Ask Not – The Final Bell Tolls For Jeeves

Last September, it was announced that Jeeves would be fired as spokesman for the Ask Jeeves Search Engine. Opinions differed on whether Jeeves should stay or go. Now the authoritative BBC tells us that Jeeves will be no longer at the end of February, so that presumably is official.

The only nagging question is why it took so long for him to pack his bags. In such matters, the advice of Lady Macbeth before the murder of Duncan seems appropriate, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”. As a general rule in business, Faster Is Better. The Internet moves even faster than events in non-cyber space. So the rule is even more applicable here. Yet Barry Diller of IAC seems to have taken his time. What did they win by delay? More importantly what did they lose by delay?

My guess is that this is a real case study of the difficulty of doing strategic thinking. The tough part of strategy is what you say No to. IAC has been following what it calls a multi-brand strategy. It defines itself as a leading provider of world-class information retrieval technologies, brands and services that are available to consumers across a range of platforms including destination websites, downloadable search-based applications and portals. I believe the stable includes the following horses: Ask Jeeves, Ask, Teoma, iWon, MyWay, Excite, Mysearch, Mywebsearch, and FunWebProducts. That’s a very different approach from the Focus, Focus, Focus mantra that I believe is a robust approach to strategic thinking.

It reminds me of a circus act I remember seeing when I was young. A pyramid of 7 people standing on 6 horses in a line rode them around the circus ring. I think they were Russians. It was amazing to see. How could they possibly maintain that balancing act? Well they did it for 4 or 5 turns around the ring and then dismounted to thunderous applause.

In business, 4 or 5 turns around the ring isn’t enough. You’ve got to have an approach that can stand the test of time. If Ask Jeeves loses its icon, Jeeves, then hopefully they’ll focus more on the Ask. What a wonderful word to have as the focus of all your activities.

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