Apparently, Banner Ads Don’t Have to be Crap!

I can’t believe it, I actually saw a banner ad today that I wanted to click on! This was the first such banner ad, after perhaps the millions I have seen, and it looked like this:

Unfortunately, there is no direct link to this ad for you to try it yourself (if you find it, please let me know!), I can only hope that you find it the same place I did at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6573FD20100614?type=politicsNews I just tried again and another ad popped up, so all I can suggest is to keep trying!

Why is this ad so awesome? Clearly I fit the demographic they are targeting (people who like nice cars) but I have skipped over many such ads by Audi and others many times. I think it was because the ad challenged me to try something where I would not be certain of the result. This leveraged the ‘gap theory’ of curiosity, where the ad created an information gap that I wanted to fill. Once I saw my cursor slide and crash, I noticed the toggle at the top left that allowed me to turn on ‘quattro’ (Audi’s super-grippy 4WD system), which created another information gap: What would this do?

With the quattro system engaged, my cursor slices through the water no problem.

I have never seen such a good example of an ad being able to draw me in, and stay so core to their message (safety = traction = Audi quattro). Also impressive is the TV spot with the ‘downhill skiing’ theme in San Fran (see at end of post).

Kudos to the Audi marketing team for creating the first banner ad that has ever worked on me!!

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Brand Police: When Brands Go Horribly Wrong…

I doubt it's a 'Chevy'

There was a time when the marking teams held sway in organizations. When Nike was rising to the top, selling bits of rubber at 5x the competition’s prices, it seemed that a simple logo and marketing campaign was the key to success. But, as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The marketing teams –drunk with this power– started enforcing brand etiquette, like some kind of secret police: “Our logo should never be used on a blue background!” or how about “You should never say Chevy, but ‘Chevrolet’!”

The latter isn’t some throwback to some corporate debate from the 80’s, it happened TODAY.

One of the biggest signs that a company is on its last legs (and I, unfortunately, have first hand experience with this), is that it starts flagellating wildly trying to do anything that will right the ship. Some marketeer has convinced the top executive at GM that it is somehow important to call their ‘Chevrolet’ brand ‘Chevrolet’ instead of ‘Chevy’.  It is under the auspice of ‘reducing confusion’ in internal communications:

“I get calls from international colleagues asking me ‘What is a Chevy,” said German-born GM spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin. “It takes quite a long time to explain to them.”

How long does it take to say “You know when you call Alexandre ‘Alex’, it’s like that.”

Instead they waste the time and energy of their employees bringing attention to this ‘issue’, instead of focusing on the key elements of building a brand. I can just imagine the remaining employees of GM rolling their eyes en-masse when –those that still read corporate communications– review this corporate memo. Basically, your executive is telling the world that its employees are too stupid to use your own company name.

Remember guys, your ‘brand’ is your promise to your customer, so how about you quit navel-gazing and BUILD SOME BETTER CARS!

So before you hit ‘send’ on that next company-wide memo, ask yourself: “Is this helping us build a better car?”

Will Carriers Finally Get Their Piece of the Apple Pie?

“Better coverage… fastest network… fewest dropped calls…” Which mobile carrier am I talking about?

ALL OF THEM

There is a huge gap in the current capacity and the demand that is being created by new high-bandwidth mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, RIM smart-phones, Androids, Nokia Nxxx’s, MiFi/RocketStick 3.5G/4G devices used with laptops/netbooks, and Kindles. This capacity gap is inspiring another internet arms-race, just like the catastrophic that contributed to the ‘.com bubble burst’ of 2000/1. All of these competing wireless carriers are upgrading their wireless network capacity many-times over (10-100x+). The main difference –this time– is that demand exceeds supply… for now.

Dilbert.com

Right now, customers are very much choosing carriers based on the phones available, but this will soon change as cachet devices like the iPhone are made available on multiple networks. Then people will start switching from one to another because they are dissatisfied with the service (probably because a carrier is picking up high bandwidth users faster than their network engineers can deploy capacity). Then we will reach an equilibrium…

Then What?

Well, until recently, the answer would be –like any commodity market– a race to the bottom. The raging ‘red ocean’ of the wireless market would lead to the survival of the cost-cutting fittest. Just like pork-bellies, barrels of oil & even computer RAM, the winners will be those that produce a common unit for the lowest cost. The only people making real money (margin anyway) in this scenario will be those who can create differentiated products: handset makers & those that own the content (Apple and Apple respectively – I kid).

But then ‘net neutrality’ & the FCC got a big kick in the nuts courtesy of Comcast.

People who don’t care about FCC regulations (probably 99.99999% of you) may have missed the recent ruling in favour of Comcast on their ability to control how their customers use the internet (whether they were ‘neutral’ or could treat data from different sources differently).

