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How To Resurrect the Dead

In the human world, resurrecting the dead is an impossible task. In the corporate world, it's almost as difficult. Once a company or a product has the public perception of being irrelevant (which is the marketing equivalent of death), pulling a Dr. Frankenstein and bringing it back to life is a tall order.

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.

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Comments (3)

Nik:

Mark,

I have been thinking about this for the past few weeks and given your views on brand extension- I wanted to know what you think of the following strategy for MS/Yahoo:

1) MS/Yahoo creates a new brand and new name say "NewSearch" that powers Yahoo/MS search but is available and marketed at newsearch.com

2) Newsearch is structured as a separate company/subsidiary with 10-20% of equity reserved for employees. They run it like a startup and have Kevin Johnson, Yang, Ballmer and a few search stalwarts on board. This company can use whatever tech (Linux etc...) they need to make it work. If search is really a big deal, you cant have them roll up under another division (Platforms ??) and have it try and "co-ordinate" its effort with 10 other MS initiatives or wait for hardware requests. It just really slows things down.


3) The CEO of new search is a technical guy and not a marketing person (e.g. like the Ask guys did) since investor management shouldn't be a big deal and neither would would ad sales since search queries would bring everything else in

4) Since the new company would be #2 they can take more risks and continue on some innovative ideas (e.g. Yahoo Glue) since Google would be too scared to try anything that will upset the applecart...

Would really appreciate your thoughts...

Nik

Nik,

I'm always skeptical of big companies trying to do in-house start-up environments as they seldom seem to work. What you mention are the usual approaches - separate company, separate board, etc - they usually even put them in separate offices outside the company's main campus.

The problem is that at the end of the day though, they're not a separate company. The agenda of the parent company seeps its way in. The decisions to be made about things like platforms, hardware, OS, languages, names, marketing, etc. seem to be reflective of the parent - and that's not a good thing for a true start-up.

But, with that, if they can figure out a way to keep themselves truly independent, they would be a well resourced start-up with great access to distribution once launched. And that's a very good position to be in. But I'm skeptical.

Mike

J.T.:

Mike/Mark,

Sports equivalent of the walking dead - Julio Franco in 2007.

Cheers,

J.T.

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