AOL CMO Allie Kline on why Oath will be the P&G of media and technology

AOL CMO Allie Kline will become the CMO of Oath

The Yahoo-AOL merger that yields Oath will close in June, but it has not been an easy road as M&A goes.

The $4.8bn deal was announced in July 2016, but was marred by revelations of data breaches and rumors of collapse.

Nevertheless, the deal survived and the resulting company will serve as the parent to more than 25 media and technology brands, including HuffPost, TechCrunch, Makers and Build Studios, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Mail.

AOL CMO Allie Kline will become CMO of Oath and recently spoke to The Drum about where the name came from – and why it is technically Oath: – as well as what Oath will do and why we should think of Oath as the P&G of media and technology.

How will your job change when you become the CMO of Oath?

I joined AOL almost five years ago and joined to help build out what is now the AOL platform business. Over the years, my job evolved into taking on the marketing for the full B2B business as well as the B2C and communications elements of the organization, along with the citizenship team. My remit today is marketing, communications and citizenship across the organization and [digital platform] Makers is a brand also rolled into me [which] operates separate from the rest of the marketing/communications teams, [but is] part of what we look after.

At Oath, I’ll do the same thing, just for more brands. The biggest change with Oath is just the portfolio is obviously a larger footprint.

What will Oath do?

So when you look at AOL, which is a 30-year-old brand, and Yahoo, which is deep in its 20s, both brands are known most notably for the namesake brand.

In Yahoo’s case, it’s a branded house, [so] things like Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo News, Yahoo Finance, but [it] also [has] brands like Tumblr and Flickr. By and large, Yahoo is known for its assets.

When you look at AOL, if you were to walk down the streets of New York and say, ‘Hey, what do you think of when you think of AOL?’ [they’d probably say] dialup, email, maybe AOL.com…not HuffPost and certainly not TechCrunch. But with HuffPost, it’s, ‘Oh, I got all my election news there.’ Something like that.

So we talked about the importance [and the] need to ensure two things would happen. First, to create a space in the brand ecosystem for AOL to just be AOL — to really honor the membership base to not have AOL as a consumer brand carry all the brands in the portfolio when we look from a B2B perspective.

And secondly, create some identity that will truly make it easier for the B2B community without any preconceived [notions] to understand [who we are and what we do].

Consumers always thought of AOL as a core brand, but for advertisers that want to spend money, it’s important they know AOL for all the brands they can invest in…[and] it becomes even more important the more brands we have…to truly create a company that would be inclusive of all assets for the employees coming together, as well as for the B2B and the publisher community, so we needed to bring a new name to market that would be almost the holding company of all our assets.

Think historically of a company like P&G as the parent company to a lot of consumer brands. When you go to the grocery store, you don’t look for P&G, you look for Bounty, Head and Shoulders, Dawn…we wanted to create a brand that would be the underpinning brand the same way P&G is. It stands for a set of shared values among the employee base, but also the front-facing brand for advertisers, publishers and the media community.

If we do this, we achieve a few things. First and foremost, we allow brands to have all the consumer focus they deserve and to really dominate the consumer relationship, and we allow employees, no matter which brand [they] work on…[to] still feel part of a larger community of premium brands by being part of the Oath family and…it allows brands to understand everything in our house.

Why Oath:?

Primarily because when you think about the diversity of all the brands in our portfolio and think about what Oath represents, at its core, it is a group of employees and a way to buy across all brands, so it’s very important we had something that brought those people together around a single organizing concept and principle much more than it was a descriptive name of assets in a portfolio. We have news and sports and programmatic technology and data science and lifestyle/entertainment and women’s leadership.

One thing is that no matter what brand you work on, if you show up at one of our offices, we want to be united with each other by a common set of values and we want those [employees] to think about their obligation if you work at Oath...as we spent time, we also wanted a tight name that was simple and meaningful [that expresses the] meaning behind Oath and its values and emphasis in the world. We felt it was a fantastic fit…it’s a word that is very representative of how we operate today as an employee base and a body.

Why the colon?

The colon is because…[it] is a graphical element that allows us to bring the concept of Oath to our brands without having to say ‘an Oath brand’ or ‘by Oath’. If you think about Makers, the oath is to ‘break every ceiling’. It’s very easy for Makers to adopt the colon and 'break every ceiling' to have some consistency…[it allows us to connect each brand] without putting emphasis on the Oath brand.

The second piece I would say relative to that is the colon is a symbol of what follows. Think about Oath…Oath is the beginning, the resource center, the platform and allows so much to happen. We didn’t want it to be something that would be the beginning [and the] end. Oath is just the very start of a fast follow to our brands, people, advertisers and clients.

Tell us more about these individual oaths.

We have about 6,000 oaths from employees, so we’ve created a framework. Oaths are typically three words in nature – mine is ‘expect the unexpected’. That’s the value statement I live by. We want to have people come with those oaths to work [every day] in a very present way…[On the] brand level, if you look at Makers, it’s ‘break every ceiling’. HuffPost is ‘reveal the truth’. It’s extremely descriptive of what they stand for and grounding for employees and consumers.

If you take it up one more notch from that, how about the partners you work with, the content partners you have, the advertisers/publishers you work with and the shared commitment? If it’s with a financial institution and an ad that is a financial ad, you can imagine a shared commitment about creating more shared financial opportunity around the world, [which reflect our] commitment and values [which we] see permeate through all the business.

I would say in many cases [descriptions of companies are] run-on sentences…it’s this very verbose description and language that is jargon. We’re trying to, in a world where values and trust matter more than ever, really put forward what our brands stand for and lead with that. Oath became a mechanism for that. It’s not all of a sudden that HuffPost decided to focus on truth…but they haven’t necessarily always articulated that as a lead value proposition.

Oath doesn’t have a main oath. Ours is to live at the service of those brands and build brands people love.

When I think of brands people love, I think of brands like Apple, Netflix and Amazon. To be frank, I’m not sure AOL or Yahoo are brands associated with love in the broader market, so how will you conjure up consumer love with Oath?

I think that love is in the eye of the beholder. What I would say for the AOL membership base is the brand love/loyalty/devotion that AOL Mail users have for AOL is extremely strong and extremely high and the ambition for the AOL brand should be to maintain that audience of people.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be to get to the Millennial population. Look at Tumblr. Engagement on Tumblr is the highest of any social network in the world and a true expression of brand love.

When you look at Yahoo Fantasy, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, Makers, HuffPost, TechCrunch…each of those audiences have a [loyal] consumer base attached to them, so, for us, as Oath, our job is to say how to put investment against growing the audience and looking for ways to expand the audience in a very on-brand way.

I won’t say we’re going to promote Yahoo Finance to second graders – that’s obviously not an appropriate expansion strategy, but I think there’s real value in getting the Yahoo Finance perspective in front of expanded audiences.

Look at Makers, which I think is typically looked at as professional women. There’s a body of women out there that are not necessarily professional, but have a massive interest in the advancement of women and girls as an expanded audience. That’s how we can help Oath expand its core.

You also mentioned that consumers today are highly engaged, mobile-inclined and expecting a best-in-class, highly personalized experience – how will Oath deliver that?

Obviously, I think the way we leverage data to deliver highly relevant and engaging content on a device that’s appropriate for that content is critical going forward and I would say that’s one piece – the connection we have obviously to mobile content, different distribution channels like OTT, like Fios, but probably perhaps more than anything…[we] have a very robust subscription business – everything from Yahoo Football to Yahoo Mail to social assets like Tumblr. We see that as being a really fantastic way to curate [content].

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