Radioapptive

30 04 2011

The car radio has undergone many changes during our love affair with all things automotive. First there was AM, then AM/FM. During my childhood I witnessed in-dash and aftermarket 8-track models, followed by cassettes. These were then followed by CDs, satellite radio, and more recently, MP3 player jacks.

Yes, we do love to drive with our tunes.

But another revolutions is about to take place. In case you aren’t already sick of apps, get ready for car apps to take over your dashboard. Pioneer’s new AppRadio will rock your ride. Designed to work with your iPhone (and intentionally made to look…ahem…remarkably similar as well), the AppRadio will allow drivers to pull down their Pandora, and push it through their car stereo speakers.

AppRadio is somewhat limited in that the screen will only display selected apps that Pioneer has negotiated rights with (and for) via Apple and the actual app provider. In other words, this is not quite your phone on 8 cylinders, but it is getting close. It can pull your stored music as well as contacts, so control freaks are not limited to the whims of Pandora.

It really is only a matter of time before app-driven car stereos are the norm. There are two paths that can be followed, one being the OnStar path in which the car represents a separate data plan, and the AppRadio path, which piggybacks off your smartphone. As long as you have a sufficient data plan, the latter is the clear choice. Why add yet another$30 to your monthly burden?

The phone/car interface of my dreams would have 100% synchronicity along with speech recognition so I could tweet or FB hands free, as well as summon whatever app I want. Essentially, our smartphones need to be viewed as portable computing/storage devices with 3G connectivity. While a bluetooth interface would be nice, a cabled connection is better (especially if it would also recharge the phone).

As it stands right now, though, the first-gen car app-driven car radios will probably be more dangerous than other radios, simply because they offer one more level of distraction. Even 2nd-gen (with complete mirroring of the iPhone screen) would be dangerous, because then all of the push notifications we currently receive would then appear on the dashboard. Perfect. Just what we need. Target coupons while we are driving.

But we are making progress. If we can patiently plow through these early efforts to marry the phone to the car, we will land in a better place, one that will offer the features of both, but without the hands and fingers required to operate either.

As apps continue to find their way to places heretofore unimaginable, I wonder where they will land next. Our refrigerators? The bathroom mirror? A household master control panel? The soundtrack of our lives is about to follow us wherever we go.

Dr “We Got The Beat” Gerlich





Social Drinking

29 04 2011

With a title like that, I’m bound to attract readers. Too bad I’m talking about soft drinks, though.

I know. It’s the weekend. And we all know that weekends were made for Michelob (or insert you favorite other brand). But when Pepsi issues a new challenge like the current one being tested in vending machines, it just screams to be recognized.

Because now you will be able to buy your friend a soda, and they do not even have to be present.

It’s all pretty simple. First of all, watch the video:

At one of these special vending machines you will be able to use the touchscreen to enter the name and mobile number of the lucky recipient, along with a personalized message. You can even shoot a short video at the vending machine (that security camera has multiple purposes, doesn’t it?). Heck, it can even allow you to “pay it forward” by buying a soda for a complete stranger.

All the lucky person need do is run to the nearest compatible vending machine to redeem his or her gift.

It’s all a great idea, and leverages basic current technology. The only thing missing to make this thing be social is integration with social media. As critics have already pointed out, there is no linkage to Facebook or Twitter, which effectively keeps the whole thing a private affair between the two of you. Imagine how powerful the promo could be if you could splatter this across your tweet stream or post it to your wall?

Pepsi is in dire need of a boost. Whereas they had once made a few serious runs at Coke, they are now faltering badly. Coke outsells Pepsi nearly 2:1 (1.59 billions cases to 891.5 million cases); in fact, Diet Coke sales have now surpassed those of Pepsi. The fizz has apparently gone out of the soda.

But while the social vending promo has some inherent coolness, it is probably not going to be enough to put a dent in Coke’s can. In fact, it is easily imitated (even if it means replacing current machines with these more expensive models). Folks would have to buy about 16.8 billion (no kidding) bottles of Pepsi to bring them up to current Coke sales.

Which is about 54 bottles that every man, woman and child would have to buy on top of what they buy for themselves.

And with that in mind, I am now beginning to think that maybe the fizz has gone out of Pepsi’s brains as well. Maybe they have been drinking socially.” Just the wrong stuff.

