Setting the Standard

April 5th, 2019 by dewprocess.
April Perry


Following is an Interview with April Perry, Managing Consultant at Drake Beam Morin, now Adecco – the world’s leading Human Resource services consultancy.

de Wolff Advisors President, Nicholas de Wolff consulted to DBM and its Managing Consultant for more than a year, providing advisory and restructuring counsel, as the organization moved toward its successful acquisition by Adecco. The following are excerpts from an interview we conducted with the firm’s Los Angeles Director.

Q. What can you tell me about working with Nicholas de Wolff?

Nicholas always found time to help me and my staff with a variety of projects – everything from editorial rewrites on corporate documentation, to serving as an invaluable sounding board on some very high-level strategy we were exploring. As such, it is impossible for me to compare him to others, as I have yet to meet an individual so adept at wearing a diversity of strategic and tactical hats.

Q. What would you say are his greatest strengths?

Extraordinary insight, piercing intellect, and sensitivity. A marvelous sense of humor, and a degree of innovative thinking and creativity matched only by his tenacity and efficiency.

Q. What type of contributions did he make that had a definite impact on the company’s bottom line?

His ability to crystallize our messaging and positioning (and at extraordinary speed!) saved us time and money, as well as increased executive attendance at our events. He has a way of getting straight to the point, and clarifying reality, vision, and the ways to connect the two that ensure a superior degree of operational and strategic efficiency. He works at a fantastic pace, without sacrificing the quality of his contribution. I find him to be a motivational, inspirational, challenging, and charming collaborator.

Q. How responsive was he to the suggestions of others?

He is very open to input, and in fact requires it. However, he will be swift to challenge your position if it is not well-thought out.

Q. Can he communicate technical ideas to non-technical associates?

I have no doubt that, as the one-time Chief Marketing Officer of one of the world’s largest multinational technology service providers, he fulfilled this role with deceptive ease. On a personal note, I am consistently amazed at how much he knows about technology trends, and how he is able to explain them to me without making my head spin!

Q. Would fellow co-workers consider him to be a leader or follower?

Leader.

Q. What would you want a prospective employer to know about him?

Don’t let this one go. Do whatever you must to get him on your team.

Q. Would you hire him again, if you could?

Without question.

Jetskis R Us

February 1st, 2019 by dewprocess.

For more than a decade I have been railing against Unicorns, while concurrently coining the notion of Workhorse or Zebra startup mentalities. My passion for reimagining the approach that innovators and inventors take to building their business propositions is matched by my zeal for an equally aggressive repositioning at the other end of the enterprise scale.

Too many large enterprises (I’ve worked at a few) operate much as an aircraft carrier [if you’ve heard me speak on the topic, you know this analogy of mine all too well!]. They are slow to respond, costly to maintain, and require astonishing lead-times in order to effect any sort of course correction. I have long held that modern businesses need to model their operational efficiency on a “Jetski” principle: nimble, reactive, fast, and able to jump over any unexpected wave running counter to its objective. While one of the most telling characteristics of the lumbering giant enterprise is its slow response time, these sorts of megacompanies have mitigated that weakness by establishing, as best they could, de facto monopolies or regional agreements with competitors, so as to ensure themselves the lead-time necessary to implement unavoidable changes. That worked while technology and society moved at something close to the same pace as these brands. One of the most important aspects of jetski companies (as I have called them, for a while), is that – while they may not have the resources to individually manage the same volume of customers or clients as the aircraft carriers, they are able to adapt much more efficiently and effectively to sea changes.

Residential ISPs have been operating under a massively flawed business model for years now, and seem to have no interest in changing said model. AT&T, Spectrum (formerly Charter and Time-Warner), and others believe that customer churn is an acceptable cost of doing business.

So long as they can successfully seduce an equal or greater volume of new customers each month, to offset loss of customers due to their shady price hikes (or keep a sufficient volume of customers who are too lazy or ignorant to contest the price hikes), these near monopolies are happy.

Any intelligent market analyst will note, though, that inevitably accelerating changes in technology always disrupt long-established yet unchanging business models. These large behemoths are lumbering along as if their revenue streams are secure.

As 5G continues its maturation and deployment, and initiatives such as Loon point the way to yet more compelling alternatives, customers repeatedly abused by current ISP giants will be eager to explore emerging options.

In the face of these disruptions, no amount of retroactive price cuts will restore customer faith in the big brands that for so long exploited their market dominance.

No matter how faithful these brands may have been to their shareholders, if customer volume drops, so will the share price.

