Cookie Monster?

26 06 2012

Sometimes I wonder about companies and organizations. They do funny things. Not funny “ha-ha,” but funny “what were they thinking?” Like Lowe’s when it canceled its advertising on TLC’s All American Muslim last December. Like the Susan G. Komen Foundation when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood last January, and then later flip-flopped. Like McDonald’s when it created its own Twitter hashtag and expected people to play nicely with it.

In all three, social media played a significant role, and mostly not good. Things get out of hand. People go crazy. And the companies and organizations get crazier.

Which explains my wonderment with Kraft Food’s decisions yesterday to announce on its Oreo Fan Page that it supports gay rights. Now before typing another sentence, let me be clear that I have no problem with gay rights, and I wish to ensure them the same rights that I have as a heterosexual. The rainbow Oreo was a mighty attractive image on the page, and made it perfectly clear of its support.

I furthermore have no problem with Kraft Foods supporting gay rights either. It’s just that, by making this announcement, it unintentionally opened a can of worms. Unleashed a tempest in a tea pot. Invited the cookie monster inside.

And boy did it ever create controversy. Naturally, comments were as far apart as night from day, but like all too many a good party turned bad, the conversation turned to religion.

Watch where you step. There’s dogma on the floor.

Let me also state that I have no problem with people having their own religious beliefs. I have mine. You have yours. And let us keep them that way. But I am sure the last thing on Kraft’s collective mind yesterday was their Facebook page being turned into a biblical debate.

Which leads me to wonder why Kraft felt the need to come out with its support. Certainly they had to know that someone, somewhere, would disagree, and do so in a very vocal way. The public commons we know as social media, though, not only invite everyone to join the dialogue, but gives them a stage, microphone and amplifier along with it.

Kraft could have supported gay rights without opening itself up to invective by not broadcasting on its Facebook page; instead, it could have sponsored events, made donations, etc., to causes and activities central to the LGBT community, and perhaps done so in a way that would not alienate other customers.

The court of public opinion often has a hung jury, and sometimes the unwitting defendant hangs itself. Kraft did just this yesterday. Sometimes it is better to love everyone without giving someone a reason to hate on you.

Because in this case the Cookie Monster has a bigger appetite for destruction than he does cookies.

Dr “Make Mine Triple Double” Gerlich


Don’t Look At Me That Way

26 06 2012

I laughed when Google let it slip that they were developing Google Glasses, eyewear that has full smartphone functionality. Slip on these shades, and you’ll be able to surf the internet. Tilt and snap your head, and you will have just scrolled and clicked.

And perhaps walked in front of a New York taxi driver hellbent on getting a big tip.

But apparently all this futuristic thinking has caused others to…um…think even more about it. Today came news that a German designer has conceptualized Instaglasses. Imagine the possibilities. Rather than have to d-r-a-g out your smartphone, enter a security code, tap an app and shoot the pic (hoping the subject has not moved a half mile by then), wearers could simply touch a small button on the bridge of the frame. A small camera on one corner of the frame captures the image. Click! Add filter. Post.

Ansel Adams never had it so easy.

While the coolness factor may be high, there are still some unanswered questions. Will these glasses require a data plan on my cell phone account? Or will I need to be near wifi to actually use them? Is there any memory onboard, or is this strictly a one trick pony?

And what about the general creepiness factor? I can only imagine having to fear every shade-wearing person I meet in public may in fact be posting my awesome likeness to Instagram. OK, boo and hiss all you want to. It could just as easily be your awesomeness.

By now you probably see my point. It is one thing to surreptitiously sneak your phone out of a pocket or purse, and craftily steal a picture of an unwitting subject. Isn’t this how gets its fill of pictures anyway? But if it as simple as hiding behind shades, turning in someone’s general direction, tapping the bridge of your specs, and voila! they’re on the internet, just watch out.

And you thought Instagram was popular before all this. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

I am still trying to figure out how in the world this could somehow be leveraged for business benefit (perhaps one of my enterprising students can figure out this puzzle), but until then, I suspect the creeper-stalker meter is going to be in the red zone. Can someone please start thinking a little more carefully about these new gadgets? And while you are pondering this, I need to go ask that woman over there why she keeps fidgeting with her glasses. It’,s making me nervous.

Dr “Say Cheese” Gerlich

Welcome To Realityville

26 06 2012

I once had a student in the cash checking business. In fact, I just ran into him at Target. He now has more than one Amarillo business, but he remains specialized in providing services to people on the Boulevard who are not likely to have a bank account. I will never forget the prescience of the then-young man one night in class as he astutely noted for all,”Behind every threat lurks a golden opportunity.”

