8 12 2010

All good things must come to an end. It is the Last Day of Class. Tomorrow is Dead Day. And a week from this Friday night, I’ll be sitting on a stage watching hundreds of students graduate. Our story is about to conclude.

Or is it?

It all began back on the 30th day of August with Reboot, in which I waxed nostalgic (and even a little philosophic) about how I had come to grips with Change in academia. Ever since then, I have been a proponent of Change…not so much for Change itself, but the fine art of ushering in the New when it can do better than the Old.

My hope is that all of my students experienced some sense of Change in their lives since I opened with that blog. Not just any old Change. But Change for their own betterment.

Because any organism not changing is dying.

And so I cannot express enough how important it is for us all to reboot on a regular basis, to click that familiar Restart button. To clear our cache of the intellectual cobwebs slowing us down. To wipe the windshields of our iCarriage. To pump fresh air into the lungs of progress. The machine just works better after it has been rebooted.

The cast of characters acting on the stage is deep and wide, and it seems like everyone has a different favorite. Maybe it was Groupon. Maybe it was the Candwich. Adbusters. FourLoko. Bama’s. GetGlue. It’s your call, and I really do not care which one (or more) really ersonated with you.

I just hope that something did, and that it helped in some small way as you made your way a little farther down the road to your destination.

You see, our story really does not end. Each chapter that concludes is mere prelude to the next, and all we have been writing this season is but one among many chapters. Another scene in the story of our life.

It is my most sincere wish that all of my students will see the world through a slightly different lens because of our time spent together this semester. I pray that your mind is open in ways it has never been pushed ajar before. That you hear the Change around you with ears capable of detecting a new frequency.

While I know not where your story will go, I know where mine is headed. Another journey through the jungle of Evolutionary Marketing awaits in January. I will be writing every day, chronicling what I see. Hear. Feel.

And now may you be able to look a new idea squarely in the eye, and know intuitively whether it has merit or not. May you continue top Change, not because it is fashionable or because some professor told you so, but because you recognize it as the key to survival. And may you never be afraid to let go of Yesterday and Today as you reach for a new, better, different Tomorrow.

Dr “Thank You Fa Lettin’ Me Be Mice Elf” Gerlich

The Stuff Of Life

7 12 2010

I traffic in ideas.

All kinds of ideas. Traditional ones. Text book ones. Theoretical ones.

And ideas that shake my students to their very core. That undermine everything they have previously held to be true. That force them to rethink everything.

Yeah, that’s how I roll. If you came here expecting me to affirm everything you already believe, you came to the wrong place. My job is to tear you down, shake you up, and make you consider other ideas. Ideas you may well think are just plain wrong from the outset. Or you have been told they are wrong.

In the process, it is also my job to provide you the building blocks to build yourself back up. Maybe you will arrange the blocks the same way they once were, and you will emerge unchanged. But maybe (and I hope) you will build something new, and emerge a new and improved You, able to see things through a different lens.

As a Marketing prof, I fully realize that I spend most of my time teaching people how to sell things to other people. It is the nature of the beast. Ours is an economy built on consumption. It really is true that 70% of our economy is driven by us.

Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, for the alternative (more centrally-planned government expenditures) does nothing for me. It’s just that, somewhere in the years following WWII, we fell in love with the notion that, in order to keep the economic engine running, we had to keep buying. The Keynesian Kool-Aid made us feel good. The self-satisfaction we buy with an advance on next year’s salary gives us bragging rights, social acceptance and a certain consumer savoir faire that says in no uncertain terms that we have arrived.

So when I stumbled into Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, I knew I had an idea to share. One that would rattle cages. One from which knee-jerk letters to the editor are inspired.

The irony is that we have spending our way to happiness for so long that even some folks who consider themselves to be ardent fiscal conservatives think it is our birthright, even our responsibility, to keep spending. Owning. Consuming. And disposing.

It is at this point that I pause to ask the folks who are ready to slap me to slow down long enough to hear me out. I happen to be a fiscal conservative, but even I, as a Marketer first and foremost, have my doubts about the unabated, unrestrained consumerism we have woven into our national anthem. “Oh say can you see, by the store’s early light?”

Leonard makes some very valid points: That we must utilize systems thinking to see the big picture (i.e., interconnectivity), and that the picture is filled with the detritus of a consumption-based society run amok. She assess blame at every level, from the government and its staff economists, to manufacturers, and us. Everyone is complicit.

