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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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”