Not bad for a 22-year-old entrepreneur. There are never any lemons in the mind of a risk-taking capitalist, only lemonade. And he was determined to build his lemonade stand in a field that is often criticized for abusing its customers more than helping. The fact that he has grown his business in the 15+ years since I taught him is apparent testimony that he is doing something right. The threat of public disdain knocked, and he seized the opportunity to send it packing.

I am sure the folks who work at one of three Springfield Visitors Centers in the Show Me State. Technology has allowed tourists to use their smartphones and access internet content on the fly. As a result, the Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is closing one of its brick-and-mortar centers.

Ouch. This sounds just like the fearmongering that happened in the 90s as internet marketing took old. Folks worried that jobs woujld be lost. But while there has certainly been job displacement in the digital era, there have been more new jobs be created than those lost. It’s just that it hurts when it’s your job that is lost.

But in the words of my student, there’s a golden opportunity coming right around the corner. Instead of seeing this as a setback, the bureau should see it as a chance to do things differently…cheaper, more efficiently, and, if they’re savvy, profitably.

Gone will be the overhead of building maintenance and labor. In their place could be mobile apps that offer everything the old building provided, but also with advertising. With roughly 50-percent of USAmericans now toting smartphones, it makes sense to shift gears and put the information where people are…not where you want them to be. And, given the proliferation of free apps like AroundMe and Urban Spoon, tourists are only a couple of taps away from knowing everything they need (and with a map for how to find it).

At the risk of summoning an over-used simile, perhaps the bureau should focus on providing round solutions for the round pegs of the 21C rolling through town.

While I am not advocating that drivers do all of this data searching while driving, it does not preclude passengers from doing the drill-down. Offering dynamic content for local member businesses is far more significant than dispensing flyers and tourism cards from an office counter.

I was talking with friends earlier today about similar types of apps that could be used for just about any interest area; it need not be limited to basic tourism. What if an app were made that made it easy for baseball fans to find the local minor league team and its schedule, stadium and team roster? What about an app that cataloged brewpubs for those who like to taste the brewers art? And what an app that stores all the cool places featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives?

Wait. That’s already been done. Download the Flavortown app, and suddenly finding the places that Guy Fieri visited is a snap.

When I met my former student a few weeks ago, he was abuzz with more business ideas. I suppose that’s in the DNA of entrepreneurs, but he has spent his entire career looking behind the threats that could spell trouble, but from his upbeat perspective, somehow get twisted around into money-making opportunities.

Oh that we could all see the world through such a lens. Because, while reality may bite, we can bite back and walk away the winner.

Dr “Check That Cash” Gerlich

By The Books

26 06 2012

One of the challenges in teaching a course in Evolutionary Marketing is figuring out how to blend the new with all of the old that has gone before. It would be inappropriate to focus only on the new (in spite of there being an abundance of it), nor would it be appropriate to lean too heavily on the old. Somewhere in the nebulous middle ground there exists a happy balance, a place where both coexist in the right measure, one complementing the other. After all, the goal is to get people to buy more stuff, and it is imperative that we use what works…whatever that might be.

Equally challenging is finding books that strike this balance. This summer we have used Martin Lindstrom’s Brandwashed, and Dan Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. The former, while summoning every modern tool of the trade, focuses on the age-old concept of getting consumers sucked into the brand, while the latter jumps into the deep end of the social media pool and explains how ideas go viral.

Having done a lot of research lately on controversial topics, companies and organizations that bore the brunt of virality (e.g., Lowe’s, Susan G. Komen and Facebook’s Timeline feature), I have a much deeper appreciation for how things can get out of hand. Fast.

I was deeply enamored of Lindstrom’s final chapter in which he re-created the fictional movie account of The Joneses, except he did it in real life. He noted a lot of interesting influences we exert on one another. While we have always known that WOM (word-of-mouth) was powerful, it is when we take this notion and plug it into the social graph that things get interesting.

Lindstrom observed that males and females respond differently to peer influence. Women tend to be more egalitarian, and are more likely to consider the inputs of virtually all others in their social circle, while men are more likely to question another man’s authority and only accept input if that other person is indeed deemed to know that of which he speaks. But men and women alike are both influenced by others…it’s just that we are influenced differently, and regarding different product categories.

Now consider Facebook. I have begun to notice more and more “personalized” sponsored stories showing up both on my Wall and my phone. Invariably, these feature my friends, and in some cases even show their profile pics. “John Doe likes New Belgium Brewing” may greet me the next time I check in.

And God only knows how many times my liking has shown up on the devices of people I call my friends. Actually, I pity them, because I have over 400 likes. I’m sure my friends really don’t want to know all the pages I have “liked” simply because I was intrigued by their social media strategy and not their products.

Still, those little sponsored stories are the 2012 equivalent of Lindstrom’s little wine-and-cheese parties, or guys gathering ’round the workbench. They are endorsements…and we never even knew we were making them.

