Your strength lies elsewhere

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, in a recent interview held during Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference, defined her portal as “the place that everyone comes to every day.” It appears a bold statement on a company that has been in the downhill since Google’s leap into the Internet years ago. Yet, it encapsulates what Yahoo! is about, which its founder and former CEO Jerry Yang failed to uphold. Bartz’s perspective is outlined in more detail on her contrast of Yahoo! and Google, as follows:

Google’s a fierce competitor. They’re very good in search, very good in maps. But they don’t have the positioning and reach that we have. We are totally different companies. ……We are a place people come to be informed. Google is a place people go to do search ……We want to be more personal than Google. We are about providing a more integrated experience. We are a different company than Google.

Although it is premature to predict whether Bartz may succeed in restoring Yahoo! to its former glory, I can certainly concur with her view in many points and find that she understands what is wrong with the company. Perhaps launching all-frontal assault in the enemy’s front yard, like Yahoo! trying to catch up Google in the search market, is not an efficient strategy to gain advantage, despite the significance of web search as an everyday service. Yahoo! needs to fight its own war with its own rules. It is about time for it to reflect upon what it is capable of and can do better, or otherwise it shall be rendered insignificant the way its contemporaries AltaVista and Excite ended up.

Identifying one’s key strengths and focusing on those core assets are essential, even if not sufficient, to its success. Even Google, the seemingly-invincible behemoth of the Internet, is incredibly lackluster in areas like social networking; Orkut, Google’s own social networking service, only enjoys success in Brazilian and Indian markets; its microblog Jaiku (acquired in 2007) has been completely eclipsed by the Twitter boom; furthermore, it shut down the mobile service Dodgeball (acquired in 2005) this March. As pathetic as these cases may appear, Google may have ended up a short-lived wonder had it been obsessed with winning in those markets which it could find little strength. It is the sheer attention Google pays to its core services that keeps it ahead of the competition.

A similar principle may apply to Yahoo! as well. Not only does it need to understand its own abilities, it is also required to comprehend what others have in their arsenal. As Sun Tzu professed in The Art of War, “[i]f you know both yourself and your enemy, you can come out of hundreds of battles without danger.”

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