Pavement Ends

3 07 2012

This is one of my favorite road signs. For those who know me, they know that signals the beginning of real excitement. No telling what my means of transport will be, I become like a kid in the adventure candy store. My SmugMug site holds the keys to some of the adventures I have had the last few years, and not a one of them involves coloring between the lines, so to speak.

And so, in this last blog of the summer term, I hasten to advise you that any paving I may have provided since the 4th of June is coming to an abrupt end. You’re on your own now. Lace up your boots, strap on a helmet, and grab a flashlight and machete. The going may get rough from hereon.

And then again, maybe not. It is up to you to continue the learning adventure. Perhaps you do not desire a career in Marketing, which is perfectly alright. My point (and as Ellen still proclaims, “I do have one!”), is that whatever your chosen field is, keep on keepin’ on. Don’t let speed bumps slow you down. And if you have to, don’t allow fences and gates to keep you from moving forward.

Part of me wishes that I could do what Joe Garner did in Craigslist Joe, a documentary coming the 3rd of August. In it, Joe goes off the grid for a month, living off the land. And Craigslist.

Carrying only a laptop, toothbrush, cell phone and the clothes on his back, Joe seeks to survive exclusively by the good will of people he has never met before…but finds on Craigslist.

I know. This sounds like another A. J. Jacobs book waiting to be written. And I do not wish to be disrespectful to my family, because I would never set out to do this. I think.

Although the subject is compelling, it wilts a little in that the big experiment actually happened w-a-a-y back in December 2009, when Facebook was languishing with only a couple hundred million users. The social media dinosaurs still trod the interwebs.

But it still sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Garner was out to make a point (and it is a point some are still trying to make today): he uses technology and social media to break out of the bubble that critics say we have created for ourselves in the networked era.

Garner definitely went where no pavement exists, and in the process, had all of his needs met. By strangers. Maybe not extravagantly, but certainly pragmatically. To be sure, the denizens of Craigslist are often scammers, spammers and creepers. OK, and sometimes murderers. This place is not for the faint of status.

Yet I admire Garner for venturing beyond the sign. For crawling through the barbed wire. For climbing the gate. Because beyond those little inconveniences lay true adventure. It is Life. Lived. Large.

And so as we bring this term to a close, may the laces of your boots be unfrayed. May the batteries of your mental flashlight be fresh. May your machete be sharpened, honed on the stone of knowledge prior. And may your fuel tank of adventure be pegged on F.

Because the road does not end.

Dr “What’s Next On Your List?” Gerlich

Reality Check

3 07 2012

Just in case reality hasn’t already bitten you, get ready for more. Lots more. The new reality will be augmented reality.

In case you missed all the hoopla about Google Glasses, the notion is rather simple (albeit tech-laden to the hilt): take what the user sees, and augment it with additional information. Tons of information.

So, when wearing Google Glasses, imagine getting little pop-ups along the top of your frame indicating what business is just around the next corner, what’s on sale, and when happy hour is.

Wait. We’ve already seen this kind of stuff in movies, documentaries and futuristic YouTube clips before. It’s just that this is no longer pie-in-the-sky; it is reality.

Like the new shopping assistant app being developed by IBM Research. While still months away from deployment, the app-in-concept works marvelously, and opens the door for a zillion marketing opportunities.

It will work like this: A shopper enters a store, and downloads the branded app for that chain. Next, the user inputs key desirables (e.g., like oragnic, vegetarian, kosher, etc.). The user can then stroll the aisles, letting the camera scan a product array for items that match the consumer’s interests.

And, of course, product suggestions will pop up. But this is where the marketing people enter the story. It is the perfect time to start pitching featured products, as well as make suggestions for a complementary item over in Aisle 7 that would go well with the current item.

In fact, the more information the user provides, the better the store can market its goods and services. Cha-ching.

Naturally, critics will scoff once more and cry foul, because at the surface it might look like an insidious plot to hijack customer wallets. But it is completely opt-in, and customers do stand to benefit. After all, if I can scan an entire row of soups and instantly find out which ones are based on vegetable stock rather than beef or chicken, my life will be easier. And happier.

All the more reason to embrace the paradigm shift I have been harping on throughout this term: the future is in mobile. I’m just not sure about those glasses yet. I really don’t like the idea of stepping out in front of truck while I am busy reading a pop-up deal at the nearest Triple-D hole in the wall.

Dr “I Can See Clearly Now” Gerlich

Students And Their Phones

3 07 2012

I think I must be one of only a few professors who allow students to use their phones while in class.

