Tag Archives: consumer

Yahoo’s fourth-quarter net earnings decline 5 percent

Yahoo’s fourth-quarter earnings fell 5 percent as newly minted CEO Scott Thompson acknowledged the company needed to do better, but was short on details about his plans.

The company’s fourth-quarter net earnings declined 5 percent year-over-year to $296 million, with revenue off 3 percent to $1.17 billion. And search advertising revenue dipped 3 percent year-over-year to $388 million.

Yahoo’s full-year revenue hit $5 billion, a far cry from the $6.3 billion it recorded in 2010. During the company’s earnings call Tuesday, Thompson said he’s spent “a lot of [his] time and attention”understanding the problems facing Yahoo’s display advertisingbusiness. Referring to the company’s results, Yahoo CFO TimMorse said during the earnings call, “we expected better.”

Thompson repeatedly said that it was too early to discuss how he plans to improve Yahoo’s performance. But he isolated the consumer data Yahoo holds as “the key component for driving innovation.”

“Our data may be Yahoo’s most underrated, underappreciated and underused asset,” he said.

Thompson said he aims to mine the data collected from Yahoo’s 702 million monthly unique visitors to improve the site experience for consumers, which he said would lead to more time spent on site and better results for advertisers.

Thompson and Morse downplayed the uncertainty that has dogged Yahoo throughout the fourth quarter and continues to follow the company. Morse—who took over as interim CEO after Carol Bartz’s ouster in September—termed the period “challenging” with “numerous distractions,” and Thompson said there was a lot of “commotion” surrounding the company.

Thompson’s appointment earlier this month may have settled the CEO question. ButYahoo co-founder Jerry Yang resigned from the company’s board last week, and questions persist over whether Yahoo will be sold.

As to the latter, all Thompson would say was that Yahoo “remains open to anything that’s good for our shareholders.”

Consumers still wary going into 2012

The Harris Poll has made its annual beginning-of-the-year assessment of the financial plans and sentiments of Americans, and it finds continued uneasiness. This is despite a recent spate of confidence polls that show at least mild improvement. However, a bright spot in the study is the finding that fewer consumers will be looking to decrease their household spending than last year.

The most general result concerned overall expectations for the economy in 2012. Almost half expect things to remain about the same – 47%, to be exact. Pessimists unfortunately outnumber optimists by a 29%-23% margin.

Looked at by age demographic, the older respondents were the most pessimistic. The mature 66+ crowd actually managed to be the most optimistic AND the most pessimistic. The chart below tells the tale. As a point of age reference, Echo Boomers are 18-34, Gen-Xers are 35-46, Boomers are 47-65 and Matures are 66+.

Expectations Echo GenX Boomer Mature Total
Improve 23 22 23 28 23
Stay the same 55 51 42 38 47
Get worse 22 27 35 34 29
Source: The Harris Poll

One thing is clear from the survey – the economic collapse experienced in 2008 has had a lasting impact on consumer money-handling habits. Gone are the days when revolving credit accounts and home refinancing kept stock moving off of American retail shelves and out of American warehouses. Consumers are still more apt to pay off rather than incur debt, and accumulating savings is much more top-of-mind than it was before the fall of 2008.

“There has been plenty of reporting on Americans’ financial concerns for the past several years,” commented THP as it scanned the downward trends. “However, looking at Americans’ current expectations for both their own finances as well as for the state of the nation, it seems that the bad news may not be over yet.”

The number we particularly like to see in the latest Harris survey is 45% — that is the percentage of respondents looking to cut overall household spending in 2012. We’d like to see it much lower, but it still beats the 49% of thrift-oriented respondents from the 2010 survey and is much better than the 55% in 2009.
The percentage of respondents looking to pay down debt, invest more in savings, cut up a credit card (or two or three), sock money away for retirement and invest in home improvement have all been trending down over the three year period.

Harris did note that the decrease in houses looking to cut expenses was a positive sign.

Here are the three year trends in a number of fiscal categories:

Fiscal action 2009% 2010% 2011%
Cut household spending 55 49 45
Pay down debt 45 41 39
Save more 42 40 36
Drop credit card(s) 24 22 16
Save for retirement 21 22 16
Home improvements 14 13 11
Invest more safely 9 8 5
Refinance mortgage 5 6 5
Open home equity credit 2 2 1
Other 6 6 5
Nothing different 16 18 23
Source: The Harris Poll

The 2011 results from the chart above were also provided by age demo. It should not come as a surprise that the Mature group results can almost be tossed – if members of this group have not made a few investments into retirement by now, for example, there isn’t a whole lot of time left to catch up – and indeed, very few cited this as a 2012 priority, and in almost all categories, they were far below the national average.

The middle two groups are more likely to cut spending and eliminate debt, while the younger set is more interested in filling up savings accounts. Here are the full results:

Fiscal action Echo GenX Boomer Mature
Cut household spending 42 49 49 38
Pay down debt 35 49 44 24
Save more 47 38 34 18
Drop credit card(s) 13 16 21 12
Save for retirement 15 18 21 5
Home improvements 8 9 15 9
Invest more safely 4 7 6 4
Refinance mortgage 3 9 4 2
Open home equity credit 0 1 1 1
Other 6 5 4 2
Nothing different 21 17 21 39
Source: The Harris Poll

Harris summed up its results, saying, “Americans continue to face difficult economic times and the New Year may not provide a totally clean slate financially, but there are some bright spots when Americans discuss their expectations. Fewer U.S. adults now say that they will cut back their household spending in the year ahead. This is positive news for the millions who rely on the retail, dining and entertainment industries, and may be small sign that Americans are ready to move on from the harsh times of the past several years.”

