Life After Alibaba: Marissa Mayer on Yahoo’s Evolving Content Strategy

A renewed focus on content continues to be a big part of Yahoo’s game plan.

On Thursday, CEO Marissa Mayer visited New York and gave a little look at what her company is up to now that e-commerce giant Alibaba is public. Yahoo sold about $8 billion worth of shares in the Chinese company but retains a 16.3 percent stake.

Mayer spoke as part of the annual Advertising Week conference in a sit-down chat with Fast Company’s editor Robert Safian.

It is no secret that Yahoo’s (NASDAQ: YHOO) shares dropped from a $42.09 close on September 18, the day prior to Alibaba‘s U.S. IPO, to a $38.65 close on September 22. Shares of Yahoo had risen to $40.50 as of October 2.

So what is Yahoo’s next step? Can it win back some confidence? Mayer did not have a one-answer magic solution; it was evident that Yahoo is exploring multiple options to move forward.

Last year the company relaunched and reimagined many of its products, she said, such as the homepage, e-mail, news, sports, and search. That included introducing mobile versions that previously had not existed for some products, Mayer said.

She believes the company has an opportunity to surprise people with new products and changes underway. “We knew the transformation of Yahoo would take multiple years,” she said. “We knew there would be challenges along the way.”

Yahoo’s mission, she said, is to make daily habits “inspiring and entertaining”—that includes checking stocks, reading e-mail and news, and sharing photos. “These are all things people tend to do every day,” Mayer said.

At the core of Yahoo, she said, is digital content, which she spoke about early this year at International CES. That includes online magazines launched for technology, sports, travel, and health. Yahoo is also working with paid content in new ways, such as letting brands publish on Tumblr (which it acquired in 2013), sponsor a post for more promotion, and have that post appear with the digital magazines.

Music also plays a significant role in Yahoo’s plans. In July, the Yahoo Live channel was launched with events company Live Nation and features one live concert per day year-round.

Search and communication are also important to the company, she said, but content seems to be the horse Yahoo wants to place its biggest bets on. Mayer said delivering content across different devices people use, including mobile and wearables, is an opportunity she wants to tap into.

She also spoke of getting things that work well at the company to stand out more while setting aside things that are getting in the way. Content, she said, has been part of Yahoo’s core since the early days, but now it is being expressed in different ways on mobile, in advertising, and in the type of editorial material being produced. “The form factors and tactics have changed,” Mayer said.

Yahoo seems like it will keep exploring different waters, trying to find what hidden treasures may await in the mobile age. “We think of ourselves as the world’s largest startup,” Mayer said, as the company looks for ways to be nimble and create new ideas.

She acknowledged there are high expectations for the company to evolve into something new—and the clock has been ticking. Increasing the pace of execution at the company, she said, is part of getting Yahoo caught up. “This is the moment,” Mayer said. “Our time is now to take Yahoo and transform it—and time is of the essence.”

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