How Yahoo! Can (Re)Capture The Imagination of Brands

Article contributed by Jordan Bitterman, Senior Vice President, Digitas

What Yahoo! Is Missing: Owned Channels

In the world of paid, owned and earned media, brands are increasingly focused on owned channels.  Owned channels give brands critical real estate in high-trafficked areas and are fertile ground for earned media to flourish.

Before roughly 5 years ago, the term owned channel was basically an unused phrase loosely referring to: address databases, registration lists generated through promotions or the number of monthly visitors to a company website.  While all of these still exist today, they do so alongside a number of newer and more potent spaces: Facebook profiles, Twitter streams, YouTube brand channels, Tumblr feeds, Pinterest boards – and the list goes on.

Each of these is a pathway to engage with customers & prospects, and each of these pathways is an owned channel.  Importantly, they are proving to be just as successful (if not more so) in driving brand objectives than a standard database.

Through these channels, brands have the ability to build dynamic relationships with their audiences.  These channels are the most trustworthy places in which to do so.  Paid media is essentially a rental space: buys are made, banners are run, the budget is spent and the banners ultimately come down.  Owned channels are, if done right, permanent: conversations are started, trust is built, relationships blossom and all participants – the brand and the audience members – have the right and ability to hold a dialogue.

This is valuable space.

The trouble for Yahoo! over the last five years is that they essentially have not offered owned channels for brand use.  Their whole pitch has basically centered on: the ability for scale through paid media.  Yahoo! is obviously one of the biggest platforms on the web.  Advertisers love scale and they get it with Yahoo!  But there is more to life than paid scale especially in an age when so many publishers offer it.

A Fighter’s Chance

This is where the new Yahoo! leadership regime comes in.  I am bullish on Marissa Mayer for a number of reasons.

First, the surprise of her appointment alone was a welcome shock to the Yahoo! storyline.  Do not get me wrong: over the last two years, Yahoo! has done a fantastic job of re-establishing trust with the media community.  Ross Levinsohn brought a lot to the party: the sales team is clicking and that is a difference felt throughout the buying community. 

Further, the commitment to original video content is a step in the right direction.  (In fact, if they continue apace, it may well be a differentiator in the category.)  But, shaking things up will not be bad for Yahoo!  I am looking forward to the newness she will bring.

Second, and more importantly, that newness may well come from the product background Mayer carries with her from Google.  Why is this important?  Because Yahoo! already has a number of under-utilized products in its arsenal.  Many of these products are owned channels and, while they may not be discussed as much as Facebook and YouTube, they are compelling in their own right.

There are two such products that provide great examples of owned channels for brands to leverage on Yahoo!

Flickr.  Have you heard of Pinterest?  There is a conversation happening right now at Yahoo! headquarters that goes something like this: Son of a bitch! Pinterest is Flickr!  Why did we not spend more time and energy turning Flickr into a real social network?  Using images, brands communicate with their audiences.  Brands could do so on Flickr.

IntoNow.  IntoNow is an amazing piece of technology purchased by Yahoo! within the last 24 months.  The platform uses Audio Content Recognition technology (think: Shazam) to identify any piece of video content and deliver information about it to users.  That is some highly monetizeable ground.  Think of the possibilities.

With some focus on integrating the technology into other elements of Yahoo! (and beyond), brands could leverage IntoNow as a brilliant owned channel.  In fact, I see this technology as a credible way for Yahoo! to finally find success in the Connected TV space that they have tried to exploit for the last few years.  And, by the way, there is hardly such thing as an owned channel in television, so Yahoo! could create first-mover advantage for themselves.

Where To Go From Here

These are just two examples of how Yahoo! can utilize existing assets to offer owned channels to brands.  To turn them into brand satisfiers (and Yahoo! revenue drivers), work must be done to: a) ready them for brand use, b) educate the sales team on how to position and sell them and c) build and acquire new technologies to make the Yahoo! owned channel offering set more potent.

Yahoo! has a way to go (re)capture the imagination of the brand community the way others have in recent years.  But if they follow these steps, owned channels along with the scale offered on the platform, could position them nicely in the coming years.