Comcast, by challenging the FCC’s right to control neutrality, has now set a precedent that would allow carriers to be less ‘neutral’ when providing these over-the-top services (particularly those that make it hard to identify the source of all the bandwidth, like BitTorrent, etc.). This could potentially mean that they can have more control over the internet experience the user has. They could treat websites preferentially (higher speed) that agree to do revenue sharing, or block/restrict the bandwidth to those they don’t like.

The wireless and wireline carriers now have another way to differentiate from each other, aside from the “Better coverage… fastest network… fewest dropped calls…” mantra they all currently drone.

The internet experience could end up being VERY different from one carrier to the next, with an infinite combination of content/carrier/geography relationships possible. A very basic example would be a carrier winning business based on allowing BitTorrent traffic to your cell phone vs. one that does not allow it.

Things just got a whole lot more complicated… will carriers finally get a piece of the Apple pie?

OK, So What is With the Logo? –> ē

For my regular readers, you will notice my usual plea for ‘Support Wikipedia’ has been replaced by an ominous green ‘e’ with a bar over top. An explanation:

I have been busy. Since my departure from Nortel I have been working on my new consulting business called ‘Psychē’ and officially (according to the government) called ‘PSYCHE CONSULTING’ in the business of ‘ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT CONSULTING’.  Apparently the government likes yelling capital letters.

So why an ‘e’ instead of a ‘P’? ‘P’ logos look stupid IMHO. Except for the Philadelphia Flyers logo, which I only just now realized is also a ‘P’, and it’s already taken.

E stands for engineering, and in this case ‘Human Dynamics Engineering‘ (AKA ‘HDE’) a new term I am coining for what it is I am doing. E is also for ‘Engagement’ which is predominantly what the business is all about, engaging employees in their work environments, large and small. Also, the bar above the ‘e’ is “a macron, from the Greek μακρόv (makrón), meaning “long”, is a diacritic placed above a vowel” to indicate the ‘long e’ sound (‘eeee’ not ‘uh’). This is to distinguish the correct ‘psyche’ from the two possible interpretations:

(Courtesy Reference.Com)

1. The one I intend: psy·che [sahy-kee] -noun “Psychology, Psychoanalysis. the mental or psychological structure of a person, esp. as a motive force.”

2. The potentially unfortunate: psyche [sahyk] -informal verb “to intimidate or frighten psychologically, or make nervous (often fol. by out): to psych out the competition.”

And as a complete piece of trivia, ‘e’ is also the Proto-Semitic ‘H’ which is often used by people as my nickname, and has a symbol that looks like a person with his/her hands up.

Psychē LogoIf you would like to learn more about Psychē please drop by http://psycheconsulting.org. The site is rapidly evolving to become a resource for improving the workplace through ‘HDE’.

While I had always intended to use the ‘e’ with a macron above, the much-improved style of the final version is attributed to my friend and graphic designer Wendy Koch. I will provide a link to her fabulous graphic design website once it actually exists (Wendy: hint hint).

So why have I apparently gone insane, ditched the potentially lucrative field of telecommunications, and started a consulting firm?

In short, during my tenure in the Nortel MEN ESAT team as ‘Career Development Prime’ and then the overall Chair, I spent a lot of time thinking about the business impact of the level of engagement in the organization. I also found a passion for the topic which has led me to study the area ever since, amassing 4+ years of practical experience and research into the field. Based on this background, I have come up with an approach that I think would be very effective in any environment.

Now, off to work…

Oh, and support Wikipedia!!

P.S. I have been receiving a heart-warming quantity of well-wishes for my new endeavour. I am going to need some time to get back to you all, but I plan to do so!

Success at NORTEL

Now there is two words you probably haven’t heard in a the same sentence for a while!

During a presentation to a large consulting firm on Chip & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick’, things got rather casual/direct and I ended up presenting some of my challenges at moving forward with my next career (which we’ll call ‘management consulting’ for lack of a better term):

  1. How do I package the ‘Made to Stick’ principles for my purposes?
  2. How do I translate this information session into a consulting opportunity for me?
  3. And the biggie… How do I address the fact that the last 12 years of my career has been with a company the public associates more with management ineptitude, than an environment that could foster an effective ‘management consultant’?

One of the attendees said something which took the whole room aback: “Why don’t you use this ‘Sticky’ method to convince people that there was ‘Success at Nortel’?” After a pause, and about a minute of laughter from the room at what was clearly a joke, he says: “No, I’m serious, wouldn’t that prove your point?”

While others in the room suggested that the employee in question may be off some important medicine, I told him I really liked the idea, didn’t see a path to get there, but I would certainly give it more thought!

