Idea: Proud Edmonton Tech Company badge

Edmonton SkylineThings have definitely improved in the last couple of years, but Edmonton still has a reputation as something of a dead zone for innovation. Or perhaps more accurately, we don’t really have a reputation – we’re not on the radar in most cases. It’s not true of course, there are plenty of interesting and innovative projects, companies, and people in Edmonton. The challenge is making others aware of them.

There are a variety of ways to do that. One is through the media, both traditional and new. Such mentions tend to be fleeting, however. Another way is through events such as DemoCamp, though those typically benefit only the locals. These are important, and we should keep doing them, but we need something else as well.

As I thought more about the problem, it occurred to me that we could learn something from other industries. There are two organizations in particular that do a good job of boosting local companies – Original Fare and Keep Edmonton Original. You can find their logos at independent restaurants and retailers around the city, and I think seeing them reinforces the notion that we have more than just big box stores and chains. What if we had something similar for technology companies?

For tech companies, the web is important. It’s often the first point of interaction. As such, it’s always been a pet peeve of mine that so many local tech companies seem afraid to mention on their website that they are based in Edmonton:

I’m not trying to suggest that any of these companies have intentionally left Edmonton out, but I do think there is room for improvement.

So here’s the idea: what if every local tech company put a badge on their website that says “Proud Edmonton Tech Company”? What kind of an impact would that have? I think it would definitely help with awareness.

For most companies, placing the badge on the front page probably doesn’t make sense. Nexopia, for instance, has a very large external audience that probably doesn’t care that the company is located in Edmonton. Others will simply want the front page to look a certain way. Nearly every company has an about page however, and it’s on that page that I think such a badge would be featured (and maybe on the contact page too). Where would the badge link to? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure it has to link anywhere.

What do you think?

How can a company use podcasting?

Post ImageI came across this post from Karl Long today, titled “Uncommon Uses: Podcasting” in which he suggests some interesting ways that podcasting might be used. The basic idea is that we tend to use new technologies in similar ways as the old ones (using a podcast like a radio or TV show) because it seems natural, but that there are far more creative ways to take advantage of the new tech.

Karl focused mainly on individual scenarios, like learning a language or taking an audio tour, so I thought it would be interesting to come up with some company-focused ideas:

  • The most obvious use is public relations…audio-visual press releases!
  • Replacing a conference call with a podcast (IBM has already done this, for example)
  • And a related item…use a weekly podcast to cut down the number of emails that are sent, by summarizing the important things in audio form
  • Keeping your customers up-to-date on new product releases
  • Setup a podcast (or ability to track podcasts) so that potential job candidates could post audio-visual resumes
  • Keeping project members up-to-date on recent developments
  • Company training materials could be turned into podcasts, with the idea that all employees subscribe and information is added and updated over time
  • Certain meetings could be podcasted, like an AGM or shareholder’s meeting
  • In larger companies, new employees could be required to add an “introduction” to the internal “new hires” podcast – great way for people to find out about “the new guy/gal”
  • In a company like Google, employees could post a “pitch” for an idea they came up with or project they have in mind to an internal podcast

You’re limited only by your creativity! Any scenario in which information might be distributed over time is probably a good candidate for podcasting. Can you think of any other ways?

Why are there no Canadian brands in the top 100?

Post ImageBusinessWeek recently released the 100 Top Brands for 2006, using data provided by Interbrand. Of the 100 brands on the list, not a single one is Canadian and I found myself wondering, why not? First, let’s look at how the list is built:

To even qualify for the list, each brand must derive about a third of its earnings outside its home country, be recognizable outside of its base of customers, and have publicly available marketing and financial data.

Interbrand doesn’t rank parent companies, which explains why Procter & Gamble doesn’t show up. And airlines are not ranked because it’s too hard to separate their brands’ impact on sales from factors such as routes and schedules.

Considerations include market leadership, stability, and global reach—or the ability to cross both geographic and cultural borders. That generates a discount rate, which is applied to brand earnings to get a net present value. BusinessWeek and Interbrand believe this figure comes closest to representing a brand’s true economic worth.

