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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A Shot Close to the Mark: UCBComedy on BP Oil Spill

Yes it is funny, but it may also be quite accurate… As Kevin Costner says, you guys are &%#ed!!

The Media Buffet – At One Reasonable Price

Early adopters experience new market opportunities before the rest of the market. By trying something new, they get the benefits of a new service or technology earlier than the rest, but they also experience the gaps that are inevitably created by the new thing.

We will soon have the iPad to add to the already large number of means to experience media that includes:

  • eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader
  • Digital audio players like the iPod and Zune
  • Smart phones (Blackberry, iPhone)
  • Desktop & laptop computers
  • Internet capable set-top boxes (AppleTV, PS3, XBOX, Wii)
  • Traditional print media

Here is the gap: I am sure many other early adopters are finding it useful –but expensive– to purchase all the various potential forms of a piece of work.  For example, I may purchase an audio-book to determine if I like the work (and it allows me to read it quickly), then purchase the eBook version on a Kindle because I want to be able to highlight the material and look at diagrams, and even purchase the printed copy of the book if I want to share it with others.

Hopefully there soon will be a time where a content publisher will offer the “One Price Media Buffet” where one price is paid to access to the media regardless of the desired format.  Alternatively, an initial price can be paid, with small incremental fees for alternate versions.

You might wonder what is in it for the content publisher? Unfortunately, the current attitude of many people towards DRM (digital rights management) is quite confrontational. Users don’t see the DRM as a way to protect the artists that produce the media, but rather a cash grab reminiscent of the music business who would release a new format every 5 years to get you to buy the Beatles White Album again. This confrontation allows people to rationalize making illegal copies of media. This is money lost for publishers and artists alike. There is no DRM that yet exists that can keep motivated hackers breaking it, and the internet makes it very easy for hack to be propagated to less-tech savvy users that feel enough frustration to make illegal copies.

Here is a new opportunity for content owners to develop a more positive relationship with their customers and their artists by offering new innovative solutions instead of more complexity and frustration.

Is it possible? I can see at least one company who could offer a very good start at this: Amazon. They already offer content via audio book, print and eBook (which includes access via PC & iPhone, and in the future likely the iPad & Mac).  The only reasons for them not to offer the ‘Buffet’ would be existing contracts with rights holders (good reason) and the opportunity to charge their customers multiple times for the same content (not so good).

Come on publishers, surprise we early adopters in a GOOD way for a change! There is a WIN-WIN scenario.

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.

Nortel’s Downfall – The Mini-Series

2010-6-5 – Note that Constantin film has blocked all of these videos based on protecting their copyright. This only goes to show that Constantin film execs. have their heads firmly up their asses. While this is certainly within their right, they don’t seem to appreciate the role that social media and ‘mashups’ like these have in promoting their artist’s great work. I had never heard of the movie ‘Der Untergang’ until I saw the first video below, and it was only when I saw Bruno Ganz’s passionate performance that I had any interest in seeing their movie. Unfortunately their loss is ours as well. – Adrian

My previous post “Who Killed Nortel?“, featured columnist James Bagnall presenting a very balanced view of the contributing factors to Nortel’s demise.  Time now for the corresponding ‘unbalanced’ view:

I think many people saw the original ‘Downfall’ youtube video, but many apparently didn’t know there was actually 12 of them! While these videos don’t express my personal views (do I have to say that again?), they are really funny, and the production values are pretty slick. They are based on the 2004 movie “Der Untergang” (German for ‘The Fall’), which provided a great canvas for this topic because it contains many profound Hitler rants (adeptly ranted by Bruno Ganz).

For those of you not familiar with the names referenced, Mr. Bagnall’s articles linked above are good background.  You will also be confused by both Hackney and Mike Z. both looking a lot like the Führer.

Part 1 – The Original: “There Will Be No New 3-5 Year Plan”

Part 2 – “Those Lousy Stinking Peasants!”

Part 3 – “Synergy My Ass”

Part 4 – “The ‘Free Press’ Won’t Let Us Do Our Jobs in Secret!”

Part 5 – “I Say: To Win You Must Quit!”

Part 6 – “Get In Line Behind the Other Creditors”

Part 7 – “Business Made Simple”

Part 8 – “Unfortunately, You Are Not a GE Man.”

Part 9 – “Who Are They to Tell Us What to Do With Their Money?”

Part 10 – “The Price You Ask For is Way Too High!”

Part 11 – “I believe… in Executive Bonuses.”

Part 12 – “Don’t You Understand? Nortel is Bankrupt! It’s Over!”

Who Killed Nortel?

James Bagnall of the Ottawa Citizen has been covering Nortel for a long time, much longer than my time with the company.  It was with great interest that I heard from a co-worker that James was doing an 8-part series called “Who Killed Nortel?”.

Would it tell me things I didn’t know?  Would it point the finger at people I respected?  Would it conclude the collapse was due to bad luck, incompetence, or something more sinister?

Even knowing the series was on the Ottawa Citizen, I found it horribly hard to find the articles and then to navigate them (its improved a bit now that the series is complete).  To save you the same frustration, I collected them here:

I found the series very enlightening.  It points to leadership apathy, a board that lacked knowledge of the telecom industry, bad luck, incompetence, and -of course- the well known financial scandals as contributing causes.

Now that you have seen the ‘balanced view’, you may want to check out the ‘unbalanced’ view for a laugh: Nortel’s Downfall – The Mini-Series

Apple Earnings Today at 5PM, I’m Holding…

I am in for the long term, so I am holding. I expect them to beat estimates today, and there is the potential for Steve Jobs to show up on the call too. Apple continues to be a good news story, and one of the few really well run companies.

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