That challenge stuck in my mind until I had a lunch meeting with one of my previous Nortel managers (ironically).  I was discussing how my new venture was going to be focussed on a systematic process to increasing customer and employee engagement in organizations to boost productivity, boost profit and –in Seth Godin’s words– increase the level of humanity. He matter-of-factly said: “Wasn’t our network planning team exactly that [success via customer and employee engagement]?”

WHOA!

Some background: Network Planning is a function that exists in all companies that build telecom networks, but was rather unique at Nortel because we were a company that sold equipment to build telecom networks, and we offered this service for free. As a simple analogy, imagine an architect who works with you to help design your home for free, before you have have even committed to buy it.  Sounds like a bad business model doesn’t it?  Not so fast!

Vendor-provided network planning services started at Nortel (AFAIK) and became an industry table-stake over the years as clients clearly decided to do more and more business with companies that would help them design their networks, evaluate new technology and specify the equipment required. This was widely replicated by our competitors with all companies in our product segment –even the smallest startups– having this function in some way, shape or form.  Some will charge for it (a bad idea, but that is worthy of another post), others offer it as a free service.  I joined Nortel to become part of the planning team, stayed in it for 7 years, unable to find a more appealing job in the whole company.  Anyone who had experience in Nortel Network Planning will tell you how great a team it was, and most of its alumni have moved on to great success in roles such as PLM, market development, sales and planning leadership roles at other companies.

Gallup Research, in their fabulous book Human Sigma (little to do with Six Sigma by the way) identifies two hierarchical pyramids that characterizes what is required for customer and employee engagement to exist.  Gallup asserts, and I certainly concur, that companies that strive to engage customers and employees significantly improve business results. I am going to apply the elements of one of these two pyramids to Network Planning at Nortel to highlight why it was so successful:

Elements of the Customer Engagement Pyramid

  1. CONFIDENCE : Can I trust the company, and do they always deliver on their promises? The kind of business Nortel is in has long product lead-times and product cycles. It is often very hard to develop a rapport with key decision makers purely through standard interaction on products, especially since these decision makers are far removed from the products themselves (they may never actually see them). The planning function allowed for regular and deep discussions about what the customers problems were, allowing us to help them do their job.  By doing this with great competence, and to schedule, we could build trust and deliver on our promises in a parallel stream to our products. To perform this function needed great trust between the carrier and vendor, because we often had as much –or more– information on their network than they did to do our job well.
  2. INTEGRITY: Does this company treat me fairly? Again, planning was in a position to develop a rapport with decision makers that sales or operations could not.  Sometimes this was even taken to extremes: I can remember one case where the customer was under time pressure, and asked us to rework a network design over the Christmas break, which we did (it showed we had engaged employees!).  Reactions like this clearly showed the customer that we were committed to their business and –more importantly– to the individuals that were decision-makers.
  3. PRIDE: Am I proud to be their customer, do they treat me with respect? I think another company providing you with extremely bright and energetic people to help you do your work is a great sign of respect! The planning teams were often providing these clients with detailed network designs and studies which would in-turn be presented with great pride as their own work. In other cases, the planners themselves became an integral part of the customer’s team, even assigned their own office space in some cases.
  4. PASSION: This company is perfect for a person like me, I can’t imagine a world without this company. What more proof do you need of this than the customers hiring the planners to be their own employees? This happened in several occasions. Because the roles of the people we were interacting with were typically cost-centres (not revenue generating) they were often under-staffed and under-appreciated.  They were asked to evaluate many complex options of how their networks were to evolve, and had many potential vendors & products to consider.  Nortel would come in with great talented people and give them a helping hand, and make our customer contacts look like miracle workers with their own executives. If you had someone make you look like a star to your boss, could you imagine a world without them?

So according to Gallup, we had created a function that created a very high level of customer engagement!

Were the results of having the planning function directly measurable? Unfortunately not*, but here is a few data points:

  • The function still exists to this day. It would seem obvious that functions that do not directly contribute to revenue were great opportunities for trimming in a company with severe financial trouble, especially after >80-90% of the workforce has been cut! The function had such a reputation in the industry, and was so leveraged by other teams like market development, sales, R&D and PLM, that I don’t think it was ever considered for the chopping block, even while many other valuable functions were thrown over the side.
  • Alumni of this function were heavily recruited by established industry players and start-ups because of the relationships these people had made with customers, and their broad network & business perspective.
  • As already mentioned, planners were regularly imbedded as key members of the customer’s own organizations or even hired by our customers.
  • Many of the networks in existence today were designed by planners from Nortel with Nortel equipment (the latter was the big payoff).