But let me make an important point: Leonard also resorts to some good old-fashioned guilt tripping. Whenever I see someone trot out those tired stats about us having only 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 30% of the world’s resources, I get queasy. Please, let’s not blame us for being so unbelievably successful and prosperous. We USAmericans have worked hard to get where we are, and it only stands to reason that the richest nation will also be the most profligate one as well. I don’t see many people begging to leave in order that they might live a life of resolute poverty in a Third World country. I mean, other than missionaries.

Still, we have become Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to consuming. Shopping has become therapy for many. Ownership builds self-esteem. And buying keeps people employed, who then go forth with paycheck in hand to complete the cycle by buying ever more stuff.

And let us not overlook the evil twins, Planned and Perceived Obsolescence. Between companies building failure into products (along with incompatibilities), and our own minds grappling with the fact that the grill on this year’s Ford F-350 is 2 inches bigger than last year’s, we are left with another pair of twins, the Pile Sisters: Crap and Debt.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I love stuff as much as the next guy or gal. I am a guilty party to my own diatribe. But I also see the folly in continuing to consume without questioning. If you prefer a little stronger voice on the what I see as a social tailspin, perhaps you should watch Idiocracy. And maybe you should notice in this satellite image just how big Canyon’s Mount Trashmore is from the sky, lasting testimony to all the stuff we have decided, for one reason or another, we can no longer use.

While I may traffic in ideas, please do not assume that I do not wrestle with them myself. It is when all of us allow ourselves to be challenged, rattled, and shaken to our foundations, that we can rebuild. Redefine. Refocus. Refine.

And that’s just plain right.

Dr “On The Mat” Gerlich

Profile This

6 12 2010

Under normal circumstances, evolution is not something that you can see. It is happening, but like the frog in the kettle of soon-to-be-boiling water, the changes are so slow that you really can’t tell that things are changing.

When it comes to our online lives, we need not wait a few million years for change to be noticeable. Just pause a few seconds and you can see the dorsal fins and and evidence of vestigial tails begin to disappear. Our very existence is changing before our eyes.

Like with the new Facebook Profile pages.

Facebook in and of itself is a case study in evolution, for it changes long before its own paint ever dries. The new Profile page is a vast improvement over the former, and in fact raises an urgent question: Who among us even needs a personal dotcom address anymore? Unless you need a high level of customization, our FB pages pretty much allow us to tell our own stories as we see fit.

The new focus is on visuals, which help tell the story of our lives. It was never intended that FB would become a Flickr site of its own, but that’s what it has become in large part. But in addition to the visuals, FB now makes all the factoids we call ours easily viewable…not just by ourselves, but also anyone who is checking us out.

Sure, critics will once again jump up and down, decrying the latest FB change like mice complaining about the location of their cheese. Naysayers will charge that creepers and stalkers have never had it so easy.

And while they may have a small point, there is little denying that our Profile pages have become our de facto home pages. If you grabbed your FB vanity domain (where were you 19 months ago when this was announced?), you already know the benefits of being able to point people to Your friends are more likely to find you here than at anyway.

And here’s the best part: It’s free. Like always. Like it will be.

Of course, FB senses that further customization of our Profile pages will allow it to send even more directed advertising our way. But those are the terms of engagement. Those ads down the right column (there are now 4 of them) pay the rent and keep FB free for all 550 million of us.

Think this is small change? Think again. This year FB is expected to have $1.3 billion in ad revenues.

I also applaud FB for being ever so agile and quick to respond to subtle changes in the social media landscape. While GetGlue may allow us to “get social” about our books, movies and thoughts, the new Profile page edges ever closer to doing the same thing. And Facebook Places (announced eons ago this Fall), is already causing more and more people to ditch Gowalla and Foursquare.

Because everything we want to do is integrated into our FB experience.

Darwin’s job would have been so much easier had those finches changed this fast.

Dr “(r)Evolutionary” Gerlich

Small Is The New Black

5 12 2010

You can always tell the age of a neighborhood. Look at how big the houses are, and how many garage stalls there are. The norm today is about 2400 square feet and room for three cars. If there is anything as predictable as the sun rising in the east, it has been that USAmerican houses have been getting bigger and bigger, with ever more room for our cars and stuff. Heck, about 40% of us even have to rent storage space elsewhere to accommodate that second tier of possessions (otherwise known as junk).