The painfully obvious lesson here being that in an age of accelerating technological and social disruption, the relationship a product or service brand has with its customers is the most important relationship to establish, manage, and honor.

This doesn’t mean brands should become enslaved by the vicissitudes of mercurial and sometimes manipulative shoppers: “two wrongs don’t make a right”, as our parents often said!

It does mean that transactional relationships need to be more equitable, manageable, and transparent. ISPs and other businesses incapable of upgrading their methodologies and practices will be disconnected, beached…insert analogy or metaphor of choice.

Filling the Void

August 27th, 2018 by dewprocess.

Finally got to test “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire”, launched last year by The Void, a location-specific “whole-body, fully immersive VR experience”.

While this experience is certainly superior to their other immersive walkthru, Ghostbusters, I continue to question whether these platforms for VR tech will ultimately be able to settle on a sustainable price point? is still trying to find its place in Entertainment, IMHO (ed.: I admit I’ve not had the opportunity to try their third, older walkthru, “Nicodemus”)

While experiencing this product, I returned to my now decade-old claim that AR would likely prevail in M&E long before VR. Is it fair to label an immersive walkthru, with physical cues and feedback, haptic feedback, and multisensory components (smells, physical environmental audio, etc) as , strictly speaking? The parameters seem much more akin to , in a sort of inverted fashion.

VR is showing itself to be enormously compelling in construction, healthcare, research, and real estate, among other market sectors. Not Entertainment.

AR is a marvelous and *still* undervalued opportunity for the Entertainment industry, and I remain eager to see how brands, both creative and technological leverage that potential.

Every Day Matters

August 9th, 2018 by dewprocess.

So, it’s #BookLoversDay, as if we should restrict this recognition to one day of the year. I love books ALL YEAR.

Is every admirable sentiment going to be turned into a Hallmark Cards moment now, reduced to a single burp of validation each year? First, it was Valentine’s Day, then Secretary’s Day, then Teacher Recognition Day…

We don’t have to wait until Social Media tells us it’s time to recognize the value in something as important as our executive assistant, our children’s teacher, our partner in life, or literature itself, do we?

Here’s an idea: Take 30 seconds at the beginning of your day to recognize and honor one of the above, or any one of sundry other valuable influences in your life. Get on with your day, until you bump into something or someone who merits positive recognition (your newest client, your boss, your bank teller, etc), and take a moment to offer sincere recognition of their value. It doesn’t require a long speech. It could be as simple as looking them in the eye and saying “Thanks”.

Sounds obvious, but we miss the opportunity so often.

An Old Adage Goes Interactive

January 12th, 2018 by dewprocess.

Fort Collins, Colorado is installing its own “civic broadband” service, after the politicized FCC instituted a net neutrality repeal.
Chattanooga was the first with a municipal ISP program, and more will follow.

Perhaps this is how we beat corrupt government: think global, act local!

Of additional interest will be the implications for the larger telcos, cablecos, and other “Last Mile” pipeline owners such as AT&T, Verizon, Spectrum, et al: If municipalities become ISPs, the democratization of Internet access will be accelerated dramatically, and represent a big threat to private corporations’ strategic throttling of content distribution.

 

 

 

The Consumer Never Wins In Format Wars

October 8th, 2017 by dewprocess.

Betamax was better than VHS (smaller tapes, better color reproduction, APS, 250 lines vs. 240 lines of resolution, superior sound, a more stable image, and better HW (recorders) construction).

HD DVD was better than Blu-ray, from a production scaling perspective: a fact that would have proved even more profitable given the lack of wholescale Blu-ray adoption for which Sony et al were hoping. While Blu-ray picture quality is superior to HD DVD, the cost for upgrade (to studios, manufacturers, and consumers alike) will have proven too great, once we look back and see how non-existent the transition from DVD to Blu-ray was.

History is littered with the corpses of superior or more reasonably positioned systems, all killed by the same disease: poor strategic marketing. Herewith, another one bites the dust:

The Windows Phone OS family (WinPhone 7 – Windows 10 Mobile) was a fluid, elegant, sophisticated OS group, murdered by marketing failures galore (as well as by the marketing successes of the opposition). For more than 6 years, I have been writing about Microsoft’s failure to effectively position or market their mobile platform and operating systems. A lot of good that did!

What are the lessons learned, and has Microsoft burned their mobile user base enough times now, that their Windows Core OS offering will fail to elicit enthusiasm from mobile consumers who carry too many scars?

https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-windows-10-mobile-features-and-hardware-are-not-focus-anymore

Two Anniversaries

August 23rd, 2017 by dewprocess.

