Yahoo is assessing bids for its Internet business. Bidders include AT&T, Verizon Communications, private equity firms, and many other suitors. This, after a four-year effort by CEO Marissa Mayer to rejuvenate the company. Writing for The New York Times, Vindu Goel and Michael J. de la Merced summarize the company’s predicament:

The sale of Yahoo’s business would close out a largely unsuccessful four-year effort by Marissa Mayer, the company’s chief executive, to turn around the internet company. Although Yahoo was once the place where many web users began their wanderings, it fell on hard times over the last decade through a series of strategic and managerial missteps. Although Yahoo’s properties still draw more than one billion visitors a month, the company accounts for a tiny slice of the time people spend online.

Many factors contribute to a company’s long-term success or failure. These factors include advertising, marketing, public relations, quality control, leadership, talent management, employee engagement, attrition, cultural trends, customer sentiment, policies, competition, branding, crisis management, fiscal management, execution, and strategy just to name a few. While not in any way claiming to know the simple or complex answer to what has led to Yahoo’s challenging standing today, I do propose a theory based on just one simple reflection: my experience with the brand name.

For me personally, I could never truly get past the name. Yes, I realize that yahoo refers to an exclamation of excitement and fun. I get that. That has its attraction. We all understand the obvious intention in the brand name.

Simultaneously, we have a subtle problem. We know that yahoo means boring, lout, stupid, or crass. If someone calls you a yahoo, the implication is that you are not serious and you don’t know what you are doing. It means you are a barbarian, an oaf, a Neanderthal, a thug, or a clod. Therefore, every time that I was exposed to the name, in the back of my mind I had these negative associations that my brain logic tried to dismiss. I don’t know for sure whether my brain logic won out over my emotions.

Now I am not saying that a name alone is the sole driver of long-term success or failure. I am saying that a name can be a contributor to success or failure. Therefore, in this case, I am proposing that due to Yahoo’s name, many other folks had a similar experience to mine and therefore the name slowly yet relentlessly became a driver of failure.

Yes, I did genuinely try out Yahoo’s email and some of its other online services off and on over the years. My impression continuously was that competitor options and other avenues of service were consistently superior in the quality and reliability delivered. Therefore, I gravitated to them and found a much better customer experience.

I don’t know how accurate my theory is, but I am certainly interested in hearing from others on what they think.

About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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