Dr “Coke And A Smile” Gerlich





Turn Up The Radio

28 04 2011

Back in 1984 when Autograph released their signature song, Turn Up The Radio, little did they or anyone else imagine a day in which we would be able to get our music for free from data clouds. But before you ponder that thought, do watch the video…the big hair thing is pretty hysterical now.

So much has happened in the last 15 years…illegal sharing a la Napster and Limewire, a la carte pay-per-downloads at iTunes, and precipitously declining CD sales. Most recently we have started to embrace subscription listening services like Rhapsody.

And now, just as Wired Magazine Editor Chis Anderson predicted, the price is headed toward $0: MOG is going freemium.

Freemium, of course, is a two-tiered subscriber service. The basic level gets you some privileges for nothing, nada and zip, while the premium tier brings added features. But the reason for the switch? Simple. Apple and Google are readying their new listening services, and when big boys like those two enter the fray, it isn’t going to be easy for anyone else. All are available online, but ideally work best with mobile apps. Like when I am biking out in the country.

Pandora, Slacker and LastFM may already be free, but they do not provide music-on-demand. You have to listen to the “station” it stirs up based on your inputs. Rdio has a subscription-only plan like Rhapsody, while Europe’s Spotify uses the freemium concept.

But with Google and Apple beating their war drums loudly, it makes perfect business sense for MOG to at least try to get a small jump on them. Without aggressive marketing, some or all of the smaller offerings may wind up singing the blues. Sure, Pandora is talking IPO, but if we can listen for free to specific songs, artists or albums, what’s to keep us dialing in to random playlists and a Music Genome Project that often has as many hits as it does misses?

The implications of completely free (and demandable) music are huge. This is much better than the radio of which Autograph sang, and Baby Boomers listened to for hours while sowing their seeds of discontent. Consumers are the big winners here, while it spells bad news for labels and music retailers (tangible and digital), and even worse news for artists.

I have purchased only one CD for myself in the last three years (The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street re-release in 2010), and only a handful of digital songs in the last year. I have eliminated DVDs (thank you, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu), and 90% of my magazines (the Zinio app rocks) and books (iBooks and Kindle app, I love you). I subscribe to Rhapsody for $10 a month, but would ditch it in a heartbeat if I could listen to my music for free.

Which means if Autograph were to stage a reunion tour or re-release their old stuff, they had better change their lyrics. More likely it will be “Turn Up Your Smartphone.” That, or be content rocking in a chair than onstage.

Dr “Things Go Better With Rock” Gerlich





LostInSpace

27 04 2011

Once upon a time, there was this rockin’ social media site called MySpace. A few former employees of Friendster (founded in 2002) saw untapped market potential, and launched MySpace in 2003. It was an instant success, attracting millions of users.

So popular was MySpace that it caught the capitalistic eye of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. He whipped out his checkbook and bought the still-fledgling MySpace for $580 million. Never mind that Murdoch knw absolutely nothing about social media at the time. It was a business transaction pure and simple, an investment expected to yield an impressive ROI.

But something happened shortly after Murdoch took the reins. MySpace started losing users. Lots of users. An upstart Facebook (barely out of the business womb at the time of the MySpace acquisition) started snaring eyeballs by the millions. Layoffs quickly followed at MySpace, fol.lowed by even more pink slips. The company today is a but a shell of its former heyday status. In fact, in January 2011, MySpace slashed its remaining 1000 employees by half. The total number of users dropped from 95 million to 63 million in the 12 months ending in February of this year.

Which explains why NewsCorp has now put MySpace up for sale. The asking price: A mere $100 million.

Yikes. Murdoch has some ‘splainin’ to do to the shareholders.

So what the heck went wrong? How can a company possible send millions of people packing? How can a site go from hip and cool to internet ghetto in such a short time?

About the only active users these days are bands. Until recently, Facebook could not accommodate artists very well, but now that music players can easily be added to Fan Pages, even that part of the market is changing. As for the remaining 63 million members, I suspect many are folks who are technically ghost members. You know, people who forgot they even have a MySpace account.

Like me.

Oops. I think I forgot my username and password. Ah, who cares? Maybe the inflated numbers will help them find another sugar daddy.