But the recession may have started to sink in to our more-is-better frame of mind. Maybe…just maybe…less is more. Smaller is bigger (in a metaphoric kind of way, of course). And simple is just…well, simpler.

As evidenced by the who-would-have-guessed trend toward smaller houses. And I mean small. As in extremely lower-case. Closet-sized.

And everyone said, What the heck?

But it’s true. The new frugality of the 21C is causing people to reconsider their station in life, the place they call home, their overall footprint. Tumbleweed Houses is one of several home builders specializing in compact dwellings that can be as small as 65 square feet, but more than likely in the 500-900 square foot range.

I realize that this is a hard pill to swallow for anyone who has grown up in a consumer-based economy like the US. After all, about 70% of our economy is accounted for by retail. That’s a lot of stuff. And stuff has a way of hanging around like unwanted company. Once they get their foot in the door, they just won’t leave. It’s the Cousin Eddie of material wealth.

But in this era of going digital, maybe downsizing our homes isn’t such a bad idea. We may not necessarily move to a new location. Instead, maybe we’ll make our location a new one by shedding a bunch of stuff. It may not be out of the question. In fact, it may be the question.

I feel completely liberated knowing I never need to purchase another CD or DVD. If iTunes would get with the program and start selling e-books the same day their tangible counterparts hit bookstore shelves, I could cut that tie as well.

And God knows we all could all survive just fine with a lot fewer clothes. Unless you have had the utter misfortune of tornado, earthquake, fire or abject poverty, you probably have enough clothes to get you through a few months.

Without re-wearing anything.

Of course, with an economy so dependent on our Pavlovian response to anything heralded as New And Improved, I do wonder what the effects might be on jobs. And bottom lines. The environment may thank us, and we might live a lot closer to stress-free, but let’s face it: There are a lot of folks counting on me spending a bunch of dough. All the time, And you, too.

It’s something to think about as we plunge ever farther into the holiday season. It’s something to ponder as we take the trash out to the Dumpster, wondering “Where the hell did all of this trash come from?” It’s something to ruminate as we notice the pile of stuff we kept is still bigger, even after a trash run.

And it’s worth trying to solve this sobering observation, one I made shortly after moving into a 2900-foot house and thinking I would never need more room: Your stuff will always grow to meet or exceed the available space for it.

In other words, no matter how much space you have, you will always have several hundred square feet of stuff that won’t fit into it. Five thousand square-foot McMansion? Yep. Six thousand square-feet of stuff. Junk. Crap.

Downsizing may drive the marketers, politicians and economists crazy, but I agree it is something we need to do. It may not be easy, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Whatever I can’t recycle or reuse, I will try to remove. And then reduce.

I’ll meet you out at the Dumpster.

Dr “The Leaves Are Falling” Gerlich

98 Bottles of Beer on My App

4 12 2010

As my readers now know by virtue of yesterday’s blog, I live at the corner of Paradigm and Shift. It’s a tough gig. Someone’s gotta do it. There’s a ton of traffic competing for my attention, and I cannot possibly see every single thing that comes along.

But something interesting did catch my eye a couple of weeks ago. And it was all because of a former student of mine. One with whom I share a passion: Good beer.

Yes, my loyal readers, in case you were wondering where I am going with this, there is now a social network for beer lovers. Welcome to the pub of good cheer. Bartender, another round for the house! It’s on me. Roll out the barrel, it’s time to get Untappd.

Not exactly a site for folks who consume mass quantities of whatever was on sale, Untappd is a beer snob’s best friend. Or, as Mashable characterizes it, a “Foursquare for beer lovers.” Naturally, it fully integrates with Facebook, as well as Twitter and Foursquare. Beer lovers can check in, post what they are consuming, and share it with their fan base. Drink socially, in other words.

Hallelujah, there’s an app for that.

Frivolous? Maybe. A little bit too niche-oriented? Possibly. Great place to find out about exotic brews you’ve never tasted before? Absolutely!

At its core, Untappd is a lot like GetGlue. Both are situational social networking sites. Of course, it gets complicated if you are (a) reading Whiter Shades of Pale, while sipping a (b) Horny Toad Cerveza at (c)Tap Werks in the Bricktown district of Oklahoma City. That’s a lot of checking in to do.

Of course, users can choose how much they wish to share. I use Untappd only to log unique beers I have tried. Once I’ve tasted and posted, that’s it for that varietal. But I must confess it gave me great pleasure to not only post that Horny Toad, but also be the first to post anything from this fine little Oklahoma City craft brewery.