Of course, I must add a side note clarifying that I seldom, if ever, actually teach in a classroom. But when I do (and if I ever do again), phones are allowed. I know that SXSW attendees tweet with reckless abandon throughout speeches; it is likewise OK if my students are updating statuses, tweeting, texting or surfing the web.

Except on tests.

I think my lax policy stems from the fact that I use my phone wherever I go also. Multitasking is my middle name. As long as it does not disturb others around me,then I am OK with it (and with you doing it as well). I don’t use it in movie theatres (the light is annoying), but many other places are fair game. Oh, and for the record, I try to not use it when in the company of other people (such as dinner), unless there is an absolute emergency.

Notice also that not once did I say a thing about talking on the phone. No, I am referring to using it for its myriad other purposes. If my 14-year-old is reflective of her cohort, talking is so lame anyway. No one actually talks on phone these days, Dad.

The fact of the matter is that college students are in a relationship with their smartphones. Judging by Mashable’s Infographic, they would essentially be lost without them.

The implications are huge, because as today’s college students grow older and are replaced with yet another generation of tech addicts, it means that there will be an increasing number of people for whom living and using the phone (for whatever purpose) are synonymous. It will be up to businesses to figure out how to speak to a growing number of people for whom television and computers have less and less relevance.

Which is another way of saying that the future invariably holds much more marketing coming at all of us via our smartphones. It may be the only weay some companies have of reaching their target markets.

Does this mean that advertising budgets must increase? No, not at all. As each new communication medium has come along, it simply means the advertising pie gets sliced into ever smaller pieces. And businesses will have to decide how to allocate their budget dollars.

This does not necessarily mean that more and more companies are going to start shifting money from traditional media to social. In fact, it may not happen at all, depending on the company, their product(s), and the effectiveness of the advertising vehicle. Earlier this year, General Motors decided to cease advertising on social media, and instead take a more old-school approach. But while they have ditched Facebook’s paid ads, it doesn’t mean a thing about their free corporate Pages.

As I have too many times lately, why pay for something when you can get it for free?

Still, the general trend will continue to be toward smartphone advertising (in one form or another), because that is where people’s eyeballs are glued. And if you do find yourself in one of my rare campus courses, use it freely but with discretion. I mean, unless you happen to receive a really compelling coupon or something, at which point I may have to confiscate your phone.

Dr “Professor’s Perogative” Gerlich

Happy Holiday

3 07 2012

Another holiday has come and gone. No, you did not miss Fathers Day (I hope). And no, you have not just awakened from a coma and missed Independence Day. Actually, the holiday was right under our noses today. The only problem is that few people even knew it.

In case you missed it (and most people did), today was Social Media Day. Mashable started the tradition in 2010 in recognition of the growing significance of the medium in our daily lives. So far, 17 cities and three states have jumped on the bandwagon and observed the holiday, not exactly enough to get the folks at Hallmark excited, but a start.

The irony is that, while the holiday went unnoticed by most, our usage of is higher than ever before.

Not that social media have been around that long, mind you. For folks like Mashable and geeks like me, social media are as much a part of the day as brushing teeth and getting dressed. And while I am not totally bonkers over it, no doubt there are some who would tweet these daily rituals.

Still, there is an extremely wide variance among users regarding how much they use social media. Even among my relatively young MBA Evolutionary Marketing students, there are a handful who use social media little or not at all. Others say they often go several days without checking in.

And then there are people like their teacher (ahem) who considers social media to be the Great Aggregator. It has been life-changing for me, ever since I first signed on to Twitter in 2007, and later made FB my more frequent home. Rare is the day in which I don’t post something. And given the project I am launching tomorrow with my oldest daughter at EverydayPic, it looks like the next 365 days are already spoken for (dangling preposition and all).

But the prominence as well as redeeming value of social media are best understood as that aggregator: It is my news source, not just of friends who brushed their teeth, went on vacation with their family, or took a new job, but also breaking news, “Shares” my friends have gleaned elsewhere, and company press releases. In other words, it is my chief information source.

Which is another way of saying I watch a lot less news television these days, and read a lot fewer magazines. Why? Simple. I do not need to. Facebook gives me everything, I mean everything, I want and need.

Sure, I am likely to then click over to a news website, or run to a television for expanded coverage, but my primary source of all things informative, interesting and yes, sometimes banal, is now coming to me via social media. Between tablet, phone and computer, I am seldom more than a few seconds away from my information drip irrigation system, a steady supply of knowledge (some good, some bad, some ridiculous) coursing through my brain.

