Marissa Mayer really wants to take over your media consumption diet. In an interview with Bloomberg TV this morning, the new Yahoo CEO went out of her way to promote the company’s ability to put people’s lives in order by way of editorial. Term of the day? “Daily habits.”
“I think that there’s a real opportunity to help guide people’s daily habits in terms of what content they read,” she told Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos in her first one-on-one interview since becoming the boss.
Her definition of what falls under “daily habits”: news, sports, games, finance, search, mail, answers, and group. She signalled that Yahoo will be re-upping its commitment to those verticals. “These are all things we have been underinvested in,” she said. “A little love will go a long way.”
A lot of the criticism of the struggling Yahoo and its recent CEOs is that the company hasn’t been able to properly define its mission. Mayer is trying to stave off naysayers like Michael Arrington who wrote in 2010: “I want to understand what Yahoo is. What their core goals are. What they think they can win at. And how they can accomplish that via their product organization. I’ve wanted to know this for two years. And I still don’t know.”
So she has the wording down. But does it mean anything new? Yahoo has long been a portal for sports, news, finance, mail and search. So if Yahoo has been providing all these things, where exactly does the opportunity come from? Yahoo’s past failures to do this? Then why should we expect “a little love” will suddenly allow Yahoo to execute on the same old promise the last CEOs have phrased a little more clumsily?
Catchphrase aside, Mayer’s vision isn’t too different from past Yahoo goals of being the Internet’s “start page” for news and information. Jerry Yang used to brag that Yahoo was number one or two in all of its markets. The problem is it’s number one in few of them, like finance, and a distant number two in the more lucrative ones, like search. Outsiders hoped that Mayer would make some tough decisions about Yahoo’s many aging franchises, cutting or spinning off some and doubling down on others. The worrying part of her “daily habit” meme is that it seems to indicate there are no real changes, just a willingness to show them “a little love.”
While we figure out if the playbook is actually different this time, expect the words “daily habit” to keep popping up in Yahoo’s media statements. The concept isn’t a bad one given the ascendance of smartphones and tablets. But Yahoo will have to be decidedly more than just a portal with the same dusty products on the shelf to succeed on a new device where the habits aren’t yet formed. Mobile is a different paradigm, and social has re-ordered the way we discover and consumer content. While homepages and verticals are still important, young consumers especially live in a world in which content finds it way to them rather than the other way around.
That might be what Mayer has in mind when she talks about a “feed” of information rather than a destination for information. In the interview, Mayer emphasized that Yahoo can help provide context and personalization for consumers in a Web that is swamped with content. In other words, Yahoo can put the Internet in order. That’s interesting, she said, because it takes the company back to its roots. “It took the internet and ordered it up,” she said of Yahoo’s earliest days, when it started as an Internet directory. “Now it’s so vast that you can’t just categorize it anymore. But [we could] provide a feed information that is ordered, a web ordered for you, and is also available on your mobile phone.”
And just to ram home the new message about the primacy of mobile and our daily habits, here’s Mayer again:
“What people do on their phones is often a daily habit. When I thought about the strategy for Yahoo I pulled the list of what people do on their phones in rank order of frequency. If you ignore a few exceptions, things done by carriers – like voice and text, and maps because I know from my former life it is very expensive and hard to do right – the list looks like email, check the weather, check the news, share photos, get financial quotes, check sports scores, play games. You get the idea. It was funny because I would go and recite that list as the new CEO of Yahoo and I would say, ‘What am I doing?’ And my family and friends would say – ‘You are describing Yahoo’s business.’ I would say, ‘No, I’m listing in frequency order what people do on their phones.'”
Of course, she believes that Yahoo has the content people want on their phones. “We have these daily habits. I think whenever you have a daily habit and providing a lot of value around it, there is opportunity to not only provide that value to the end user but to create a great business.”
The question is, if people don’t want Yahoo’s content on their desktop, why would that be any different on a phone?