with the discovery of gravity, new knowledge and unbridled possibilities about to be revealed with the simplicity of an apple. Get it?

The Nike “swoosh” on your running shoes is actually the company delivering on its promise to place the wings of Nike, The Winged Goddess of Victory, on every athlete.

Disney’s unique script logo is simply founder, Walt’s own signature, a subtle reminder that origins of Mickey Mouse and now great media company are literally rooted with pen and ink.

What are the strategies, stories and the ethos of the Yahoo! brand and of the logo variations they have shared so far? Well, the 25 plus versions that Yahoo! has shared are frankly void of strategy, story and ethos. Perhaps this is by design and as such, I am hopeful that the Yahoo! crew will showcase the brand's story and ethos when they reveal the real logo on Thursday.

In the meantime, Yahoo! executives tell us that the character of the Yahoo! brand is “fun, vibrant, and welcoming.” Ok, so is my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. Those are nice attributes, but are somewhat unsubstantial when describing all that Yahoo! is and could be.

Yahoo! is powerful. I use Yahoo! every day, using its mail products and navigating the site to consume all of my national, world, financial, and sports news content. Yahoo! to me is the “window to the universe.” In this heavy Yahoo! user’s perspective, Yahoo! is the leading innovative media and technology company, delivering content and web products to the planet. Yahoo!'s brand strategy, story, and ethos should reflect these august realities.

How do the brand and logo compare to others? 

Marketing is a brutal, competitive business game. It’s about comparisons and influencing people be they users, customers, prospects, candidates, investors or whomever to make choices, preferably selecting your brand. As such, when assessing the impact of a logo or brand, we at KiddGlobal whether helping clients create new brands or transform existing ones, test the visual strength of a logo against others by performing what we call the Brand Landscape Review where we place each logo on the same page among other logos and brands within the company’s peer group, business ecosystem, and most importantly among its competitors.

Thus, if you perform this exercise with any of the Yahoo! options presented thus far against the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook in the technology space and then against the best brands on the planet like Disney, Nike, Starbucks, Target, Yahoo!'s "warm up" type treatments fall way short of the design gravitas needed to be considered great brand options.

Looking Forward!

To be fair, Yahoo! really has not revealed its hand yet. Taken at face value, Yahoo! has only showed us some fun examples of its name and has yet to share its brand's strategy, story, and ethos for where its horizons lay. I expect and very much look forward to Yahoo!'s CEO revealing these on September 5th. I am a big fan of Yahoo! and am rooting for them to introduce a winning logo on Thursday.

Stay tuned and I will provide my commentary after their release.

Mike Kidd is president of KiddGlobal, a marketing consulting company celebrating its fifth year of business and which specializes in brand strategies, building enterprise websites, product marketing, and content strategies and writing. Learn more about Mike and KiddGlobal.

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