3 Things I Learned at Marissa Mayer's CES Keynote

Why her strategy might work even better than you expect.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:02PM


Can Marissa Mayer's strategy to make Yahoo! a better source of content pay off? Photo credit: Yahoo!

Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) investors have enjoyed a double over the past year. Much of that, I think, is based on the promise of Marissa Mayer's changes reigniting growth.

You get the sense Mayer is keenly aware of this, and at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, she and her team took steps to remind users and investors why she's made big buys and changed the focus of the company from search and service to content. The latest? Aviate, which purports to vastly improve and simplify your Android phone interface. Ironic, when you consider that Mayer spent 13 years at now-competitor Google helping to shepherd clean, simple products.

At Yahoo!, this week's newly unveiled products include Yahoo! News Digest, an iOS app built on the guts of Summly that aggregates the major stories of the day in a scrollable summary, and e-magazines Yahoo! Food and Yahoo! Tech. Former New York Times columnist David Pogue christened the latter on stage during Mayer's keynote by -- what else? -- pushing the "big red button" app on his mobile device. (Mayer says that, of the more than 800 million users Yahoo! serves, 400 million arrive via a mobile device.)

Here are three more things I learned from my ringside seat at Yahoo!'s circus performance of a keynote:

1. Media's problems are Yahoo!'s opportunity. Mayer has aggressively courted journalistic talent in recent months, hiring not only Pogue but also veteran TV news anchor Katie Couric to host an interview show. Can she be Yahoo!'s Oprah? Not likely. I mean, come on. Who can replace Oprah? Yet it probably doesn't matter. The important thing is that Couric has fans who will follow her to Yahoo!, aiding the company in its quest to be a top source of original content.

2. The funny is back. Yahoo! also has an exclusive partnership with SNL for hosting some of the show's top clips. Mayer invited actors Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson to the stage after touting the deal, kicking off a hilarious bit in which Thompson's Rev. Al Sharpton congratulated "Yoo-Hoo" for rising from its roots as a purveyor of delicious chocolate beverages to become an Internet powerhouse.

3. Context is everything. Finally, and notably, both the Yahoo! Food and Yahoo! Tech e-magazines operate with spare designs that don't include the banner ads that for years had supplied a huge portion of the company's revenue. Instead, Yahoo! is using contextual "Stream Ads" that appear with related content in service of the reading experience.

Promising steps, to be sure. But should investors buy the hype? I am, if only because I think Mayer is right. "A lot of what you've seen today is us simplifying our business," she told the gathered crowd. That's good. Actually, it's better than good. For if tech industry history proves anything, it's that clean and simple is an easier sell than rich and functional. Under Mayer, Yahoo! is finally opting for the former. 

Expect the shift to be bumpy. Heck, just look at the uproar over the new Yahoo! Mail. But, in the end, I expect both users and investors will benefit in the form of better content, better engagement, higher revenue, and a rising stock price. Do you agree? Do you like or loathe Mayer's strategy as outlined in her CES keynote? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He didn't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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