To answer that first question, though, one need only look at what Facebook has done. They have kept their site simple and uncluttered (in spite of there being 4 ads down the right pane). User pages are not customizable, so the look and feel is always the same. Even Fan Pages, which be customized to an extent, retain the same basic appearance. In other words, everyone knows they are still on Facebook. No garish colors. No confusing overlays of images atop other background images. No run-on tiling of backgrounds. In other words, a consistently fresh, clean look.

And let us not forget the really important stuff, like superior functionality. FB’s suggestion engine is among the best as it helps people find friends. While FB can rightly be criticized for occasionally moving things around (we humans tend to thrive on repetitive patterns), as well as those nagging privacy questions, one thing is for sure: We can count on FB pages to all look uniformly professional. The branding is a constant, and if you are in business to make money, this is mission critical.

Where did MySpace and Murdoch mess up? By simply not observing that FB knows what people want in social networking. It’s not just the network. It is simplicity. Uniformity. Connectivity. Discovery. Predictability. And let us not forget Commercialism.

As for MySpace, it never really thought far enough ahead to consider commercial applications like all of us have come to follow on FB. E-commerce via a social networking page is simply too radical for MySpace to ever grasp. And as for regular users like you and me, it over-estimated our willingness to put up with butt-ugly pages that were nothing more than a patchwork quilt of folks who know little or nothing about design.

In other words, Facebook made it easy for us to do what we do best, which is just type.

$100 million for MySpace? Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t give $10 million. It’s a gutted reminder of what happens when a neighborhood loses sense of self and tomorrow. Fire up the bulldozers and let’s put this baby out of its misery.

Dr “R.I.P.” Gerlich





Blindsided

26 04 2011

I remember when I was teaching back at Indiana U during my doctoral program. In a Principles of Advertising class, I had assigned student teams to select a local business, and then develop an ad campaign for them.In every case, the “client” was a small Mom and Pop business. The relationship was more or less mutually beneficial: the students received some real-world experience, while the client got some marketing advice.

One client in particular still stands out in my memory. It was a small record store just off the west side of campus. Yeah, this story took place that long ago.

The students came to me one day perplexed, for their client had told them something that made no sense to them. “We have no competition,” he had said. “How could that be?” my students queried me.

“Everyone has competition,” I replied. “But sometimes you have to broaden your horizons to find them”

As it turned out, there were no other record stores at that time in the immediate vicinity, so this shop owner felt pretty good about things. He felt he had the vinyl market cornered, at least on the west side of campus.

So I asked my students, “Who do you think his competitors are? What about record clubs? Other stores across town? The radio? Other forms of entertainment?”

And suddenly my students’ eyes opened up, for they realized that everyone has competition…plenty of it. It just may not always come in a form matching yours.

Today, that record store is long gone, and so are many of the other shops selling recorded music. If we buy CDs (no longer records) at all, we are likely to purchase them from Amazon, or possibly Walmart or Best Buy. But even those vendors are feeling the pinch of digital music thanks to iTunes and over 10 billion songs sold.

Yeah, competition has a way of changing things. For everyone. Forever.

Like how Netflix now has more subscribers as Comcast cable. With Blockbuster, et al already out of the way, now it’s cable TV’s turn to take a punch to the gut. Netflix went flying past Comcast by adding nearly 4 million subscribers (as low as $8 per month) during the first quarter of 2011.

Lest the naysayers remind us of Netflix’ rather limited streaming content, it should be pointed out that Netflix is going down the same road as YouTube by developing original programming (House Of Cards) that will never have to wait for distribution rights.

And just like Blockbuster never saw this freight train coming, I bet Comcast is singing the same song. Why? Because they probably felt like they had no real competition. Sure, cable companies normally enjoy local monopoly power, held to task only by a couple of satellite TV providers. But an entirely new format? WTH?

That little record store owner is now in good company. Well, if you include Companies Who Don’t It. Pride goeth before a fall, and blinders precede being blindsided.

You can drop the needle on that song and it’ll sound the same every time.

Dr “Broken Rec…Broken Rec…Broken Rec” Gerlich





D Is For Delivery

25 04 2011

Although I always say that no one is immune to market threats, I must have given Walmart a kitchen pass, for I honestly felt that no one could ever put a dent in their empire. After all, they are so far ahead of everyone else that, with over $400 billion annual sales, each US citizen accounts for roughly $1300.