And I like it. No, I am not hooked (although I have been told otherwise). I know how to walk away from it, and will do so in late July when we go to the mountains for two weeks of off-the-grid camping. Yes, I know where to go if I want my fix. I also drop down into town for a beer every few days, and can easily hop on if I need a fix.

More than anything, social media have simply changed the way we communicate…inter-personally, with companies, entertainers and news outlets. It has been a paradigm shift the magnitude of which we may not fully understand for years.

But that’s OK. We are still clearing our way through this jungle. Given that was technically the first social media site in 1995, we are all still babes in these woods. We have much to learn. And we still have much to shed. It was a nice holiday for me. I posted quite a few pictures to various private groups to which I belong, but only after having some fun on my own page earlier in the morning. Oh, and I spent some quality time with Becca, my oldest daughter and EverydayPic partner. You see, while I think I know this stuff, all I have to do is hang out with a 14-year-old for the afternoon. In the words of TV’s venerable Sergeant Schultz, “I know nutting!” (insert thick German accent)

While there were no fireworks to mark today’s occasion, we were aglow knowing that we could not launch such a project had social media not come along. And Hallmark can just settle down, because as this holiday takes off, it will be one celebrated without printed cards. After all, with all the funny e-cards people are posting these days, there are going to be a bunch of unemployed greeting card illustrators in Kansas City. Maybe they need to update their Facebook Profile and start looking for a job.

Dr “What’s Your Status?” Gerlich

London Calling

3 07 2012

I remember watching the 1968 Summer Olympics that were hosted by Mexico City. My family and I would gather around the 19″ black-and-white television in the basement den my parents had built. That Olympiad is remembered today for the Black Power salute, which at the time came amid much racial strife here in the States. The reception was fuzzy at best, yet I marveled at the notion of being able to watch coverage that originated all…the…way…down in Mexico.

Go ahead and give a bored-to-tears 21C slow clap.

Last year, I was fortunate to visit London with two colleagues and a couple of dozen students. We were treated to tours of the Olympic village, and got to see first hand how $16 billion can be used to host what amounts to the world’s largest sporting event. In a few short weeks, the entire world will be watching the Summer Olympics, not on miserable little black-and-white televisions, but state-of-the-art flat panels.

And mobile apps and online..

NBC, the Official Broadcaster of the Olympics (or whatever their title is), is pushing 3500 hours of live streaming video to a special website as well as mobile apps. Which is another way of saying that NBC is making sure we’ll be able to watch from wherever.

Dang. Too bad they don’t have curling in the Summer Olympics. I’d be all over that.

But NBC is also adding a huge social component to its coverage, which has both positive and negative implications. As we all know, using social media is the fastest way to attract bees to honey. Their admission of turning this into a Twitter Olympics says that NBC is committed to putting international athletics into the hands of everyone.

But it also says that NBC really does not understand social media, because these things can get out of hand. When Alan Wurtzel said, “…and we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to understand how people are connecting with each other, and what it means,” he was really saying, “We have no idea what’s going to happen here, but we think it could be big.”

Yeah, like inviting matches to a refinery.

NBC had better tread carefully, because Twitter is the internet’s loose cannon. Lowe’s learned this the hard way last December when it canceled its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim,” and Twitterers created the #loweshatesmuslims hashtag. The same thing happened after Susan G. Komen made its bonehead move earlier this year. Oh, and when McDonald’s put its own hashtag on the griddle and served it between two buns.

Einsteins, all of them.

As long as NBC social media managers monitor things, they might be able to utilize social media for its strengths. But if Twitter users around the world unite for a gigantic bitchfest over who won or lost the gold, it’s a riot waiting to happen. And faster than Usain Bolt can run the hundred meter.

While I praise NBC for pushing the limits this year, I have to say a silent prayer for them. This one could be tricky.

Kinda makes watching it in black-and-white sound like a pretty good proposition after all.

Dr “Medal Head” Gerlich

Keep On Truckin’

3 07 2012

There haven’t been too many years since the Kogi BBQ trucks started popping up all over Los Angeles. They took the city by storm, bringing somewhat upscale and certainly trendy food to the downtown office crowd. Social media played a big role, as the trucks would be in different locations on different days, and at different times. Like all good things from California, the idea got traction and sped around the country. The result is that nearly every US city of any size has one or more taco trucks cruising the streets.