If I need to make a case for ‘Success in Nortel’, I would have no trouble positioning the network planning function as a great success story that was about engaging people and not technology.  It built stronger relationships with our customers, allowed a deeper understanding of the customer’s challenges and requirements, and helped Nortel build better products while creating a large pool of Nortel employees who could speak the customer’s language.

So now I have the content of the presentation, now I just have to go put it together.

*I have since figured out a way to do this, but you will have to drop me a line for that advice.

The BEST Mechanic in Ottawa

After my OC Transpo rant, I thought it appropriate to counter-balance that with a review of a company I LOVE to do business with.

Apple? BMW? Starbucks? Bridgehead? All good guesses… but I want to talk about Dakota Automotive.

I spend a lot of my free time researching employee and customer engagement.  One of my favourite sources for such research is Gallup; you might be familiar with some of their polls.  Their research has revealed that there is an underlying structure to “emotional attachment” to businesses and it is remarkably consistent from industry to industry.  This emotional attachment model is layered much like ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs‘ and includes the following layers:

  • CONFIDENCE (Do I feel safe doing business with this company? Do they deliver on their promises?)
  • INTEGRITY (Will this company treat me fairly? Do they offer fair resolutions to any problems?)
  • PRIDE (Will I feel good about myself if I do business with this company? Do they treat me with respect?)
  • PASSION (I can’t imagine a world without this company.  The company is perfect for people like me.)

Building customer engagement based on this model translates directly into increased profitability, revenue & customer retention. Just one example of this is a customer with pride or passion in a company who will actively promote that company to friends and family (or even on their blog!).  Lots of business leaders/owners have a hard time believing that their customers actually are ‘passionate’ about doing business with them, especially since they don’t see that passion about the business even in their own employees. Paying no heed to customer engagement can lead to something worse than having customers that are unengaged, you can actually make them ‘actively disengaged’.

Before we go there, lets talk about Dakota Automotive and how Andrew (the owner and mechanic) satisfies this emotional attachment hierarchy:

  • CONFIDENCE & INTEGRITY: Andrew sticks to his quotes, even if he low-balled.  While I actually prefer that he gets paid fair value for any work he performs, this clearly shows he is more than willing to deliver on his promises and treats me fairly.  I reward him the best I can by referring business his way, although he has PLENTY of business.  When he does work on your car he is always looking out for potential future problems which he informs you of, with none of the customary ‘hard sell’ pressure you find with other shops.
  • PRIDE: Do I feel good about myself when I do business with him?  Absolutely, he offers great value for the money and he clearly loves what he does.  It feels good to pay someone to perform a task that they enjoy and do so well.  From a respect point of view, his willingness to hear  what I think to be the problem pays great dividends.  He will always listen, ask questions and actively diagnose the problem with me.  This not only is a sign of respect, but helps build trust. In contrast, many mechanics give you that ‘look’ when you try and describe the problem to them that clearly says: “I am just moving my pen to give you the impression I am listening, I actually have no interest in what you are saying, I am just going to get my guy to plug your car into the computer and that will tell us what we need to know”.
  • PASSION: Well, I am writing a blog about him, so that is a pretty good sign that I am one of Dakota’s ‘actively engaged’ customers.  I won’t go as far to say that ‘I can’t imagine a world without this company’, but I will mention something that is very telling: Whenever I consider getting a new car, I have this pang of guilt in my mind that a new car warranty will reduce the business I do with Dakota.  Can you imagine a company that you actually adapt your behaviour to do business with them… by choice!!  What gets me to this level of passion I find hard to understand, but it has a lot to do with contrasts. Andrew is a rare gem amongst a large pool of average or even borderline-criminal people involved in the automotive industry.  He’s the sort of guy that you give money gladly because you know there is great value, it is well-earned, he enjoys his work and is just a plain likeable guy.

Speaking of contrasts, Gallup on ‘actively disengaged’ customers:

These customers harbour substantial negative feelings towards the company. Most actively disengaged could be considered strong candidates for defection to a competitor [where one exists].  Yet many remain with the company –spreading their discontent to other customers or prospects along the way – because of either high switching costs or a sense that the competitor would be no better [or there is no competition]. Their motto is, “Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t.

From my life experience the companies that quickly come to mind here are: Microsoft, OC Transpo, American Express, HSBC, Bell Canada, just about every NA car manufacturer, and George Lucas as a writer/director since about 1983. For each of these I can think of a defining moment (or many) where I was treated with a lack of respect and/or my confidence in them was severely shaken.  I go FAR out of my way to avoid doing business with these companies.

It is on days that I deal with the likes of OC Transpo that I am so especially glad that some businesses can deliver so well on their brand promise, and make their customers feel like a valuable asset to their business.  Luckily for me, I was taking OC Transpo to go pick up my car being serviced by Dakota Automotive.

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