MEF

Client Case Study

How an obscure technical industry forum became the driving force behind a global telecoms revolution – impacting business, government and consumer markets worldwide…

It is not always the finest technology that makes the biggest impact – too many business, political, economic and emotional factors are involved to allow one simple secret for success. And yet this case study shows what more can be done with the assistance of a creative and experienced technical communications team. How a brilliant technological concept – so simple to its creators but so esoteric to outsiders – can be branded, promoted and nurtured to grow into a globally dominant telecommunications driver. In particular it highlights the special needs of promoting and managing an industry forum – one of Zonic’s key offerings. Industry forums are an important exemplar of the value of “co-opetition” – the process whereby otherwise competing organizations realize the benefit of also working together to shape a market ecosystem that will ultimately serve them all.

The background of the MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum)

By the year 2000 every office and many homes had its Ethernet network, creating islands of data throughout the world. But to connect those LANs required different technologies, like ATM or Frame Relay, specifically designed to connect multiple LANs reliably across large distances.

If Ethernet itself could connect these LANs it would reduce equipment, cost and latency. It would also expand Ethernet sales into a whole new global WAN market – a very attractive proposition for Ethernet vendors, but too big a gamble for any one vendor because:

  • Ethernet was designed as a “good enough” service for the LAN, and did not have the determinism, management and reliability guarantees needed for a WAN. That meant heavy spadework defining new Ethernet standards so suit WAN traffic.
  • A major education/promotional program would be needed to persuade industry to use Ethernet in the WAN

So a group of US vendors got together in 2002 to found the Metro Ethernet Forum – the name reflecting the fact that the initial market would be for enterprises to connect offices and sites across a metropolitan area. Good progress was made on the first part of the programme, but stage two was failing, as Nan Chen, the Forum’s founder and president, explains: “The press didn’t want to know us, seeing the Forum as a bunch of techie equipment vendors with nothing exciting to say. We could only get a couple of service providers interested, and membership actually began to drop after a year.”

Lift off…

The press’s perception of the MEF transformed overnight from “another boring techie forum” to “significant industry player”. Meanwhile Zonic kept up the momentum, chasing its close contacts among the world’s IT media with the idea of running special “Carrier Ethernet” supplements or focus editions. The next stage required gaining a foothold on the conference circuit. Zonic took the MEF’s new co-chair of marketing straight to one of the world’s biggest conference providers, IIR, and suggested that IIR re-launch one of their less successful telecoms events as “Carrier Ethernet World Congress” under the MEF brand – putting the MEF at centre stage without costing a cent. The event has since gone global, with events in the US, EMEA, APAC and a number of spin-offs – and it features workshops, keynotes and speaker slots for MEF members. However, Zonic hasn’t rested on its laurels, watch this space for a new event concept to be launched by the MEF.

Optimise payload…

MEF membership began to surge on the strength of its higher profile and obvious promotional benefits for vendor members. But what was also needed was a rebalancing of its membership profile – to attract more Service Providers and give Carrier Ethernet greater credibility as a service delivery solution.

Zonic suggested launching an MEF Carrier Ethernet Awards for US Service Providers, celebrating innovative services and business models based on CE services, with awards also for marketing those services. This brought in the providers, and the award programme rapidly expanded to include EMEA, APAC and later CALA awards.

From an original membership of just a handful of NEMs plus two US carriers, there are now over 230 members including more than 120 carriers throughout the world. And bringing vendors into close co-operation with their carrier customers adds even greater dynamism to the market.

…and head for the stars

MEF membership was now established as a mark of credibility and prestige, offering high profile promotion across the world. But what about generating income during a mounting economic downturn? Carrier Ethernet offered attractive economic advantages, but enterprise customers became increasingly cautious about trying anything new.

Again Zonic saw the solution: globally recognized certification of equipment and services would provide a guarantee and build market confidence. First certifying CE equipment, then services, then performance and more recently CE professionals. During the 2008 crisis, CE stood out as a major growth market, and has never looked back since – this market now exceeds $50 Bn!

Nan Chen’s chance meeting in 2003 with the head of Zonic Group, Mark Fox was about to change the Forum’s fortunes. A meeting was arranged and Zonic, unlike the previous press contacts, immediately grasped what the Forum was trying to achieve. To that shared vision Zonic brought the right mix of PR skills, media contacts and experience to make the dream a reality.

Raising the profile

Zonic’s first recommendation was that the Forum must raise its profile, and they suggested they introduce a major industry figurehead, Bob Metcalfe who created Ethernet in the 1970s. “At first I thought ‘they can’t be serious’” says Nan. “If the press would not give us time, what’s the chance of an industry icon like Bob Metcalfe taking any notice?” Zonic immediately contacted Bob, presenting a concise, targeted outline of the Forum’s vision. Bob saw the potential, responded enthusiastically, and has ever since been on the Forum’s board as a valued consultant and mentor – “it’s one thing to have creative ideas, but here was an agency that rolled up its sleeves and actually made things happen”. That, in conjunction with Zonic’s exceptional network of high-level press and analyst contacts, meant that suddenly the Forum had a real audience. Clarifying the message and preparing for lift-off Zonic’s second recommendation was that the Forum’s vision needed clearer and more powerful branding – suggesting the name “Carrier Ethernet” for a technology that could grow way beyond the metro area – meanwhile shortening the Forum’s name to MEF. After a lot of hair-splitting discussion, the Zonic suggestion won the day, and the two teams sat down to clarify the brand. Zonic recruited a prominent industry analyst in addition to Bob Metcalfe to provide feedback and advice. As a result, the Carrier Ethernet concept was boiled down to five key defining attributes, presented in a simple diagram.

Ignite boosters…

In addition to recruiting Bob Metcalfe to spearhead the launch, within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead Zonic had informed all the MEF members about their intentions and persuaded them to throw their full weight behind the launch as an opportunity to ride the wave of publicity – while at the same time building its momentum.

As a result the launch of Carrier Ethernet, arranged by Zonic, got the MEF’s name into over 400 publications around the world: “without Bob on board, we could never have done that”.

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