13 years ago, I gave a small talk at the Cannes Film Festival, evangelizing for more measured creative and business growth. I had been working with several startups and noticed a trend toward accelerated scaling that I found worrisome. I encouraged my audience (mostly independent filmmakers) to give themselves time to develop their properties, instead of desperately rushing to sell their idea, fearful that it would be illicitly co-opted by some unknown competitor.

In 2005, I joined a large multinational corporation and noticed that this trend was reflected in the sense of urgency with which budgets and projects were managed throughout business units, and even at the corporate level (usually in response to shareholder demands for the semblance of repetitive short term gains).

Instead of engaging in careful long-term strategic planning and consistent scaling at a manageable pace, enterprises large and small were increasingly (and often retroactively) chasing mythical goals. Business ventures want to convince investors, shareholders, and others that their offering is worth obscene valuation, yet they don’t want to “waste” time actually doing the work of conceptualizing, developing, testing, productizing, marketing, selling, and supporting any tangible offering. It takes less time to make a PowerPoint, it would seem, than it does to make a product. The collateral damage from this mentality continues to be ignored today, by too many people who ought to know better.

Permit me to jump to another topic, for reasons which will become apparent, I hope:

The C-130 Hercules remains the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on this day (23 August) 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California. Burbank’s relationship with Lockheed was long and proud, but the city demonstrated a painful lack of strategic planning that left it in dire straits in the early 1990s, when Lockheed left town. The job losses and economic downturn were dramatic, to say the least. Burbank had relied too heavily on one industry, even though the signs of change in that industry had been evident for years. Today, the local economy in this charming SoCal city is once again relying heavily on an admirable and powerful industry. That industry is also showing signs of dramatic change, and Burbank must work proactively – in partnership with its resident businesses from the Media & Entertainment industries – to adapt and evolve, in order to stay aloft in turbulent times, economic, technological, and social.
Cities are growing, as populations increasingly urbanize. Too many of these cities rely on a very few large sources of tax inflow, instead of diversifying their portfolio of revenues. Given that 99.7% of businesses in the US are small businesses, and 48% of US employees are small-business employees, I continue to advocate (with increasing volume!) for municipalities to support sustainable small business incubation: providing for scalable workforce growth, complementary innovations within pre-existing business ecosystems, and more agile infrastructures, capable of adapting to the increasingly explosive nature of 21st century markets, without becoming unduly subject to that same volatility.

The window of opportunity narrows, the closer one comes to a point of inflection. Will Burbank adapt in time, so it is able to manage, rather than be subject to, dynamic market changes? Will the Media & Entertainment industries pull back (even just a little) from the precipice of quarterly performance, in deference to more long-term strategic measurements? Will business ventures invest more thoughtfully in smaller initiatives (subsidiary or autonomous), more capable of adapting to the creative, technological, and economic forces that wait around the corner?

In the words of my close personal friend, Dame Shirley:

“They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near,
But to me it seems quite clear
That’s it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

The Ties That Bind.

February 22nd, 2017 by dewprocess.

present-past-future

I am a big admirer of Satya Nadella. However, when Mr. Nadella states in a recent interview, “It always bothered me that we confused an enduring mission with a temporal goal”, he seems to be confusing and conflating the concepts of a VISION and a MISSION with the notion of VALUES. Perhaps this is an effort to distance himself and his administration from the legacy presence of the brand’s co-founder, but I fear that would be misguided strategy. Perhaps he was misquoted (it happens). Perhaps he didn’t say what he meant to say, or in quite the way he intended. Media interviews are fraught with the peril of partial clarity.

It bears reviewing that a vision statement should, if pursued properly, have an expiration date. At that point, the sitting leadership should reinvigorate the brand strategy with a new vision statement. Similarly, a mission is not well defined if it is not clearly achievable, and thus temporary. The values of a company may also change, but they can also endure.

Bill Gates’ vision of hardware ubiquity, expressed in his mission of “putting a PC in every home”, was well stated at the time, and largely accomplished, as Mr. Nadella concedes in this interview. Quite correctly, Nadella also points out the geographic and cultural limitations of that mission: a perfect opportunity to refresh the Microsoft brand, with a new more expansive Mission Statement, a new Vision Statement, and – if he and his leadership team so choose – a new Statement of Core Values (which is what I believe he is attempting to do here).

If a company accomplishes its previously stated mission, this is cause for celebration, not criticism and distancing. I hope Mr. Nadella will recognize and underscore this, going forward, and give his company the credit it justly deserves. I believe Microsoft has an exciting path ahead of itself, and how its leadership frames the past will do much to develop market and shareholder confidence in its future.

