A month ago, I summarized the brand disasters that took place in 2014. This post contains my predictions for brands that, IMHO, are destined to be seriously clobbered in the coming year.

1. Yahoo

Since joining the company in June 2012, CEO Marissa Mayer has tried, but failed, to turn Yahoo from a declining search engine into, well, something else.

She's also tried to change Yahoo's ingrained culture, but with tactics that have often seemed ham-handed. For example, Mayer banned telecommuting while installing a private nursery for her own child, which is not exactly acting as a role model.

Mayer has also encouraged the kind of bell-curve ranking that's proved so unsuccessful at companies such as Microsoft. And she's tried acquisitions, but the results have been generally lackluster.

Meanwhile, Yahoo's core business remains in decline. As recently mid-2013, Yahoo commanded 13.4 percent of search-engine market share versus 66.7 percent for Google. As of this writing, Yahoo's share has shrunk to 9.21 percent, while Google's share has remained almost the same.

My prediction: In 2015, Yahoo will either institute massive layoffs or be acquired by another company (possibly Microsoft). Longer term, 2015 will be seen as the year that Yahoo joined "Where are they now?" brands like America Online and Myspace.

What the disaster will teach: Changing a corporate culture is almost impossible, so be careful when you're creating one.

2. Windows 10

While Windows is in no danger of disappearing (due to the momentum of Microsoft's installed base), there's little question that Windows 8 was a disaster. Today, Windows 8 and 8.1 combined command a market share that's only a quarter as big as Windows 7. Even Windows XP has a larger market share.

Windows 10 is supposed to be a new beginning that will turn Windows 8 into a bad memory. However, there are reasons why that scenario is unlikely:

  1. It's too complicated. While IT groups in large corporations will continue to buy and support Windows, the number of individuals willing to futz around the registry (i.e., make hands-on changes to the operating system) is limited and probably shrinking.
  2. The tablet interface is weird. There's no compelling reason to have tablet interface atop an operating system whose basic design is two decades old. The surface is like sticking a steering wheel on top of a horse. It's not necessary and makes everything more confusing.
  3. The competition is heating up. Apple has heretofore resisted adding a mouse interface to the iPad, thereby turning it into a viable competitor to Windows in the workplace. However, an increasing number of Android tablets now support a mouse, and it's rumored that Apple might follow suit. If (as looks likely) future tablets will be "business-ready," it reduces the reason to buy a tablet that supports Windows.

My prediction: Despite plenty of announcement fanfare, by the end of 2015 it will be clear that Windows 10 has bombed as badly as Windows 8.

What the disaster will teach: Nothing lasts forever, especially success in the software business.

3. Uber

Yes, we all know how wildly successful Uber has become and how fast it's grown. However, two things things are working against the company's success in 2015: 1) inevitable government regulation and 2) a management team that's proved incredibly inept at public relations.

While many people think of Uber as disruptive innovation, it's actually a return to a very old business model: the unregulated taxis once common throughout the world but now seen only in third-world countries.

For example, when you leave the airport in Addis Ababa, you're immediately confronted with taxi drivers with whom you must bargain in order to secure a specific fare. It's Uber without the app, and it's a hindrance rather than a help getting around the city.

In most Western countries, taxis are regulated because the resulting chaos, price gouging, and confusion are counterproductive to business and public order. So it's inevitable that Uber will eventually face regulation.

Meanwhile, Uber's management keeps doing incredibly stupid things, such as profiteering and threatening to make personal attacks on journalists. Add to the mix the ever-present threat of horror stories and irritated customers (who've earned the company an "F" from the Better Business Bureau), and you've got a PR disaster just waiting to happen.

My prediction: In 2015, a combination of management bungling and increased government regulation will cause Uber's stock price to plummet.

What the disaster will teach: Corporate pride goeth before a fall in stock price.

4. Google

In 2013, pundits were predicting that Google would overtake Facebook by 2016. Well, it's 2015, and Google is beginning to feel less like the wave of the future and more like an also-ran.

In 2013, the company claimed 540 million active users versus 1.15 billion Facebook users. As of the end of 2014, Facebook had 1.35 billion users and Google only 345 million. The idea that Google will grow larger than Facebook looks increasingly absurd.

Yes, I know that my Inc.com profile still has a Google address on it, but I'm beginning to wonder why. I suspect there are some exciting things going on in Google somewhere, but for sure none of them are getting onto my radar screen. And I don't think I'm the only one wondering.

My prediction: In 2015, after a continuing loss of market share, Google will make Google nonstrategic in preparation to jettisoning it two or three years hence.

What the disaster will teach: Even corporate behemoths can't win every battle.

5. Bitcoin

The concept behind bitcoin--a decentralized digital currency--is attractive to those who would like the internet to be a force for democratization. Maybe so, but it's not clear that the Bitcoin brand will be able play this role in the future.

Last year, the Bitcoin brand suffered when it (inevitably) became associated with criminal activity and when lack of security caused the collapse of Mt. Gox, one of the world's largest bitcoin exchanges. So we're already dealing with a tarnished brand.

More important, the general direction of the internet is now centripetal, with a small number of companies and governments accumulating power and control while carefully maintaining the illusion of neutrality.

My prediction: Bitcoin will continued to be plagued with scandal and become increasingly less viable as governments and corporations move quickly to get it under their control.

What the disaster will teach: It may not be the best idea to expect a bunch of anonymous crazies and criminals to define the future of world economics.

Needless to say, I'll revisit these predictions at the end of 2015.

Published on: Jan 19, 2015
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