The Sky’s The Limit

2 07 2010

It has been my tradition for many years to end an academic term with a “Road Ahead” blog, in which I wax nostalgic about the good times I had teaching the class, but also try to give an insightful glimpse into the future. Of course, my crystal ball is no better than the next guy’s, and I’ll leave it to me readers to decide if what I say is truly insight. Or just the product of a misspent adulthood.

And as much as I’d like to offer another one of those “Road Ahead” missives, I think it might be time to change metaphors. Because buried in yesterday’s news was the story of the FAA granting approval for production and sale (starting in late 2011) of the Terrafugia. Yep, soon we’ll be flying the road ahead.

So with a new metaphor firmly in place, let us consider what the skies hold for us. Our time together this summer term was only 32 days, yet in that time, our subject matter in Evolutionary Marketing has, well, evolved considerably. To wit:

The iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units in its first weekend of release. Microsoft announced it is killing its 6-week-old Kin smartphone. Farmville has gone app-crazy. Facebook is trying to regain trust by tightening privacy measures, but has shown its commitment to commerce by allowing online shopping. BP has gone social by using YouTube to put its spin on the Gulf Oil disaster. Data clouds are covering the sky. And an increasing number of drivers want the internet available in their cars.

Or is that flying cars?

The longer I teach this class, the faster things change. Of course, 12 years ago, I only thought things were changing fast. Now they really are. And the forecast calls for increasingly unstable conditions.

But one thing will not change: Marketers will seek us out no matter where we are or what we are doing. Or they will rely on us to do the work for them. Location-based social networking sites like Gowalla and FourSquare rely on smartphone users and GPS to announce our whereabouts to our friends, and then crowdsource technologically. Once sites like these can figure out how to monetize such a powerful medium, we will literally be doing the marketing. All we have to do is show up, check in with our phones, and wait for our adoring friends to show up to share the good times.

The skyway ahead is built more and more on mobility and speed, and less and less on clunky computers. And the economy will be one based more and more on virtual locations, and less and less on the time-honored BAM stores in your neighborhood, no matter how much we are implored to “shop local.”

My hope as fellow journeyer in my class is that everyone see that marketing is not a static discipline, and that everything is in a constant state of flux. There are no guarantees that today’s successful business model will even make a buck tomorrow. Just ask Blockbuster.

While many folks might find this rapid rate of change rather unsettling, I can’t help but feel good as I glance in the rear view mirror of my Terrafugia (hey, I can dream, can’t I?). Evolution demands that we all tighten our belts, grit our teeth, and do everything it takes to survive. We cannot turn back the pages of time nor the survival instinct of the fittest among us. It is incumbent upon us to adopt that instinct and depart for the next frontier.

We may not know how to fly this contraption, but we’ll figure it out along the way. Because the alternative is to linger behind and suck exhaust. The Road Behind is a terrible place to be in need of a ride.

Dr “Cleared For Takeoff” Gerlich

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Farm Living Is The Life For Me

1 07 2010

As much as I despise social gaming sites cluttering up my Facebook news feed (by the way, I have hidden all of them now, so I will no longer hear about your goats, mafia scuffles, family feuds, etc.), I realize that there is an enormous future in the genre. In fact, I have gone on record as saying the pot of gold at rainbow’s end is filled with not only a delightful user interface online, but also apps for every portable device we own, as well as an app for the emerging internet TVs we will soon be buying.

In other words, we will have access to these popular games at every turn, no matter where we are. No longer will we need to be anchored to a desktop or laptop computer. And it is Farmville that is taking the biggest step in this direction.

Announced back in April, Farmville owner Zynga just released apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod. This automatically spreads the game into a myriad of out-of-home or -office locations. With 70 million active users each month, Farmville just endeared itself to its constituents. And made itself more attractive to those who want to abandon city life.

All that’s left are those TV apps. For TVs we have yet to buy…but will no doubt scoop up as our current sets expire.

Well, and one more thing: Monetizing all of those eyeballs.

Once games become playable from every room in the house, in cars, in buses and on trains, the opportunity to send highly targeted ads becomes one that cannot be overlooked. But there are some considerations. Even Facebook has not yet figured out how to weave ads into the the smartphone apps that so many of us use in lieu of a desktop computer. But I bet Zuckerberg has had many sleepless nights over that one, and is working on a solution. I bet FB could double their ad revenue (rumored to be about $1 billion already) if they could cram ads into those apps.

Words With Friends and similar games have already started to tap into this market opportunity, but it is Farmville who stands to be the lion king in this jungle. With so many dedicated (even fanatical, hopelessly addicted) users, these apps are the great enabler. It’s as if crack cocaine suddenly became available on every street corner.

As the ability to play these games (either alone or socially) expands, expect an onslaught of marketers beating a path to your app. It’s hard to resist 70 million people glued to an application for hours. Because they aren’t going to change channels.

Just don’t send your goats over to my farm. And I don’t play games.

Dr “Apropos Of Something” Gerlich