It’s kind of like bragging rights. I may not be mayor (like in Foursquare), but I am the Finder of the Beer.

The business side of me, though, senses that this site is probably more about fun than it is making money. At the end of the month, bills must be paid, which means there must be a revenue stream. Monetization. Cha-ching. Unless Untappd can partner with breweries and brew pubs, this site will forever be a fun diversion, and nothing more.

And most of those little breweries we beer snobs love to boast about finding are cash-strapped. Not exactly the deep pockets needed to make this project foam over the edge.

Of course, enough data collected over the long haul could be used to sell to advertisers, and if they aren’t already bled dry by advertising on FB, GetGlue and the rest, maybe they will consider this niche market.

For me, I’m just interested in hearing about (and trying) something different. My glass is empty. And you know what they say about 5:00.

Maybe I should get through breakfast and lunch first, though. I’m not in college anymore.

Dr “Hop To It” Gerlich

Glue That Binds Us

3 12 2010

I love living at the corner of Paradigm and Shift. There’s always a ton of traffic. Sometimes it flows freely and fast, everyone intent on getting somewhere. And other times it grinds to a halt as people figure out where they’re going.

Or a Luddite tries to cross against traffic.

But right now, the social media parade is blasting through town, and we’re all welcome to join the fun.

Facebook reunites us with all of our friends and family. Twitter brings us the latest breaking news. FourSquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places let us tell everyone where in the world we are.

But unless you are content to just use FB to broadcast every other element and artifact of your life, there is a gaping hole in the social graph.

And that’s where GetGlue provides yet another dose of stickiness to our online experience.

GetGlue is to books, TV shows, movies, etc. (think entertainment) what Gowalla and FourSquare are to geo-location. I call the emerging genre situational social networks, and GG is but one of several trying to carve out a corner of the landscape.

The fun (and potentially lucrative) part of GG is that it is really ajust a huge suggestion engine. The more information you provide (viewing and reading habits), the more it knows about you. And then the more it can suggest to you.

Oh yeah…and advertise.

Naturally, GetGlue fully integrates with Facebook and Twitter, so all of our adoring fans can see what we’re up to. And we can also make new friends within GetGlue’s own social strata. Like fans of Glee. Folks who have read Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and also saw the movie this summer.

Luddites and naysayers alike will howl at the prospect of people telling ever more little factoids of their lives, but, just like YouTube in the video sense, social media are all about broadcasting ourselves. We can choose how much and what content, as well as the frequency of the programming. And we can choose how much of others’s content we wish to consume. What was once conveniently labeled TMI (Too Much Information) is now accepted as Everyone’s Information.

Unfortunately, all of this status updating requires a phone full of apps, and the patience of one’s friends while you check in at every turn. “I’m at United Artist Theaters” reads our Gowalla check-in. “Watching Tron” says our GetGlue post. “My fingers are tired” mourns our FB update. And “I’m not sure I could even tap 140 characters anymore” confesses our Twitter feed.

Still, GetGlue provides a valuable purpose to those of us who love to share those things we are doing, those shows, movies and books in which we have become so engaged. After all, we have been doing this sort of social sharing for decades, even centuries, by mere word-of-mouth. GetGlue just makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I may not watch much TV, but I have “my” shows (Survivor, The Big Bang Theory, The Office and “How I Met Your Mother, but I do enjoy talking about them. And I have a voracious appetite for books. A quick glance around the Gerlich living space will reveal those passions…books counted in hundreds and a cozy media center.

As I watch the traffic at this metaphoric intersection, I cannot help but wonder what the Next Big Thing will be. There’s still a lot of folks trying to get used to just basic Facebook and Twitter. Gowalla and GetGlue would simply blow their minds. There’s parking at the curb if you need to take a break, or simply don’t like the street we’re all on.

As for me, I’m stuck on all of it. Like Super Glue between my fingers. Like Letterman to a Velcro wall. Like the current book on my nightstand.

But you’ll have to check my FB or GG feed to read about that.

Dr “Glue Gun” Gerlich

Charge It

2 12 2010

When I think of cool restaurants, Cracker Barrel is usually near the bottom of the…um…barrel. It may be quaint. Down home. Country fried. But cool it ain’t.

Until now.

Cracker Barrel just announced plans to test electric car charging units at 24 of its Tennessee stores. Pull in. Plug in. Eat in. Drive off.

