It’s In The Can

31 08 2010

The dustbin of marketing history is full of better mousetraps. Give a tinkerer a box of tools and abundant free time, and voila! Sooner or later he/she will come up with something that swaps simplistic elegance for unnecessary complication.

Like the Candwich. Yes, you read that right. A sandwich in a can. And there’s no charge for all the preservatives.

Available in three varieties (Grape PBJ, Strawberry PBJ and BBQ Chicken), the Candwich seeks to do for bread and fixings what elaborate tubes and water torture did for mice.

When I first about the Candwich a couple of weeks ago, I quickly drove over to the United Market Street to find some. You would have thought I was an alien when I asked the clerk for some help (having circumnavigated the store in vain). Her quizzical look said everything. “You’ve got to be kidding,” her raised eyebrows screamed.

I quickly pulled up a picture on my phone to show her. Convinced it was for real and not an off-season attempt at April Fool’s Day humor, she offered a one-word assessment of my query.

“Hmmmmm.”

Yeah, I knew what she was thinking. Where in the world would you shelve something like this anyway? Would it be near the peanut butter and jelly? Or would it be in the soft drink aisle along with other canned products of similar size and shape?

After towing me around the store (again) in hopes that her grocery expertise exceeded mine, she said with an air of seeming authority. “If we have it, it will be next to the SPAM.”

Oh yeah, the canned lunchmeat the Vikings eat. “Why didn’t I think of that?” I mumbled. Cultural oddity. Antithesis to healthy eating. Sodium delight.

But, alas, there were no Candwiches to be found beside the SPAM. Only tuna and a few other oddball canned foods. “You might try calling our Lubbock offices to tell them you’d like us to stock it,” she said.

I assured her that I was on a marketing mission, not a shopping trip. “Nope. Not interested. I only wanted to buy it to show in class,” I rejoined her.

If I were a military man in a foxhole surviving on MREs, maybe this sandwich-in-a-can idea would sound good. But why, oh why, would I want to contribute to landfill waste caused by unnecessary packaging? (The steel bottom lid tells me this can is probably not easily recycled.) Why would I want to risk eating a sandwich that may have been created six months ago, when I could just as easily tote my lunch made just a few hours earlier? And furthermore, why would I want to pay for the privilege of all this anyway?

I’m sure the mice are laughing, for the Candwich is the height of hilarity. Never even mind that there’s controversy surrounding the developer for misuse of investor funds. No, this is a stupid marketing idea that is as stale as the week-old sandwich you find in your kid’s backpack.

While I am a firm believer that, in general terms, change is good, there had better be a side dish of customer benefit to complement it. Otherwise, I say can it.

Dr “Pop This Top” Gerlich





Reboot

30 08 2010

Our story begins in with the wind howling and snow on the ground. The faint smell of a nearby feedyard greeted anyone daring to venture outdoors. Tumbleweeds from the previous summer’s hurrah raced down city streets, only to be snagged eventually by a barbed wire fence.

And I, still a fairly young faculty member, was bundled up like Nanook of the North as I plied my way from the Classroom Center to the Killgore Research Center. Although technically a short walk (it was right across the street, for crying out loud), I felt like I may as well have been summoned to trek to the North Pole. Dr. Vaughn Nelson, then the Dean of the Graduate School, had called me in for a meeting.

Little did I know that my compass was about to be reset, my operating system rebooted, my career redirected.

You see, it was that point forward that I became an online professor. WT was busy forging a trail through an academic jungle few knew about or had ever dared traverse, and Dr. Nelson handed me a machete. “Go that way,” he said, pointing in the general direction of the internet. “Huh?” was about the best I could muster. I hadn’t a clue how to proceed.

But my life has not been the same since that epic moment.

Ditching the tin cans of classroom communication stretched me in ways I could not imagine. I had to rethink everything. Somehow I had to find a way to cram a three-dimensional experience into a two-dimensional array. Oh, and make it engaging enough that folks would not fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” pothole.

Now I cannot claim to have mastered the format just yet. In many regards, I feel like it has mastered me. Little did I know as I started that new journey that I would have to reboot more than once. In fact, I find myself rebooting quite often these days. Sure, this fall marks the 51st online class (as well as many uncounted hybrid courses, equally supported by online content). Long ago I trained myself to think, even dream, in HTML. But the world is changing so fast around me. The wind continues to blow. And more tumbleweeds are coming down the pike. You know…ideas, some of which will stick in the sharp barb of a twisted steel line, while others keep rolling southward.

In the 13 years that have passed since my first online course (the MBA Marketing Seminar), I have had to come to terms with a plethora of changes. The ubiquity of cell phones, and now smartphones. YouTube. Text messaging. Facebook. And the precipitous decline of email. Heck, in 1997 email was still a novelty. And now it is passe.

For that matter, online and web-supported classes are no longer anything over which to get excited. They are part of the academic fabric, a tapestry that now better reflects the changing needs and wants of the knowledge marketplace.

As for me, I labor to stay up to date. No, make that struggle. This dang wind just won’t let down. The scenery is changing before my very eyes.

And you…you are now along for the ride.

I like to think Dr. Nelson would like what his initiative has produced. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that dude changed my life. And by virtue of that, yours.

As we go forward, may you find it easy to push the restart button of your life. May you refrain from cursing the fact that the things in which you once found comfort are now uncomfortable. And may you give me a little grace because I am going to be the one challenging you with new ideas and bringing on a lot of this discomfort.

Because that’s what Dr. Nelson did to me.

Dr “Change Is Good” Gerlich