Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Loyalty > Humour

Today Telecom launched a tongue in cheek campaign advocating national abstinence to support the All Blacks in the World Cup.

Personally, I think its funny in a classic kiwi piss-take way.

It's also clear that I am in the minority, based on the comment thread in Kiwiblog, the NZHerald, the YouTube comments - I could go on.

So is this about the campaign or is it about the campaign backer - Telecom?

Some of the commentary is that the ad isn't funny and it's trying too hard. I don't think that it's trying to be "edgy". It's trying to be like an Australian beer ad - self deprecating. How could you not at least smirk at Sean Fitzpatrick driving a giant fist?

There's no doubt that Kiwis like humour in their ads. The 2 degrees ads with Rhys Darby a clear case. I would say that if a beer company (other than DB), or 2 degrees, ran this campaign it would be well received.

Why does it not with Telecom? Simple. If you break the bonds of trust with kiwis, and fudge it, we simply will not trust you again.

Kiwis give trust very easily (perhaps too easily) and react very negatively when it's broken. Others might say "that's business" - we say "you took me for a ride and you will pay - for a long time".

Three examples in recent times

1. WellyWood sign - another tongue in cheek proposal, (genuinely intended that way) but the public thought they had been duped when the first proposal was taken off the table, only for it to reappear. It's now with an independent panel.

2. Steve Williams and Tiger Woods - Tiger gets caught cheating on his wife, Steve hangs in there during an 18 month lean patch urging him on, Tiger dumps Steve and spins the story, Steve wins next game and makes sure everyone knows the inside story.

3. Adidas - Releases new jersey for RWC2011. Charges more than on-line stores and then tries to shut the stores down. Kiwis burn adidas logos in the street. Bernard Hickey has an excellent post on this.

Of course the thing is, that a genuine apology (with no provisos) and you can actually earn back your position and have a genuine relationship with a kiwi again.

Which leads us to the Telecom campaign. Telecom hasn't made it out of the dog box yet. You'll get plenty of generalities about Telecom's failures but no specifics because it was so long ago. It's a brand that customers don't feel loyal to. It almost needs this kind of moment to create a circuit breaker.

Without that, kiwis won't laugh with Telecom. They'll just laugh at them.

UPDATE: Telecom apologises and pulls the campaign. Within one day - impressively done. Journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Back into it

Every lapsed blogger has a comeback. No promises whether it will last or not. Some things are more important than 140 characters can capture....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm thinking that its Option A

I commented on the appointment process for the Programme Manager for the Government's Broadband programme a month or so ago.

I'm pleased to see Ralph Chivers appointed to the role.

Ralph has huge experience - I hired him into Telecom. TCF has made good progress under his leadership. I hope he can leave some of the bureaucrats behind and really drive a solution forward for NZ.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why it's hard for governments to execute policy

This government is taking some bold steps to do the right things for NZ. But I say now that until the fundamental machinery that executes its policies changes dramatically, it's just not going to have a chance of succeeding.

Great initiative, invest $1.5 B in improving New Zealand's broadband. However the very first step in execution, identifying an appropriate person to run the first stage, is going to an RFP which is open for a week.

Let me repeat that.

The critical success factor for getting you and me a world class broadband service is going to apply and be identified in a week by submitting an RFP.

There are two scenarios here

A. The MED already knows who they want (because Joyce has told them) - which means it is just a waste of time

B. This is the *standard* way of recruiting a project manager for government - the same process is used to determine supply of paper for the government as it is for project managing a mission critical investment.

There will be a number of very interested parties given all the politics over the last few years around Broadband. They are the wrong people for this role.

It's going to take a lot more than an opinion about broadband to deliver what is needed. It needs someone who has been through the fire of billion dollar projects, with a vast range of stakeholders, and delivered. On top of that, they have to be up for doing it all again.

The right person for this role will be a kick-ass programme manager who's only aim in life is to execute programmes brilliantly. That person is not going to be submitting an RFP. You will have to crowbar them out of an existing position. You need to look for these people - they don't come to you.

Why ?

Because someone will have worked out they are a kick-ass individual and will be doing everything they can to keep them doing great work for them. The right person will take time to find and convince that this is not a lemon of a project. The right person will get NZers the maximum value for $1.5 B. The wrong person will blow millions just getting started.

I sure hope that it's Option A...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Freeview, TiVo, Browning and Telecom fit together

Image Credit:

I've been following the TiVo and Freeview developments with interest.

