Yahoo buying Tumblr? It's just the start

The data turf war.

When a small impactful start-up is acquired by a sizeable market player, the inevitable questions of why and what for ensue. Yahoo did this on Monday when it announced the acquisition of Tumblr, for a staggering $1.1bn. The microblogging site, whilst a keen media player, has only posted revenues of $13m. So with motivations unlikely to be financial, this leaves us to look at Tumblr’s other key asset: Customers - which = DATA.

Data has quickly become the currency of the internet and the marriage of both social and interest data is a very powerful commodity. Being able to merge and stitch together data is something all organisations are increasingly looking for, as it brings genuine insight into audiences and their respective preferences. This level of understanding enables brands to market in a much more relevant and scaled fashion, something that can bring about an entire change in the marketing department's  relationship to both their internal and external customer. So, in Yahoo's case, its recent focus on becoming a lifestyle business must be data driven and it’s this insight that they stand to gain through Tumblr.

Whilst this is a clear turning point in the direction of Yahoo’s business strategy, the wider impact is much more interesting with the acknowledgement that data, and the insight it generates, can transform organisations. It’s not the first time that this data land-grab has occurred. Let us not forget when Facebook bought Instagram for a cool billion dollars, with only 13 employees, Google acquired Wildfire, and Salesforce are integrating Buddymedia; the motivation was the same - access to data to effectively target consumers based on their interests, eliminating the need for clusterbomb marketing.

Monetising and creating the system to mine data for insight, is the direction in which marketing and media is headed. Today, online media has become a commodity and the data held on it is now the currency to trade. This is a powerful position for social currency traders and platform enablers, as they can unlock the potential held within brands. So applying a revenue model that intelligently connects content and the consumer, with a brand they want to be engaged with, at their convenience, is an impactful entity and one that large media players are moving towards.

Where the internet of old had more of a database function, the passage of time has shown that it is maturing into a playground where data can be readily shared and responded too. Gone are the days when content was consumed in a silo. Now it’s shared, openly and discussed at length with any numbers of audiences, globally. These conversations, coupled with a more connected approach to life and advances in technology have created a consumer shift, so powerful that brands need to realign their business thinking. Data means knowledge and that, complemented with a dynamic brand proposition can be transformational.

It will be interesting to see how Yahoo works with Tumblr to reposition itself over the coming months. Clearly Tumblr’s power lies within the insight it can provide and if this data is used wisely, we could see Yahoo returning to 'darling' status once more. Don't be swayed by city commentators reflecting on the tech sector massacre in 2000, because the real success story here is not, as you might expect, the start-ups getting acquired or even the big players realising they need more than scale and brand loyalty to succeed; it’s arguably the wider tech industry. Where once software ruled; industry is now moving towards a more customer centric view of the world, using data to intelligently understand audiences and their needs in a super-fast, connected planet. This programmatic shift is one that is arguably more impactful and will drive business to the next level.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Marissa Mayer. Photograph: Getty Images

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change