Whither/wither interstitial advertising?

November 14th, 2016 by dewprocess.
They say the ad industry has lost touch with the consumer, and I find myself agreeing, but not only from the creative perspective. When watching streaming or OTT content, I am disappointed by how unimaginative the ad allocations are, resulting in nauseatingly frequent repetitions of the same commercial spot, to the point where the brand actually suffers from being forced upon the viewer with mind-numbing frequency. Recently, a rather amusing Geico ad turned into a Gitmo ad, by the time I had been tortuously subjected to its pitch no less than 7 times in the same show. It’s a simple enough algorithmic exercise to parse out advertising content in a manner more digestible for consumers, and ultimately more profitably for brands. Indeed, with some intelligent and imaginative programming, online content ad streaming could be so much better targeted and varied, as to really promise the clickthru and brand adoption rates that conventional broadcast content has never been able to even suggest, despite all their metric mumbo jumbo.
 
While ECM is certainly a major challenge that needs prompt addressing, the creative content of ads is also in dire need of innovation. The drug ads have become little more than legalese white noise (to the point where our family doesn’t worry about the daytime Viagra ads, as we know the kids aren’t listening or watching), and the rest is a leftover soup of copycat automotive, CPG, and family restaurant dreck. One would hope that brands would take advantage of the upcoming holiday period to reposition themselves as partners in consumers’ lifestyles, both functionally and aspirationally. Several British brands seem to have got the message (see links below), but I’m having a hard time finding US brands that have positioned themselves as anything but hard sell commercial pitches. Another missed opportunity. Here below are a few of the British ads for this upcoming holiday season. Let me know if you find any other spots from the US (or elsewhere) that recognize the value of building a relationship, as much as hawking the initial product.

Letting Out the Slack.

November 2nd, 2016 by dewprocess.

Microsoft just announced a chat-based enterprise collaboration tool. It’s called Microsoft Teams, and the implications are deeper than one might imagine, at first blush. Whether those implications realize themselves or not depends (of course) on how enthusiastically the market embraces this SaaS.

One’s first assumption might be that Microsoft Teams is a “Slack killer”, and this might certainly be the case, if Microsoft were to have a fantastic track record of imaginative and impactful marketing. It does not. It’s unlikely that Microsoft Teams will have much initial impact on Slack user numbers, given the fierce loyalty of Slack users to the brand. The same applies (to lesser extents) to Basecamp, Smartsheet, Asana, Podio, Trello, Samepage, Quip, Projectplace, Yalla, and, and, and…

Each of these collaboration platforms provides an experience with which its users are – for the most part – quite comfortable. You don’t often see an Evernote user of longstanding jump over to OneNote, or vice versa.

So what’s the big deal with Microsoft Teams? There are two big deals, in fact.

First, if the solution is well-thought and intuitive, and if it integrates with Office 365 in as fluid and seamless a fashion as intended, it will secure those enterprise users of the Office Suite, and prevent their adoption of the other aforementioned “standalone” collaboration toolsets. Microsoft will be strengthening its enterprise software ecosystem, not by preventing escape, but by making the notion of staying more attractive. More of a golden cage, than a walled garden.

The second implication, however, is more dramatic: Microsoft was almost going to acquire Slack earlier this year – a move I did not quite understand, given both the $8 Billion price tag and Microsoft’s existing holdings of SharePoint, Yammer, and Skype, to mention just a few. Opting to withdraw from the purchase has made a silent statement that will, I believe, reverberate through the already flawed VC world. For the past years, convention and hubris have driven the notion that companies will purchase and absorb promising or threatening products and solutions, as a matter of course and self-preservation. On balance, this has not proven as cost-effective or innovative as many have pretended. Whether intentionally or not, Microsoft, by opting to pursue internal development and release of their own Swiss Army collaboration tool, has communicated that their IP, combined with internal dev talent, are sufficiently robust to offer solutions that do not require Slack.

Admittedly, this remains a risk. Slack users tend to comprise small businesses that “graduate” toward Google suites of product offerings, rather than the traditionally heftier Microsoft suites. However, the Microsoft brand (somewhat inadvertently, I feel) has been ceding its Goliath mantle to Apple and Google, of late, and many small businesses with which I work are less intimidated by the brand than they once were.

If Microsoft manages to position their Teams offering properly, this could be the moment when all the vaporware startups out there realize they are standing in the street naked, and need to actually develop something unique and truly valuable (read: unrealizable by others without great investment), or risk being eclipsed by developers who have finally wised up to the fact that a snappy presentation does not a mighty valuation make, even if it’s in PowerPoint.

next »