During her first earnings call as Yahoo President and CEO, Marissa Mayer admitted that the company has failed to exploit opportunities in the mobile segment, pledging dramatic changes moving forward.

I’m not sure one of her many predecessors didn’t say the same thing, however, my fondest memories of Yahoo were in the days when it was pumping out mobile apps before anyone knew what they actually were. If anything, it was the true early adopter, probably way too early.

Yahoo had apps for news, weather, stocks, and almost any other information, running on multiple handset platforms at a time when it was really difficult to do. It even had an application that allowed you to make requests by voice to their servers when making a query – very handy at a time when mobile phone browsers were an agony to use. So much for Siri!

Even today, Yahoo has more than 76 applications across Android and iOS, but these are not coherent or consistent and have ‘splintered’ the brand, as Mayer put it. She believes that Yahoo “hasn’t capitalized on the mobile opportunity and…. underinvested in our mobile front-end development.”

Whether addressing these issues alone will save Yahoo remains to be seen, but Mayer may have lucked out on her timing. If Yahoo is going to redevelop or consolidate its apps it will probably opt for non-native, HTML5 development that will bring it right up to speed with industry trends and, soon to be, best practices.

However, Mayer faces a much more critical fundamental problem (apart from its ubiquitous Mail) – nobody knows what Yahoo actually does! Great brands (and Yahoo is a great brand) are always associated with great products, something recognizable to the brand. For Coca-Cola it’s Coke, the drink; with Google, it’s search; with Heineken, it’s beer; with Ford, it’s cars; etc etc. But ask anybody what Yahoo does or is famous for these days and I guarantee you will either get ‘Mail’ or a blank stare.and the latter will be the most commin response.

Mayer needs to clearly define what Yahoo does, or is going to do, and that message has to be dead simple and deliverable. Only then will Yahoo have a chance to recover.

First published at Telco Professionals on 30 October 2012