But savvy entrepreneurs quickly surmised the strengths of these mobile restaurants. They have relatively low overhead, and allow a vendor to have many locations at once, even if it is with only one truck. Move around every few hours, and it’s like having a storefront all over town. Today, everything from fashion to follicles are getting the mobile treatment. In fact, one of my former students, a 1993 grad, recently launched Mobiltique, which for now makes the rounds in a trailer towed behind a large SUV. It’s the same idea that Kogi had, but with a fashion flair.

And it is a great idea.

For entrepreneurs short on cash, a truck can be much cheaper to operate than leasing (or owning) a store. Hours of operation are pretty much dictated by your initiative, and as long as zoning ordinances don’t limit your operations, you can do business freely. (Naturally, check with City Hall before you try this.)

Combine the benefits of social media and a fully-functional e-commerce website, and suddenly this is a powerful business proposition.

But wait. Haven’t trucks and even bicycles been used for years as retail stores? Of course they have. I remember the Good Humor Ice Cream man in my Chicago neighborhood peddling (and pedaling) coolness on hot summer days. Vans and small trucks continue the tradition to this day, but I have also seen push carts in some areas as well (like the beach). And what about the Snap-On Tools truck? While this is technically not retail, it makes sales calls and deliveries to auto shops just like Kogi brings tacos curbside.

Which is another way of saying that maybe this isn’t such a new idea after all. At the risk of sounding sexist, women have been having Tupperware and lingerie parties for decades. There’s probably no point in trying this with the guys, because someone would bring beer, and before long everyone would be in front of a television watching the game. We’re bad that way.

But for my former student and the many others delivering the goods in trucks, I say keep on truckin’. It’s the new old fashioned way, and it proves once more there really is nothing new under the sun. Maybe just better ways of doing it.

And the next time I’m in LA, I’m going to track down Kogi. Taco ’bout a clever business model.

Dr “I’ll Take Two To Go” Gerlich

Why Buy Milk When The Cow Is Free?

3 07 2012

It’s hard to get people to buy things when they can get it for nothing. Sure, there are numerous companies that have convinced us we need to buy our drinking water, and others who entice us with trendy (and pricey) oxygen bars, but let’s face it: there’s little point in going to the dairy section if you’ve got a cow at home. Worse yet is when a company lets others milk that cow, but then turns around and try to sell them more milk.

Kind of like Facebook is doing with advertisers.

The farther Facebook gets from its IPO, the more important it becomes for the company to show profitability. The only problem is that it has given companies little reason to pay for advertising when they can create their own Pages for free. It’s kind of like having a second (and in the case of some companies, several hundred) web site(s) for nothing. It has gotten so bad that, while marketers swear by Facebook, they just don’t want (or need) to advertise there.

Given the simplicity of creating a free Page, it is worse than leaving your house keys under the mat. Facebook has gone off and left the door wide open. Come on in. Take what you like.

Worse yet, there are numerous third-party providers providing turnkey custom FB Pages, either for free or premium versions (like Wix).

Given the huge number of scams that still appear on Facebook regularly (“Find you who has been viewing your pictures!”), users are increasingly reluctant to click things. And that includes the ads on the right-hand-side. Never mind if those ads might have been placed there legitimately (and after much wrangling of keywords). The 900 million residents of Facebookland are more likely and willing to simply Like a company’s page, and then see updates on their News Feed.

Which means, for all intents and purposes, that the News Feed has become the most valuable real estate on the Facebook screen, followed by the company’s Page, for those who want to learn more. It’s almost like having the newspaper delivered right to your front porch, because the News Feed becomes your day-long drip irrigation of information. Friends. Family. Organizations. Celebrities. And companies.

Tell me again why companies should be paying for this?

I can see it coming. Just like the dotcom darlings of the late-90s and early-2000s had to cave in to shareholder pressure and hire old-school managers with a few ounces of common sense, so, too, will Facebook have to acquiesce. It’s a great idea and all that, but if it can’t make money, it has no economically redeeming value. A bunch of hip, cool 20-somethings may totally get social media, but they simply do not get the money part.

Believe me, shareholders would rather lose a couple hundred million users if in the process the company could just figure out a revenue model.

Facebook wrongly assumed that the Google approach to ad placement would also work in social media. The only problem is that search is very different from social networking. One is very purposive and specific, while the other is more general in its entertaining and information gathering.

And if this dairy is going to make it, young farmer Zuckerberg needs to figure out how to quit letting companies milk him for all he’s worth.

Dr “Moovin’ On” Gerlich