Worse yet (or better yet, if you are Facebook), FB is selling our likes to companies so they can be the conduit of these glowing endorsements. Typhoid Mary should have been so efficient. And profit-centered.

The long and short of it all, though, is that we still live in the balance of modern and traditional marketing techniques. We still need brand managers whose task is to get our jaws flapping about products. We still have to advertise and communicate. But we do it differently.

I have enjoyed reading both of these books this year, and hope that my students will hang on to them (whether in print or e-book format). There’s a lot hanging in this precarious balance, and companies who simultaneously understand the past and present are those best poised to survive into the future. And perhaps one of my students will write the book telling us how it all happened.

Dr “Brand Aid” Gerlich


22 06 2012

I said it back in 2008, and I will say it again today: social media can be used to win elections. President Obama’s staff masterminded the then-early use of social media to propel him to the White House, merrily tweeting away while opponent McCain was still trying to figure out email. More recently, the Troy MI Library was saved through the spectacularly effective use of social media to save itself. Here, watch the video:



What I find amazing is that, while the Tea Partiers framed the issue as one of taxation, the Library and its supporters used tweets, status updates, and videos along with old-fashioned yard signs, flyers and print ads to reframe a small tax increase as a book burning. And did it ever catch people’s attention.

Regardless of your political affiliations (or aspirations), it is very clear that the Tea Party sees the world primarily through the lens of taxation. Thus, they will seek to frame nearly every issue as just that. It is a strategy that speaks to the pocketbooks of most Americans. But, as opponents in Troy found out, it is a strategy that is easily flipped on its side by tactical reframing.

A book burning speaks to us on an emotional and intellectual level, which is precisely what the Library group desperately wanted and needed to do. While the notion of the book burning in this case was a subterfuge, in the arena of public attention, their megaphone was louder.

Better yet, their use of social media allowed the Library supporters to spread their message more virally than just public protests and posters. In so going, they completely “changed the conversation from taxes, taxes, taxes to library, library, library.”

The city library is a symbol of education, as well as the community’s commitment to supporting it. When supporters changed the conversation, they implicitly made the Tea Partiers look like they were anti-education and anti-knowledge. That’s a hard image to overcome, no matter how much the tax increase might be.

And it is not a whole lot different from how the Obama camp made McCain look four years ago: uncool, old and chained to an analog past. Furthermore, both the Library campaign and Obama’s campaign managed to get the least likely voters out to the polling place: the tax supporters in the case of the former, and young adults in the latter.

Most importantly, though, is that both instances show the power of social media. While the playing field may be a little more even this time around in the Presidential election, there are still opportunities to seize the microphone. As for the residents of Troy, I am glad that someone did. While libraries are necessarily in a state of transition now as the public and books all go digital, they are still the storehouse of all things knowledge. The thought of shutting one down just burns me up.

Dr “Binding Decision” Gerlich

No Turning Back

22 06 2012

While it is often fun to speculate what tomorrow will bring (anyone remember The Jetsons?), it can be just as amusing to look over our shoulder to see how we have come. Earlier this week, my Dad turned 91. If he were able to go back to 1921, I am sure it would scare him, because we have so far in his lifetime.

Now let me set the stage: Dad is no technophobe (he adopted digital cameras back in the late-90s, long before most people did), was among the first to own a plasma TV, and loves his Kindle Fire today. But he has never embraced computers, does not know (or care) that I had to set up a Gmail account for him (in conjunction with his Kindle), and knows only that somehow, but virtue of magic or something, he has wireless internet throughout his apartment.

Some things are best left unexplained.

It’s not that he couldn’t learn to embrace computing technology; he simply chose not to, and probably because his job did not demand it. I, in comparison, have been using computers since 1974, but only because my Math courses required it (and am I ever thankful).

It’s hard to imagine a world without internet, but Dad certainly lived it

During Dad’s prime time, marketing efforts focused on what we now view as traditional outlets, meaning print (newspaper, magazine and catalogs), outdoor (primarily billboards), radio, and television. Yet even these latter two were “new” things that Dad’s cohort lived through, much like we are now living through the era of ubiquitous internet, mobile devices and social media.

I can hardly imagine gathering the family ’round the console radio to listen to the news, music or a melodrama, yet that is exactly what he and his family did. Announcers with schmaltzy voices would beseech listeners to lend an ear, and run to the nearest store to try the sponsor’s latest product.

Too bad the Scan/Seek button would not be invented for decades.

By the 1950s (after he and all his World War II buddies were busily procreating and buying homes), television entered the mainstream, and cars culture took over. By the time Dad and his two pals motored west on Route 66 in 1955, outdoor advertising began sprouting. Perhaps the most memorable ads of that time were the Burma Shave signs (which had been started in 1925, reached their acme in the 50s, and then quickly declined in the 60s).

