Dirk sez Yahoo! = Wal-Mart

In Yahoo! = Wal-Mart, Dirk takes Yahoo! to task for all the crappy things they do; or more for their failure to do the great things that they could do with all their assets. And draws a comparison to Wal-Mart in the process.

I actually had to check a few times on the actual thesis of the post, because, of course, != is computer code for “not equals” so Yahoo!= suggests that Yahoo is NOT Wal-Mart. But in fact, Dirk is saying that they are.

I think his screed against Yahoo! is pretty well-founded, but I think (especially in a conversation about brand meaning), the Wal-Mart comparison is a bit distracting. Wal-Mart’s brand includes a number of powerful attributes that aren’t part of the argument – the stuff that engenders hatred towards Wal-Mart (squeezing out local businesses, screwing over employees) doesn’t apply to Yahoo. It’s hard to look at the two company’s brands without acknowledging this other aspect of their public face (despite Wal-Mart’s large efforts to divert from that). Google may own “Don’t Be Evil” (although no one believes them at all anymore and their hubris in claiming and then ignoring that may lead to some sort of downfall, if only a brand/meaning downfall), Yahoo! has not really ever stepped into that, but Wal-Mart (regardless of your feeling about the politics, and acknowledging that they have many many customers, some of whom undoubtedly love them unswervingly) definitely treads into (perception-wise) “Be Evil, You’ll Get Money” territory.

Wal-Mart also is a model for other companies in (some aspects of) how to do business. Their technological innovations in tracking inventory and shipping stuff around and adjusting prices dynamically is studied and perhaps copied (or lusted after) by other companies. What infrastructure or operational innovation of Yahoo’s is copied?

One commonality I do see is the great discomfort I felt upon entering both. A Wal-Mart store in Mountain View a few years ago was just…uncomfortable, and Yahoo’s main reception area a couple of years ago was twitch-inducing. The Yahoo! story is a bit funnier, I guess…the main reception area in their Silicon Valley HQ is a heavily branded environment. Lots of photos of previous marketing initiatives where, as far as I can tell, big stuff was covered with the Yahoo logo. Buses. Trains. Etc. A Yahoo store. Examples of co-branded Yahoo products in display cases.

Ahhhh, Yahoo is a marketing company, not a technology company. And meanwhile the lobby is filled with people awaiting their meetings, dressed up, tight smiles on their faces as the person with the checkbook comes down to great them chummily. Pheromones of fear and greed were flooding over me as I waited someplace safe. I stood near the reception desk and overhead a conversation “….I’m sorry. Mr. Potato Head is not available on Tuesday at that time. Not available until after 3.” Eventually I realized that they were talking about the name of a conference room!

Of course, once my friend showed up and we went into a normal building and the cafeteria and so on, my comfort increased to a normal level. But whoah, that reception area.


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