Apple is a great example of a company that managed to pull it off. 10 years ago Apple was the Valley's equivalent of the sixth sense - they were walking around dead, but they didn't know it. The war with Microsoft left them battered and barely breathing. Fast forward 10 years and they're one of the top brands in music and laptops. So how did they do it?
The original war with Microsoft was fought over PC's and OS's and Apple lost. So they did a really smart thing: they stopped fighting it. Instead of making futile charges up the same hill over and over again, they picked a different hill. One that was both lucrative and allowed them to play to their strengths around product. Take Apple design and functionality strengths, apply them to the otherwise disorderly world of music, package the result with a slick name and ad campaign and, voila, the dead company actually came back to life. They've been so successful with the music campaign that they actually are making a dent in the laptop/ OS market again.
If there is a formula for resurrecting the corporate dead, that's it. Rule #1 for resurrection: stop fighting the losing battles. Rule #2: find a battle that is worth fighting that you think you can win. Rule #3: don't fool yourself in thinking that your dead brand has enough life for a new fight. How do you think Apple would have done in 2001 if they would have called their fancy new music player the Macintosh?
Why do I bring this all up? I'd thought Microsoft would have learned some lessons from Apple (especially after Zune). Clearly, I don't think that the search battles are over, but I do think that with respect to certain players they are. Google has won. They've beaten the existing field. Yahoo's search brand is the walking dead. Just like the Mac vs. the PC, Yahoo ain't gonna magically turn things around and suddenly re-win the public's trust in the search engine arena. They need to find a different battle to win.
There's a reason why smart investors like Carl Icahn are pushing Yahoo to get this deal done. They know that resurrecting the dead is really hard.