Think of Yahoo! and you may think of an Internet brand which associates itself with the young, cool, hip and trendy. Well, think again. These are attributes that Yahoo! least wants to be identified with, according to Karen Edwards, marketing vice-president. The success of Yahoo! - which operates some of the world's most visited content, community and commerce portals - depends on casting its reach to a user base as wide and as diverse as possible. The Silicon Valley-based Internet firm makes money from being a middleman linking up businesses with consumers in cyberspace. The more consumers it can attract to its domain, the more merchants it will attract to pay for its advertising and marketing services. Last year, more than 90 per cent of Yahoo!'s revenues were generated from what it calls 'fusion marketing'. This involves linking merchants with its 145 million-strong user pool through channels ranging from banner advertising to Web site sponsorship and direct marketing. Hence, narrowing its appeal down to any particular demographic would only limit the size of the market it can offer to merchants. And although the younger generations may spend more time browsing the Web, it is their parents who have larger disposable incomes. Ms Edwards - a Harvard Business School MBA graduate who was among the first 17 people to join the company - arrived in Hong Kong last week to kick off Yahoo!'s first marketing campaign in the Greater China region. Her task is to make the Yahoo! brand appeal to a universal audience of all ages and inclinations. 'We want to make a high-level, universal, emotional connection,' she said. 'The brand attributes we want to have are 'fun' and 'friendly' . . . because 'fun' in the consumer's mind translates into easy and accessible.' Yahoo!'s marketing strategy has been a runaway success in the United States and many other markets. Over the past five years, Yahoo! has grown from an Internet search directory serving a tight community in the US into a global portal and e-commerce medium with 145 million users. When it went public in 1996, the upstart boasted five million daily page views. Today, that has ballooned to 625 million. And the average age of its users - 36 years. Yahoo! claims a strong interest in building its business in Asia's emerging markets. Excluding Japan, where Yahoo! has already gained a dominant position, the most attractive Internet markets, in the long term, are within Greater China. In Hong Kong, even before it made any significant marketing efforts, Yahoo! had already secured a large and loyal following among the younger generation. A survey by AC Nielsen in March polling 4,500 people found that Yahoo! was the most frequently visited site in the 15 to 24-year-old category. Another survey found that Yahoo! was the most popular site among university students. Nonetheless, to duplicate its business success in Hong Kong, the portal will have to spread its appeal to the older generation as it did in the US. Part of this effort includes building up localised content to cater to the tastes of a variety of local audiences. 'It's not really the quantity, but the quality of the content that matters,' Alfred Tsoi, general manager of Yahoo! Hong Kong said. He said the plan was to form partnerships with local content providers. To date, these include Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, which last week began providing instant news updates over the Yahoo! Hong Kong Web site. Yahoo! Hong Kong has also enlisted popular radio talk show host Albert 'taipan' Cheng King-hon to broadcast his show over their Web site. To attract movie fans, Yahoo! has struck a deal with China Star Entertainment to broadcast its films and television drama series over a co-branded Web site. And Yahoo! is also wooing the SAR's many racing fans by offering horse racing history and results over its site. 'Content,' Mr Tsoi says, is the key to attracting users and building a community through 'stickiness'. But building a loyal user base locally is only half the task. Just as important is convincing merchants of the marketing potential of its domain. In the US, 15 per cent of all retail spending last year was made over the Internet. Today, about 3 per cent of US consumers are habitual on-line shoppers. But in Asia - where consumers have lower purchasing power, credit cards are not as widespread, shops are closer by and users are still cautious about spending over the Internet - the future of business-to-consumer e-commerce is a lot less certain. Ms Edwards did not believe that Asian retail e-commerce would follow the same path as in the US. 'In Asia, people are more squashed in, the driving factor is not as strong,' she said. In the near term, Ms Edwards indicated that Yahoo!'s Asian operations could be focused less on linking up local businesses with local consumers, but more on local consumers with businesses overseas. She expected the retail sector in Asia to be more about local consumers seeking goods and services which were not readily available. '[In Asia] it will be more about looking for unique items, and new brands,' she said. But the basis of creating market potential again comes back to building up a trustworthy brand name that will attract consumers to spend over the Web. In infant markets, where many older people were still discovering the Internet, Ms Edwards said brands could confer an important edge in the race for new, and loyal, users. 'People are often intimidated and scared when faced with something new,' Ms Edwards said. 'They want to go with a safe choice. 'That's why in a chaotic world, brands are important.'