The charging stations are powered by Ecotality, who has plans to install thousands of its new Blink charging stations across the country.

Access to charging stations is critical for electric cars to take off. Think about having an internal combustion engine with no gas stations nearby. No gas, no go. The thinking is, if recharging can be as easy as topping off your tank, then more people will buy electric cars.

Sure, critics will argue that electricity is not necessarily green (unless that electricity is the product of solar, wind or hydro sources). But electric cars will still leave a smaller carbon footprint than those cars burning fossil fuels, even if the electricity is produced by traditional methods (e.g., coal-burning power plants).

Naturally, there will be a charge (bad pun) for these services. Some of the stations are rapid chargers (30 minutes), while others take longer. I imagine the former will be priced like Premium Unleaded. Installing these stations in parking lots where drivers are likely to be idle for an hour or more makes perfect sense, because you weren’t planning on going anywhere anyway.

Still, the fact that it takes time to recharge batteries necessarily limits electric cars to local driving. They are not yet practical for long hauls, unless you want to stop to eat every few hours. But since most driving is done within a few miles of home, they make more sense than we might realize.

But will pickup truck-driving Texans trade in the F-350 for a Chevy Volt? I doubt any self-respecting cowboy could fit in that little car and still wear his hat. And towing your horse trailer around town is out of the question. But for those who are urban cowboys, electric cars make perfect sense.

As for Ecotality, they need to strive to install these stations throughout municipalities, not just at restaurants along the freeway. I know what they are thinking, but I just do not see these eco-friendly cars being used for longer trips any time soon. In other words, while Cracker Barrel may score “cool” points for jumping on this bandwagon, the folks they service with these stations are more likely to be locals out to lunch rather than cross-country travelers.

All this aside, I applaud Cracker Barrel and Ecotality for partnering in this endeavor, for it signals that change is afoot. More restaurants will follow Cracker Barrel’s lead, especially once they see that today’s competitive advantage will be tomorrow’s expectation. And employers, shopping malls and cities will then join the party, realizing that the parking lot of the near future will have meters and plug-ins.

And that’s something I can get all charged up about.

Dr “I’ll Have The Breakfast Special” Gerlich

Pay As You Go

1 12 2010

Don’t you just hate it when someone at the register in front of you waits for everything to be rung up, and then e-v-e-r s-o s-l-o-w-l-y reaches into their pocket or purse for cash? Or, worse yet, a check book?

Time never passes so slowly. All it takes is one Meanderthal to bring the line (if not the whole world) to a grinding halt.

Sure, most people have a billfold full of plastic these days (credit and/or debit), and being able to self-swipe our payments helps speed things up considerably.

But even plastic is about to get a kick to the shin, and those of us who think that Visa is everywhere we want it to be are going to have to consider a new method of payment. One that has been used in selected places around the world for several years. And it is as close as our cell phone.

Coming soon to a phone near you is the new Bling Nation system, one of several payment systems that rely on either an app or a special chip affixed to the phone. Just wave your smartphone by a special reader, and your credit (or debit) card will be hit for the amount.

This should be a slam dunk for me. I’m always holding my phone at the register anyway, often texting away while the bagger readies my purchases.

Better yet, it means I can take about a half-inch of plastic out of my wallet (no doubt helping correct my posture when seated). I won’t need much…my TXDL, WT ID and SBUX gift card.

Heck, we might not even need chiropractors anymore.

But naysayers are going to groan and speculate about all the bad tidings that will happen to someone who drops their phone in the toilet, or leaves it at a bar. That phone is more than your brain. Now it will also be your bank account and available credit.

Hold on a sec, Luddite breath. Your wallet is already a holdup waiting to happen. At least your phone can be traced by cell towers. Try doing that with your billfold.

It is a foregone conclusion that all cell phones will one day soon be smartphones. And given that we have already started doing a slew of things on those phones that once required separate devices, it is no surprise that technophiles are rushing to bring these services to market. While analysts say that 1-in-6 of us will have this by 2014, I am far more optimistic. This is not like the introduction of the debit card (which took several years to get any significant buy-in). No, we are ready for this, and we understand that our lives are going to be easier when we can essentially run our entire lives from one device.

Just don’t be the person in front of me in 2014 who insists on using old-school money. Because I (or the folks behind me) may tell you to go where you (and Visa) don’t want to be.

Dr “Hurry Up And Pay” Gerlich