I always thought that there was a good market for a decent PVR (akin to MySky) for Freeview in NZ.

There are interesting parallels in the UK where BT launched MicrosoftTV (known as MediaRoom) with the UK Freeview service under the banner BTVision.

It's been clear here that there is not enough capital for Freeview to do this on its own in NZ. Just take a look at the MyFreeviewHD link on the site.

It's basically a simple page that says you can buy a Freeview approved PVR that can record 2 channels with a basic 8 page programme guide. It's clear that there is no appetite to release this product.And they have just followed the same branding as MySky HDi without the 'i'. You have to look hard to find one on the site. When you do, you'll find is $1150. Ouch.

What is also clear is that Freeview is reaching a maturity point as a business. The infrastructure is in place and I would be surprised if more than 50% of installed decoders are stand-alone. My pick is that a fair chunk of them are embedded in TV's like Sony Bravia. So not much left to do for a start-up - all the work is being done by the Consumer Electronics companies.

Enter TiVo - I think this will shake up the local marker due to its pure simplicity. The reason TiVo is successful in the US is because it is smart about recording programmes in an Amazon kind of way. MySky is totally driven by the customer - so the ability to 'discover' new programming is down to what other people tell you. TiVo's strength is that it predicts what you might want to watch based on what you have recorded already.

It's a different proposition to MySky.

It's also a different proposition to Freeview - TiVo is about control.

So that is why it's attractive to Mr Browning who announced his resignation today. It's not a defection as opposed to a well managed move given Steve's previous background at TVNZ.

It will be a different business to Freeview - which is about digital quality - and will require more input. Input in terms of cash and product management.

Which brings in Telecom.

Hybrid TV have stated they are looking for a third investor. Telecom has always had an aspiration to get into Internet based TV. There have been multiple attempts - FirstMedia, trials with Sky, investigations with Freeview. But it's never really worked out what its role is - content delivery, content aggregator or owner. This meant it made some pretty poor decisions by trying to play in areas where it had limited skills i.e. trying to own swathes of content.

This is a gift wrapped opportunity to get into TV in NZ in a relatively cheap way without having to deal with content rights. Development risk is low, technology and brand are proven, there are no major content deals to be done (movies are easy for anyone to get). It's the right way to do it.

I would pick them to add this to their refreshed home broadband proposition - home VoIP, broadband and TiVo - which they could bring to market later this year. Only speculation on my part but its what I would do!

As long as Seven, TVNZ and Telecom - should it be them - stay in governance mode as opposed to management mode then Steve will have good support to hit his 120k customers in year 1.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Playing with fire

It's old news now, but I have been thinking about why Vodafone has been running its high risk campaign about it's 3G network that has led to Telecom launching its Commerce Commission action.

If you've missed it, here's the background...

Vodafone's Christmas campaign is all about coverage this year with a tag line of 'NZ's largest and fastest 3G network*' with the asterisk linking to a disclaimer that this is 3G based on W-CDMA coverage.

Technically this is all true - Vodafone have the only W-CDMA network in NZ.

Of course this would be fine if Telecom NZ didn't have 3G network (it does) nor if it's coverage was greater (it is) nor if the speed comparisons were unequivocal (they are equivocal as Vodafone does not have its top speed rolled out everywhere)

Which is why Telecom has taken its commerce commission action.  
One of the sideshows of this has been the pissing contest taking place on Geekzone, which is the wrong place for a PR guy to get cute about what Telecom has said about its current (larger) 3G network which it is about to replace with a newer, faster  3G network. Suggesting that there is a like with like comparison on  a network that hasn't been built and ignoring the current network as it is due to be replaced is just madness. Especially since the current network is still being offered to customers.

I've been in a position where I have provided expert evidence at the Advertising Standards Complaints Authority and the Environment Court. These are not places for bluff and bluster. The Commerce Commission is probably worse. A few well chosen questions and your evidence will be treated with contempt. Placing your corporate view on public sites like Geekzone is great when you are talking about your own company, but taking your competitor's statements and using them for your own justification is really unwise with this type of action looming. I hope for Paul's sake it doesn't get used against him as it would undo all the good work he has done to date being Vodafone's online presence - but I digress, that's not the point I am trying to make.

Here are my points

1. Vodafone *must* have known this action was coming - as I have said 3 things matter to customers on mobile. Coverage, Handsets and Price. Telecom will not give up its local coverage advantage easily as it is pretty much all it has to offer right now. The action was inevitable.

