How the New Yahoo! Logo is a Lean Branding Fail

lean branding

On August 7th of this year, Yahoo! announced plans to change its logo, and revealed a “30 Days of Change” video describing how a new and different logo would be added to their website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and blog for 30 days in a row.

For a brief second I got excited. Here was a large company that had been around a long time (in Internet age), daring to take a unique approach for their rebrand. Their idea had hallmarks of what Lean Branding is all about: making slight variations and testing them with your customer base to see what resonates. Could it be possible that Yahoo! would be “lean” instead of “corporate” and avoid the temptation to overanalyze and overhype a logo change?

My excitement faded when I read Yahoo! CMO Kathy Savitt’s blog post about the campaign.

“Over the past year, there’s been a renewed sense of purpose and progress at Yahoo!, and we want everything we do to reflect this spirit of innovation. While the company is rapidly evolving, our logo — the essence of our brand — should too.”

Uh oh. It seems like they were placing way too much importance on a logo as an encapsulation of a brand. A brand is so much more than a logo, but too often companies fall into the trap of thinking that the logo must perfectly reflect a company’s culture and value proposition. It’s really just a design. And I know it is hard to hear, but your customers don’t care about your logo nearly as much as you do.

But as the next 30 days passed, I remained hopeful that maybe Yahoo’s new “spirit of innovation” was referring to their rebranding process and not the logo itself. As the video showed us, and as we saw each day a new logo was revealed, the variations weren’t that different than the original. We saw the same shade of purple, the same exclamation point, and changes in typeface and letter positioning. Maybe they were “testing” the 30 variations after all, and using analytics from their millions of visitors to gain insight into what was important to them.

yahoos 30 days of change

Then came the big reveal on September 3rd, and with it a blog post from CEO Marissa Mayer about how the design transpired. Any hope I had that Yahoo! had taken an innovative, lean approach to branding was shattered by the resulting logo and the story behind it. Here’s how it went, according to Ms. Mayer:

“So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma.  We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish, and we had a ton of fun weighing every minute detail.”

This led me to create the following list what not to do when taking a lean branding approach to a logo redesign.

The Dos and Don’ts of Lean Branding

  1. Don’t design in a bubble. Just like with the design of your product, if you isolate yourself from what your customers want, need or think, then you may end up too far down a wrong track. Worse, you may alienate the very people keeping your business alive. Do be open with your designs, and create tests and analytics for monitoring how your designs may (or may not) be affecting critical customer decisions.
    Yahoo! released something very different than the 30 variations that were released, which shows that customer input was not a factor at all.
  2. Don’t hype your upcoming rebrand. If you do, you won’t be able to make small, iterative changes later without looking like you failed on your big launch. Do release changes quietly, to collect true, measurable indicators of your brand’s resonance rather than opinions.
    Yahoo! gave us 30 days notice of their coming change, and kept reminding us about it every day. Lots of opinions were generated before and after launch, which caused a lot of distraction.
  3. Don’t get stuck in the details of the design. Not only does over-thinking slow you down, it can create internal company tension. Do dive into metrics and surveys after release, but first let design professionals work on the designs, without restrictions or nit-picky requirements.
    Ms. Mayer and her team “geeked out” on the logo, made changes such as rotating the exclamation point 9 degrees, and even released a video showing the “blueprint” that they used.
  4. Don’t use a lean approach for a big change. There are times when a significant change is warranted, and the result should be surprising and a breath of fresh air. Do utilize lean branding at all other times to constantly test new ideas, since your market and customers are always evolving.

Regarding this last point, Ms. Mayer should be given some credit. She acknowledges in her blog post that “We hadn’t updated our logo in 18 years. So, while it was time for a change, it’s not something we could do lightly.” She then added, “while moving forward we’re likely to make small iterative changes along the way rather than dramatic ones”, which tells me that there is room for lean thinking at a big enterprise like Yahoo!.

Looking back at everything, undergoing a classic, “major” rebrand just makes Yahoo!’s “30 Days of Change” campaign extra confusing and a questionable marketing decision. It also makes the resulting logo, which is not too far off from the original, seem less like a bold step for a company with a renewed purpose and more like a timid attempt to change while not really changing at all.

Yahoo logos courtesy of

Be sure to check out our other thoughts on Lean Branding.