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Yang: Web needs marketing

The Yahoo cofounder urges Internet World attendees to use the Net for innovative campaigns but warns against invading Netizens' privacy.

LOS ANGELES--With his company's stock hovering near its all-time high, Yahoo (YHOO) cofounder Jerry Yang told an audience here today that the Web is ready for sophisticated marketing campaigns.

"It's one of the rare media to get critical mass in such a short time. It's a great way to reach target audiences," Yang said during his keynote speech at the Internet World 98 conference.

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His marketing advice--which many no doubt will heed given Yahoo's ability to build its online directory into a household brand and media mini-empire--was to get beyond simple advertising banners and into larger themes: "Using content and context to bring out marketing messages is very valuable," he noted.

Despite the glow from his company's recent Wall Street success, Yang was fairly low-key in mentioning Yahoo except for an occasional anecdote, such as one about a man who met his fiancee through Yahoo's personal ads and emailed Yang an invitation to the wedding.

However, the homespun anecdotes served to stress Yahoo's consumer orientation and its success in bringing the Internet to non-techies. Eighty percent of Yahoo's advertisers are nontechnical, which represents a "tremendous shift" from two years ago, Yang said.

Yang also underlined one of the crucial dilemmas of the increasing commercialization of the Internet. On one hand, marketers need to understand, predict, and follow users' online habits and desires, but Yang also stressed that user privacy is the No. 1 concern of his customers.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for marketers to interact with consumers," he said, then turned around and warned marketers not to annoy customers or intrude upon their privacy: "If we piss off a user, they'll never come back again."

Close interaction with customers is important, however, because the Web is rapidly evolving from an information-gathering medium to a community-based one, in which a user's hobbies, business interests, and purchasing patterns create more sophisticated commercial online opportunities.

Yang also called for industry-led solutions to shield minors from controversial content and urged the government not to meddle. He finished his speech with a call for more responsibility among users.

"Put more into the Web than you're getting out of it," he urged. "Just like with our public schools and parks, if you start abusing those systems, they will fall apart."