2. Vodafone can't possibly think it will win this - all Telecom has to do is prove to the commerce commission that 

a. EVDO is 3G; and
b. The majority of customers could be misled by this as they don't know what WCDMA is (especially non Vodafone customers who are clearly the target for this campaign). The only people who know are on Geekzone - that's a few thousand- the rest has no idea whether a 1.25 MHz channel or 5MHz channel matter in this debate.

They would have to seriously under-rate the technical evidence coming from Telecom to take this on. It's a pretty simple case and there are still experienced people at Telecom to take this on.

3. The outcomes for Vodafone aren't pretty
a. The maximum fine is $200 k - they would stand to get whacked with all of this
b. The greater cost is the campaign cost - in the best possible outcome, they would have to modify the campaign (maybe to fastest only, or if they were smart, emphasising global 3G coverage. Worst case they would have to pull the lot - that's millions.
c. Which leads to Brand costs - getting nailed on this would put Vodafone squarely into the camp of other large corporates who are just trying to use confusion to gain marketing advantage. Remember that?
d. Worst of all for Vodafone, Telecom would get some confidence, which it badly needs.

4. At best this was only going to be a short term campaign - Telecom's launch of its WCDMA network will give it a coverage advantage based on exactly this proposition. Until Vodafone launches its 900MHz WCDMA at which point it will all be the same.

5. Vodafone have a handset portfolio which is so large compared to Telecom's currently it is embarrassing. Vodafone have 49 on the books and have a bunch of parallel importers as well. Telecom list 22 - but it doesn't take a lot to realise that these are seriously outmoded. If they were playing football, Telecom would be completely within its rights to ask a few players to swap teams at half time just to make a game of it. 

So it seems to be high risk for limited reward. For Vodafone to success against the commerce commission, Telecom would have to end up crying on the stand that they never really had 3G, the ITU got its standards wrong, and it had mis-measured coverage and all it had to offer in mobile for now is legal action. Even then the Commerce Commission might take some pity on them.

So that leaves me with these questions.

Why run a campaign on coverage that is so tenuous and so clearly short-lived?
 Are Vodafone that keen to have a marketing advantage on coverage that they would take this sort of risk?
Why not play to your strengths which are handsets and global 3G? This would just ram Telecom as these will continue to be core advantages for sometime after Telecom launches its new network.
Who is giving these guys advice? This took me less than an hour to come up with - and the Geekzoners have been on the money as well. Maybe they are not taking any advice?
Have engineers taken over the marketing team at Vodafone? I thought the industry pretty much agreed years ago after the Qualcomm patent wars that it didn't matter if it was W-CDMA, CDMA2000 or 4G - customers just don't care so long as they are getting the service where they want it.

I think this is similar to the iPhone situation earlier this year - Vodafone are so looking to land a king hit on Telecom that they have lost sight of how to do this without misleading customers. Sticking with their core advantages may not be sexy but it would leave them with a very strong position and no risk.

The only other strategy they could possibly have is force Telecom to launch early with an underbaked network which will take them years to recover from. Given Telecom delayed launch until mid 2009 that isn't going to happen.

My call - Commerce Commission will rule against Vodafone - Vodafone will have to pay the fine and pull the campaign. I'll put a bottle of good quality scotch on that for any takers.

This leaves the door open for Telecom to innovate - ideally on data rates - with their new network. I think Vodafone will find that with all the changes at Telecom at the head of Mobile they are probably safe on that front for a while.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to spend $1.5 Billion

Did a brief bit of commentary on TV3 yesterday on what the incoming National Government might do with the $1.5 B they want to invest to deliver super-fast broadband. Apparently I am too serious - I think this might the first time anyone has ever suggested this!

I wrote some notes while I was thinking about this, and am becoming to be more convinced that a quite different approach needs to be taken to work out what to do.

Before you read this you need to know that I have a bunch of interests that may or may not conflict me. But at least you know this now!
1. I am a Director of InternetNZ - a policy and advocacy group with a mission to advance the cause of the Internet in NZ.
2. I worked at Telecom for a while - like 14 years a while
3. I hold Telecom shares still - (ok I missed my window to sell...)
4. I have stakes in, and have worked on a proof of concept for, web based businesses.
5. I support Tottenham Hotspur which makes me something of an optimist.

From what has been said and written to date, the thrust of this investment has been around Fibre to the Home. While this is definitely a good idea, I am not sure if it is the right idea for now.

We have to take a step back and ask ourselves - what is the problem that we are trying to solve here?