Are Canadian companies failing on each of these points? I set about to find out. The first thing I did was google top companies in canada. The first result is the website for Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies, and the second is the 50 best companies to work for in Canada. Maybe that’s a clue already! Do the same search for the United States and you get results like “North America Best Companies Lists”, “Top 200 companies in the United States”, and “World’s Best Companies”. Perhaps the stereotype is true and we’re too nice to each other, so we don’t have lists of top companies, but lists of people who we think are nice and just happen to run companies.

Anyway, I altered the search to be for the largest companies in Canada, and I found a Forbes list, compiled in November 2005. Here’s a rundown of the top ten:

  • Five of the companies are Canadian banks, which almost by definition (and no thanks to our government) fail to derive a third of their earnings outside the country.
  • Two are insurance and diversified financials, which I assume fall into the same trap as the banks.
  • Two are oil and gas companies, one of which is actually controlled by an American company (ExxonMobil owns around 70% of Imperial Oil’s stock). The other is EnCana, and I can only assume they focus mainly on Canada as well.
  • Which leaves us with BCE, a parent company, thus failing to be considered for the list.

The rest of the list is very similar – lots of financial and oil and gas companies, and most of the rest are firms I haven’t even heard of, which suggests to me they are parent companies or conglomerates. Perhaps the only three on the list that I think might have a chance are Bombardier, Nortel, and Research In Motion.

And yet, they aren’t on the list. Bombardier surely earns some coin outside the country – it’s even the subject of their latest ad campaign. I guess they don’t count as a market leader? Nortel was once a market leader, but perhaps cannot be considered one anymore. I guess they also fail on the “stability” requirement. And Research In Motion simply isn’t big enough.

There are probably many reasons that the top 100 brands don’t contain a single Canadian brand. Maybe we’re too focused on selling inside Canada and not abroad. Maybe Canadian companies simply can’t get big enough to get on the list due to our rather small population. Maybe most of the big companies in Canada are actually owned by foreign investors. I’m not sure, but if you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it. Regardless, it seems odd that we don’t make the list.

Here’s the “Nation’s Cup” final score for the top 100 brands:

  • 51 are from the United States
  • 9 are from Germany
  • 8 are from Japan
  • 8 are from France
  • 6 are from Britain
  • 5 are from Switzerland
  • 4 are from Italy
  • 3 are from South Korea
  • 2 are from the Netherlands
  • 1 is from Finland
  • 1 is from Bermuda
  • 1 is from Sweden
  • 1 is from Spain

Nothing against the fine people of Bermuda, but if they can get on the list (at number 49 no less), why can’t Canada?! Something isn’t right here. If you ignore the ever recovering and economically troubled Russia, Canada is the only G8 member to not make the list. That’s not the only surprise though – there’s more:

  • Of the top 10 countries by GDP (nominal), only Canada and China are not in the top 100 brands list. (Interesting how the brands list more or less follows the GDP list too, in terms of order). I’m fairly certain that China will be on the list in the next five years, but will Canada?
  • Canada is ranked higher in the 2006 World Competitiveness Yearbook than every country on the list except for the United States, yet we don’t have a top brand.
  • We’re behind only Finland and Sweden in the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (pdf), yet we don’t make the top brands list.
  • Only Switzerland, the United States, and the Netherlands are ranked higher than Canada in the 2005 Globalization Index, yet we don’t crack the top 100 brands.

Maybe the problem is population density? Of the top ten countries by total area (so the largest in the world), the only country to appear on the top 100 brands list is the United States. Perhaps population density is really important in building a strong brand? The next country is France, which is the 48th largest country by area. In terms of population, Canada isn’t too bad. We’re larger than five of the countries in the top brands list. Maybe our geographical size is a detriment? It’s as good a guess as any at the moment.

I want to believe that Canada has some excellent, world-class companies, but lists like these make it hard to do so. I know we’ve got a lot of bright, talented business people here in the north, so why aren’t our companies making it on the world stage?