404: Yahoo's Search For Its Identity Not Found

A parable of old compared a wise builder with a foolish builder. The wise builder built his house on a foundation of stone. The foolish built his on sand.

Interviewed about the logo's new look in Advertising Age, Yahoo's Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Savitt said, "...our logo is the foundation upon which our brand and products and user experience will continue to be built."

Choosing a logo as a foundation to build the brand in the midst of a do-or-die turnaround campaign is akin to building a house on sand. It is not going to stand. Yahoo's distracted and misdirected branding focus may have gotten the pundits talking, but it hasn't nor will it solve the company's woes.

There is no question that a logo plays an important role in the branding process -- but the meaning behind the brand is what matters most. A great book cover will not rescue a lousy read. Branding is about conveying substance; it is not the substance itself. While the world was introduced to Yahoo's new look, it remains uncertain about the company's identity, direction, and vision.

Moreover, the logo redesign did more than just put the cart before the horse -- it negated the seriousness of the turnaround Yahoo is attempting to make. No branding effort, let alone a logo, has ever solved a serious business problem. In fact, some such efforts have made matters worse as companies ironically caused further damage to their images in their efforts to make improvements.

Adding to the faux pas was the publicity of CEO Marissa Mayer diving headfirst into the project as she spent a weekend with the design team to pontificate lines, serifs, and colors. While photo ops of CEOs on the factory floor, shipping dock, or out in the field is an age-old publicity gimmick, Mayer's having the time on her hands to doodle a logo while Yahoo continues to limp miles behind her former employer could not have possibly impressed current or potential investors.

So, regardless of the ill-conceived strategy, how did the rest of the world receive the redesign? A quick Google search (sorry, the new logo didn't break my search engine habit yet) revealed comments such as:

"It's a great big bag of fail."

"The most boring corporate design in history."

"It looks like a bad wedding invitation."

And perhaps most profoundly:

"I just used Google to see Yahoo's new logo, so they're still losing."

"The logo is so exciting that it will make me do absolutely nothing different."

And on the quantifiable side of the equation, Mashable pointed toward a survey conducted by Survata, a market research group, which indicated two-thirds of its 400 respondents preferred the old logo.

Yahoo said in a statement that it wanted a logo that stayed true to its roots. That's fair enough. However, Yahoo should have first gone back to its roots to rediscover why it was once a sweeping success and then analyze where it went wrong. All public relations campaigns that seek to revive a once great reputation must begin with introspection and analysis of mishaps, missteps, and miscalculations and then move to a solid plan to reestablish the organization in the marketplace through meaningful actions that will win back consumers. Today's educated consumer is unlikely to be fooled for long by cosmetic window dressing campaigns and will likely instead become more untrusting toward the company.