Can you describe what Yahoo! does in one sentence?

Can you describe what Yahoo! is in five or less words? You can probably mention a few of the services they offer e.g. search, email, Flickr, hosting… but can you define what the company stands for, what is its mission, and what is its core product? I can’t.

Businesses diversify their product range; it’s a logical step to maintain growth. However, for successful companies, the core product still remains easily identifiable and defines who they are.

Google has dozens of products on offer, but the mission statement to “Organise the world’s information” still drives what the company stands for, and how the public define it; a search engine.

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Another great example is Amazon. As well as being an online store, it owns a movie streaming business, it sells e-readers and tablets and it provides web hosting. However, despite all of this, it is still defined by that core product of online shopping.

A clear sense of purpose

When a company has a clear sense of its own purpose, it exudes a confidence that customers can sense.

The products, service, pricing and brand all make sense and help to convince a prospect to become a customer.

Everything and nothing at the same time

In wanting to become everything to everyone online, Yahoo! has ironically really become nothing. On a personal level, I have zero brand affinity with Yahoo!, I don’t even have a sense there is a brand, more it is a collection of services.

It is easy to sit on the outside looking in, and to be critical, but there are valuable lessons for any business to be taken from Yahoo’s lack of purpose over the past decade.

All is not lost

Although I picked them out as an example to aspire to above, I think Google flew very close to falling in to the same trap a few years ago.

With teams working on separate projects, their services such as email, docs, wave, search etc. all felt like they came from different companies and Google was in serious danger of diluting their brand.

This has since been addressed, with all these services being tied together much more closely in accounts and the extra Google+ layer they have added.

What do you want to be great at?

New opportunities come and go for any business; the trick is to identify those that make sense for your brand and core product. The scatter gun approach taken by Yahoo! is always destined to fail.

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