Winning in the New ‘Marketing Democracy’

Imagine for a moment that you moved to a new home located right next door to a train station. It’s noisy at first. But after a while, you get used to the noise and barely notice it. That notion captures “exactly how consumers feel about marketing and advertising — as if it’s not even there,” said Tim Suther, chief marketing officer of Acxiom, the world’s largest processor of consumer data, at a recent Wharton Marketing Conference. Such consumer numbness has profound consequences — $112 billion in major brand advertising is wasted every year, while eight out of 10 online ads fail to reach their desired audience. “A truly awful, awful performance,” noted Suther.

With the right strategies, however, Suther said companies can successfully navigate this tumultuous world to reach their target customers. He cited a few of the most well-known strategies. For one, they should personalize their marketing to consumers instead of blasting them with broadly targeted ads. They should also identify those customers who spend the most money on their products and services, and invest more in marketing directly to them. Companies should craft a multidimensional profile of their customers, Suther advised, looking not only at what they are buying, but also what they are thinking and how they are behaving online. Moreover, companies should better coordinate their different sales channels to deliver a seamless experience for the customer wherever he or she chooses to shop.

“Einstein famously said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result,” Suther said. Likewise, companies need to begin thinking differently about how they do marketing, especially in an increasingly connected world. With the expansion of sales and media channels, consumers can shop online using their computers or phones or make traditional bricks-and-mortar store purchases. This increased number of options presents marketers with tremendous opportunities to understand and reach the right audience — if they are savvy enough to do it correctly. “Those [consumers] who engage in multiple forms of media or channels are four to five times more valuable” than those who only participate in one, Suther noted — yet two-thirds of senior executives do not have insight into their consumers across all of these channels. For instance, while people spend 42% of their media consumption time online, advertisers shell out only 11% to 12% of their total advertising budgets on the web.

For marketers, the stakes have never been higher, especially in a world where, via the Internet, consumers can instantly judge a company and convey their opinions to fellow shoppers. This “consumer-to-consumer” trend is a “powerful force affecting the business of advertising and marketing,” and has created what Suther refers to as a “marketing democracy.” “Elections, if you will, are being held every day. Consumers are voting … and they are determining winners and losers. You’ve got to pay attention to this, because they will vote you out of office.”

Suther, who joined Acxiom in 2005 and became an officer in 2007, is responsible for the company’s product marketing, communications, sales support, strategy and business development efforts. Previously, he served as a senior vice president at Metavante, a banking and technology solutions firm, and as president of Protagona Worldwide, a marketing software company. He has a degree in finance and marketing from Loras College in Iowa.

So how can a company fine tune its marketing? The first step, according to Suther, is reaching and engaging the firm’s target customers. The company needs to know who its customers are and what their needs are. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, quoting from the movie Forrest Gump. “A lot of marketing and advertising is like that. If you don’t know who is on the other end of the equation, you’re going to have a very nasty problem.” Marketing efforts may be over-invested in relationships of low value and underinvested in those with high value. About 20% of a company’s customers bring the greatest portion of profits, Suther noted, while about half are only marginally profitable. Dividing customers into these groups and marketing appropriately to them makes a material difference in performance. “The future of marketing and advertising will be about reaching just those customers who are likely to drive the maximum value to your organization.”

Second, companies need multidimensional insight into their market. While some firms rely mostly on past purchases or online behavior in determining buying patterns, Suther said there are pitfalls in relying on only one facet of a customer. “If you’re relying just on a single dimension [of a consumer], you’ll get it wrong. You need to have a multidimensional view.” That means taking into account consumer action in different sales channels, behavioral changes over different life stages and other external information. It is a complex process with “no silver bullets.”

The third facet of smart marketing is best shown by what Suther considers “the greatest marketing movie of all time,” Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray plays a character who relives the same day endlessly and learns as much as he can about the people around him so that he can anticipate their needs the next time he sees them; his tireless work gets him the girl of his dreams.

“Remember me [i.e., the customer] and treat me like a friend. Wherever you see me, anticipate my needs and what I don’t need,” Suther said. “The notion of remembering every interaction and learning [from it] is an important part of being a marketer.” Once a company collects all the insights it has gathered about a particular customer, and implements a marketing plan, the firm then arrives at what Suther referred to as “the moment of truth: Getting [the plan] right can drive a five- to 10-fold return on investment.”

According to Suther, companies should deploy a strategy that encompasses all facets of smart marketing. By doing so, a firm will be able to reallocate 15% to 30% of its marketing budget into higher-performing options; such changes lead to real profits, he said. For example, a major global technology company looked at the pattern of calls coming into its call centers. Many of the calls were questions that the company’s online FAQ section could answer, or orders too small for sales representatives. The company ended up sending out a personalized newsletter to fill information gaps, and it enabled electronic handling of the small orders, saving money and boosting profits.

The economic benefits of smart marketing are real, but there are real-life roadblocks, Suther warned. Changes aren’t easy to implement when employees are used to the status quo. “Your [ad] agency of record will be all over the persona of your customers, while those in digital will be exclusively focused on digital. If you rely on just one of those dimensions, you will get it wrong.” He advised firms to find a way to help both sides collaborate more closely. In addition, senior management often can be impatient about the payoff of such changes and put pressure on the person who recommended the new policies. “It’s really important to show results along the way. [We advise doing] that every three months or so to remind those who you have convinced about your noble ambitions that you are making progress against that investment.”

In the end, the hard work of navigating the new world of advertising will be worth the trouble, according to Suther. Paraphrasing a famous quotation from the 1949 film The Third Man, Suther noted that, although Italy suffered constant warfare and bloodshed for 30 years under the Borgias, that era also gave birth to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. “The point of all the tumult that exists in the marketing and advertising world is that goodness will come out,” Suther said. “We will have our Renaissance.”

Article courtesy of: The Knowledge Behind The News