In my view the main problem we are trying to solve is to improve the productivity and competitiveness of NZ. Sure there are a bunch of second-order issues (e.g. ameliorating the impact of the financial crisis, keep up with international and technology trends, allowing kids to social network) but the number 1 issue is that NZ's productivity needs to improve.

This is not my idea - Mark Weldon and David Skilling through the NZX blog, and Lloyd Morrison, through the Measureable Goal for New Zealand paper are doing a great job of leading this debate.

What's also clear from the NZX blog is that there are a heap of people who have good skills who are willing to contribute their time and energy to shape this debate. Free resource! Awesome!

It's a selection of people from this group (and others) who should get together real soon to shape this debate. The participation criteria for this is simple - you have to have had experience in lifting productivity in your domain and be a contributor to the debate for the greater good. Selecting it on the basis that every possible interest has to be represented will lead to failure. Furthermore devolving it into interest areas (eg Broadband only) will also mean it diverges from a meaningful goal. That will lead to the phenomenon of 'snouts in the trough' - the people who show are the ones who want to get their mitts on some of the $1.5B, as opposed to driving productivity in NZ. Keeping that off the table for now is a good thing.

Note at this point I still haven't talked about the broadband investment yet - that's because it can only start to be meaningful once the productivity goal is set and all the ways to improve it over the long-term are put forward. Despite my background I am open to the possibility that there are other ways to make this happen - including tax and regulatory structures - that could be more effective. However I would be very surprised if Broadband was not a part of it.

So this gets me to the current issue - should we be spending this $1.5B on Fibre to the Home or on something else?

My view on this is clear

- Fibre to the Home is a great end-game to aim for. 

- Good quality ubiquitous broadband access for homes and businesses is an important first step. While good progress is being made here, there are still inequities in the rural access network which impacts one of our most important industries - agriculture.

- The bottlenecks being experienced in our current broadband network are starting to point to transport issues - both domestic (from DSL cabinets to exchanges) and international.

- $1.5 Billion sounds like a lot but it gets gobbled up pretty easily when rolling our nationwide infrastructure - and it isn't enough for a nationwide Fibre to the Home network.

- DSL 2+ and its variants that run on existing copper lines are able to deliver plenty of access bandwidth for the next 5-10 years.

So if it was me, I would be using the money in this way

1. Improve the overall quality and reliability of the access network nationwide. This probably means
- some more cabinetisation of existing exchanges in fringe areas and development of some rural infrastructure (either fixed wireless or wired - not fussed)
2. Improve the regional transport network - provide enough capacity to allow for -say - on average 1Mb/s per line (note this was engineered for about 32 kb/s per line up until recently - maybe it still is)
3. Invest in a more effective international connection - we need better capacity  and peering charges to ensure we have the best connection possible to the rest of the world.
4. If there's anything less (I doubt there will be much) put that towards targetted Fibre to the Home.

This approach works because it
1. Delivers a tangible outcome - better transport and more ubiquitous access will lift the overall broadband performance for everyone
2. Does not preclude FTTH investment - in fact it probably makes it more effective. Cabinetisation helps the case for fibre. If you rolled out fibre now with the existing transport infrastructure, you would need to make this investment in addition to get the full benefits
3. It can probably get done in one government term if they got moving in 3-6 months.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama, the hype cycle and fish

Along with a few billion of my fellow earthlings I've been following the election in the US today.

A huge day.

You gotta like the acceptance speech of Obama - hardly referred to himself, but primarily to his call for change. Masterful. This quote is the one I liked most. 

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

He gets change - and the fact it's never done in one big moment but lots of little moments. Claiming victory at this point for his position just would lead to failure

I hope his advisors are telling him about the Gartner hype cycle.

My gut tells me that he gets it, but there are going to be *a lot* of people out there who will be going through the trough of disillusionment - probably within the next 6 months - as he tackles some big global issues. As long as he is upfront about what he is doing and why he'll make it. (Note to self - must be careful about the advice I give incoming US presidents as will most likely be fairly opinionated and, while based on good experience, may not scale up so well)

Arlene and I though were lamenting the lack of leadership in NZ. Both McCain and Obama have shown real personal courage and control in their speeches tonight.Best quote of the night from Arlene 'Where is our Obama ?'. Quickly followed by 'All we have to choose between is a wet fish and a fried fish.'

There are a lot of people bagging ACT for having Roger Douglas in the line-up for this election but at least he was an agent of real change - whether you liked it or not. I almost feel like voting no-confidence this time - it's just that isn't even an option.