Today someone might argue that reading so many little sequential signs could amount to distracted driving.

Television ads often seemed contrived (if you ever get a chance to watch uncut versions of the old I Love Lucy show, you’ll know what I mean). Viewers must have been passive little robots, incapable of critical thinking, or else marketers at least thought them dumb. We were not a rich family while I was growing up, and we did not acquire a color TV until the early-70s. We had to imagine that The Green Hornet was…well…green.

As Mashable depicts in its infographic of life without the internet, life has suddenly become far more complicated in the last 40 years (thank you, Al Gore, for whatever you did to make this happen). Just as we 70s citizens waxed nostalgic about the halcyon days of the 50s while watching Happy Days, so, to, do we recollect what life was like during the Nixon era. while simultaneously pondering all the things that today we take for granted.

As for Dad, he still gets the bulk of his marketing material fed to him the same way he did since the 50s. His cell phone is a simple 10-key, so he will never know the joys of checking in at Five Guys for lunch, receiving a text alert from Johnny Carinos about 2-for-1 drinks, getting a coupon sent to that email account, or interacting with myriad apps. He does well to interact with his Kindle Fire, and sticks to his Newsweek and Chicago Tribune, Weather app, and stock information (all stuff my brother and I set up for him). He gets his digital content seamlessly from Amazon, yet has no clue about the e-commerce behind the scenes (nor the technology) that made it happen.

But at the end of the day, marketing today is really not much different from when Dad was born. Sure, the methods are different, and we cannot begin to picture life without them, but it still boils down to one easy equation: Putting the right product in the right place, at the right time, and at the right price. How you tell that story is one thing, but the deliverables are still pretty much the same.

Anyone mind if I change the channel?

Dr “No Static At All” Gerlich

Counting Pennies

22 06 2012

A few months ago when JCPenney announced its revamped marketing strategy, I applauded it like a breath of fresh air. Gone would be the trite sales and weekly flyers announcing “Hurry In Soon! Sale Ends Friday!” Instead, JCP would rely on an EDLP (Everyday Low Price) model and full-dollar amounts, with selected feature items each month. Newspaper inserts and catalogs would reflect this simpler retail approach. There’s never any hurry. Come on In. Our prices will always be low.

In the last year, JCP hired Ron Johnson as CEO, who earlier had helped c raft Target and Apple Store strategies with great success. Johnson then brought in Michael Francis as President, and tasked him with revamping the company image, merchandising and pricing. And, no doubt, a la Target and Apple.

But something isn’t working, and yesterday the beleaguered Francis stepped down. JCP’s stock price continued tanking, and analysts started wringing their hands as if they were preparing for a retailer funeral. Sales have not materialized. So what went wrong?

One of the more common retorts is that JCP told its custoemrs what they were no longer going to be, but failed to effectively communicate what they wanted to be. Of courswe, Monday morning quarterbacking is always spot-on, so it’s easy to make that assertion. But there’s much to discuss before we reach this conclusion.

My reason for liking EDLP is that it is helps even out sales across the month and year, and takes the guess work out of shopping. A steady stream of sales, however, encourages and fosters deal-prone customers, people who put off purchases because they know what they want will eventually go on sale. Or, in the case of linens and such, that come January the annual white sale will blow in like so much winter snow. And, as most retailers know, sale items can be used as loss leaders to attract consumers like moths to a light bulb, whom they hope (the consumers, not the moths) will purchase lots of other things at regular prices.

But deep sales only serve to remind me just how outrageous MSRPs can be, and make me hate on the retailer all the more. I would much rather know that I can pop in today or a week from Friday and get a dress shirt at the same price. On the other hand (and notice I am aware of flip-flopping here), without the urgency of a sale that ends Friday, customers like me can put off that new shirt for another month. Or longer.

There is also considerable debate about whether EDLP can work at a mid-level department store like JCP. It works great at Target and Walmart, and its opposite (EDHP) works magnificently at Apple. Witness the stock price of Apple if you do not believe me. But do middle income shoppers expect price steadiness in a department store? Furthermore, do these customers not crave sales and possibly treat them as trophy items in their hunt for great deals? Maybe so. And maybe I am innured to such retail posturing and primping simply because I teach this stuff, and some of these tactics just get plain old.

While no one seems to bring up that retail sales have not exactly been strong for anyone during JCP’s new strategy rollout, it is quite possible that the customers have spoken. And you can bet your bottom coupon that the stockholders are not going to put up with anyone or anything for very long if the bottom line continues to sag like a gangsta’s pants.

Which means that EDLP can apply to them just as well, if you think about it.

Dr “2 For $20” Gerlich