That’s a lot of dough.

But others are starting to eat Walmart’s lunch. The sour economy caused many lower-income shoppers to switch to Aldi, the German-owned bare-bones chain my old high school girlfriend’s family referred to as “The Poor Store.” Add in Dollar General Markets (the recent concept added by the popular discounter), and you have outlets seriously undercutting Walmart on the basics it once prided itself in providing cheaply.

But that’s not all. E-commerce kingpin Amazon is also stealing shoppers away with groceries shipped along with your books, movies and shoes. Amazon Prime members who pay $79 per year get unlimited shipping on groceries as well as non-food items, so as long as it’s not perishable or needed right now, Amazon provides yet another inexpensive alternative.

The sleeping giant has apparently, awakened, however, because it is now test marketing home delivery of groceries in San Jose CA. Non-perishables and selected non-food items are included in the test. Purchases can be delivered at the customer’s desired time.

Wow. Customer service. At Walmart. Times must be tough, eh?

I love it. Not that I want to see Walmart fail, of course, but the free market still works. And competition is the best motivator on the planet. Walmart apparently had started to rest on its laurels, eliminating hundreds of products, and slowly losing sight of its low price mission. They have now been forced to reconsider many things, including a return to its core pricing strategy and the return of many of those deleted items. yes, the ite3ms it turns out many customers actually wanted.

But home delivery almost screams desperation. The David trio of Amazon, Aldi and Dollar General must have landed a few well-aimed sucker punches, and the mighty Goliath has had the wind knocked out of its lungs.

To be honest, it wouldn’s break my heart if I never had to set foot in another Walmart anyway. Sure, I know that I have plenty of options, but WM does offer 24-hour convenience at most locations. It’s just the dirty, crowded stores I loathe, not to mention the folks I see on PeopleOfWalmart.com. For the record, there is no PeopleOfTarget, which speaks volumes about the demographics of both stores’s shoppers. A delivery truck would be a welcome reprieve from the onerous task of navigating the human and non-human obstacles of Wally World.

Just be sure to come after dark.

Dr “The UPS Man Always Rings Twice” Gerlich





The Name Game

24 04 2011

One of the biggest challenges any budding entrepreneur has these days is finding a suitable name for the enterprise. But as I tell my students, friends and clients, it is never as easy as just dreaming up an interesting collection of letters and words. The domain name (or a reasonable variant) must also be available for purchase. And that’s where a creative brainstorming session can turn into brainfreezing nightmare.

Because just about all of the good ones have already been taken.

For years I have urged folks to start their naming parties by first opening up GoDaddy, NetworkSolutions or any of the other vendors of domain names. Every new idea must be vetted there first, because a dead-end there is a kiss of death. Never mind that most vendors also provide suggestions in case your coveted dotcom is already taken (which it probably is). You know…things like a .info ending, or a “my” prefix.” But even these tend to have been gobbled up by other companies or squatters hoping to sell the name to you for a king’s ransom.

But now there is Panabee, of the best online tools for finding domain names.

While no domain name search engine is perfect, Panabee comes the closest. It not only offers the usual mixed greens of alternate TLDs (e.g., .org, .biz, etc.) and predictable prefixes, it also tosses in alternate spellings (dropped last vowel, added vowels and consonants, trendy prefixes and suffixes, and the oh-so-cool 2-letter extensions from other countries (like the ever-popular .me extension from Montenegro).

At minimum, it gives start-ups a chance. At most, it gives you something on which to hang your hat. And fortunes.

In this era of Instagr.am (that’s the Armenian country code), Flickr (you can keep that last vowel), bit.ly (Libya…no kidding), and Plnnr.com (we don’t need to stinking vowels!), Panabee offers a glimmer of hope for 2nd-generation start-ups. Heck, it’s really not that much different from trying to say something in 6 letters for a vanity license plate.

The Gold Rush was over a decade ago for traditionally-spelled words and phrases, so it has required us all to think far outside the bounds of grammar school spelling. My 3rd-grade teacher would probably cringe, but that’s the domain in which we live. Bank those vowels and spend ’em later.

Dr “GtOvr.It” Gerlich