Yahoo!'s Board Rejects CEO's Strategy

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer speaks during the Fortune Global Forum on November 3,
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer speaks during the Fortune Global Forum on November 3, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Business leaders are attending the Fortune Global Forum that runs through November 4. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After a few days of deliberation, Yahoo!'s Board rejected Marissa Mayer's strategy to spin-off its 15 percent stake in Alibaba estimated to be worth $31 billion into a new company called Aabaco. Instead some are surprised that the Board may be looking to spin off Yahoo!'s core Internet business, which primarily makes money by selling advertising to those that want to reach its roughly one billion users.

Why this might be a smart decision

If you look at the values of the entities involved, you might just conclude that the Board is making a very wise decision.

  1. Its 15% stake in Alibaba is worth an estimated $31 billion.
  2. Its 35% stake in Yahoo! Japan is worth roughly $8.5 billion.
  3. Together these stakes are valued at roughly $29 a share.
  4. It's core business is estimated to be worth $3 per share and has a cash value estimated to be worth $5 a share. Analysts estimate that Yahoo!'s core business could be sold for between $3 and $8 billion.

At the same time, Yahoo!'s future does not look particularly bright as a result of the following:

  1. Yahoo!'s ad revenue and CPMs have been declining.
  2. Marissa Mayer is the 5th CEO in 8 years.
  3. Her initiatives over the past 3 years have been disappointing.
  4. Executives instrumental to her turnaround have been exiting.
  5. Employee morale is not very good.

In the context of the above challenges, experienced managers on the Board know that

"it makes no sense to kill the healthy chicken to make chicken soup to feed the sick chicken."

Brand challenges

Even though it has high name recognition and an admirable number of users from its long history online, Yahoo continues to have a brand identity problem. It does not generate a clear image in the minds of Internet users. To test that, all you need to do is ask users for the first word association that comes to mind when they think of Yahoo. If the answer is what the company wants and is consistent, the brand is working. If it is not what the company wants or is inconsistent, it is not working. If you run the test, you are likely to get a lot of mumbling.

Marketing campaign

In an effort to correct this branding problem, the Company invested $100 million in a new "It's You" branding campaign. This effort was supposed to re-invigorate the Yahoo brand and make the image clear. By most accounts, however, it was a flop.

The brand should give visitors good reasons to visit Yahoo and buy. It should also provide some uniqueness so other brands cannot use the same messaging. With "It's You," any brand could say that. It did not give users clear reasons to go to Yahoo and remain engaged. Instead of setting the world on fire, it rapidly burned $100 million in hard-earned cash.

Products have promise

Yahoo has some great products that many really like. Yahoo Finance, News, Flickr, Fantasy Sports are just a few that come to mind. With its roughly one billion users, these products are assets that are likely to give its core business the ability to generate significant cash to the remaining holding company in a spin-off and sale.

Promotion mistakes

After the "It's You" campaign was a dud, Yahoo!'s promotion efforts were also flat. Instead of focusing on unique benefits of Yahoo! and its products, the company created ads that disparaged Google. While that was years ago, the promotion has not improved. The promotion initiatives over the past summer also had marketers scratching their heads. I was interviewed about Yahoo!'s billboard campaign by Wendy Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle. In the interview I said about the billboards,

"We don't know what the product is and we don't know what the uniqueness is. (Yahoo!'s) not giving us reasons for doing business with (the Company)."

No clear path to the future

Many companies take a wrong turn. To get Yahoo! back on the right path, the Board selected and invested heavily in a very talented executive from Google, Marissa Mayer. After three years and disappointing results, it appears as if the Board has lost patience and decided that they do not see a path to a successful future. Add in visible executive departures and employee morale issues, and it appears that the writing is on the wall. Apparently, the Board does not want to jettison its successful investments to save a core business that has no clear successful path ahead. Based on the factors discussed above, it's hard to blame them.

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