Pet Subject

20 09 2012

The recession must be over, folks. I’ve heard the economists telling me this for at least a couple of years. Never mind that all the important indicators, like housing starts and unemployment, are tepid at best. No, the real indicator is that the pet cemetery business is on a tear.

Apparently things aren’t so bad all over after all. Now please don’t slip on my sarcasm.

At first bark, it might seem this is just another example of a frivolous nation demonstrating its misspent wealth. After all, ceremonies and burial plots for Fido and Garfield? Don’t we have mortgages to try to get above water? DonĂ¯t we have kids to send to college, retirement accounts to feed?

And what does it say of our priorities regarding the humans in the family?

But I took the time to think about this one all day. My family may not have purchased pet burial services before, but we have held enough paws across our precious companions’ lives slipped away. We have our own pet cemetery on our rural acreage. Heck, we once owned 12 dogs at one time. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

If anything, this trend says something of our need for a different type of friend, one that does not talk back, never argues, and forgives and forgets by the time you get home from work. Our culture is one increasingly filled with road rage, estrangements, job insecurities, financial crises. And our pets? They will listen to our every word, and lick our face when we’re through pouring out our heart. And of us what do they ask? Food. Water. And a belly rub.

No, I don’t this trend is frivolous at all, nor does it necessarily signal a return to economic prosperity. If anything, it symbolizes a deeper problem, a social poverty from which it is hard to escape, and if in lavishing our pets upon their departure we incur expense, so be it. Maybe we just need our pets, and our fond farewells are a form of therapy, a cathartic moment, fitting memorial to a cat or dog that accepted us as we are, loved us anyway, and woke up each day ready to do it all again.

Sure, this is a marketing opportunity writ large, and only a fool would look something like this in the face. There’s money to be made in the sorrow business. And while I have yet to pay to permanently inter a pet, I know that I have spent thousands of dollars in vet bills through the years to save my faithful animals. As for those who do give their dogs and cats a decent burial, I have no bone to pick.

It’s a small price to pay to honor a friend.

Dr “Who Wants A Treat?” Gerlich

What’s In Store

20 09 2012

Old Retailing professors never die.

Before I walked to the dark side of administration and was relieved of much of my teaching duties, I used to teach a course in Retail Management. It was so much fun to keep up with the trends and changes, things like co-branding, kiosks, the c-store revolution, big boxes. And E-commerce.

Yeah, that one was a real revolution, for it was the biggest paradigm shift since we went from Sears catalogs to national chains. It’s also how I created a what was once a course in E-commerce, which then evolved into…well, Evolutionary Marketing.

Yep, I am already plugging my Summer 2013 course. Don’t miss it.

But E-commerce was only the beginning of the revolution. Yes, it awoke many a sleeping giant retailer, and whipped them into submission. Thank you very much, Amazon.

Shopping and retailing continue to change, and the future is going to require sunglasses. It is going to require that retailers be resilient and open to an increasing ate of change. And here’s the sobering takeaway (from the President of Nordstrom, no less): retail stores are going to be less and less about off-the-rack selling, and more and more about being a showroom. Oh yeah…with no cash-wrap stations, because it will all be done with mobile devices.

This is already being done at Apple stores. Ever try to find a cash register there? Good luck. Employees are equipped with mobile devices (aka, iPhones) with card swipers. Better yet, though, in the last year Apple introduced its own app that allows customers to check themselves out. I have used it several times…I use the app to scan any item off the shelf (it cannot be used to buy computers), and since the app is synced to my iTunes account, after a couple of taps I am done. Before I can even walk out the door I have a receipt in my .mac email account. Cha-ching. Shopping has never been better.

True dat.

The trend of scaled-back retailing is already beginning. Best Buy started shrinking its stores over a year ago, since music and movies are no longer purchased the way they were years ago. Oh, and never mind that Amazon is totally kicking their butt on anything that can be shipped in a small box.

The historic irony is that retailing may go full circle and become nothing more than a tangible catalog…the Sears of 1915, blended with the Service Merchandise model of the 1970s. Cash-and-carry may actually become harder in the future, or at least very different from that which we have grown accustomed in the recent past.

All of which means that for those of us who teach Retailing or anything related will have no shortage of work in academia. Someone’s got to stay on top of this stuff, and the faster it changes, the more work that is required. In a strange kind of way, it means that this old Retailing prof will never die. There’s too much living going on.

Dr “I’ll See You Next Summer?” Gerlich

Creator Or Curator?

20 09 2012

The beauty of the social media explosion is that it has given academics an entirely new sandbox in which to play as well as research. Like being kidnapped, blindfolded, and released in a jungle without a machete, we are trying to find our way through the thick growth.

Sometimes we get lost for hours, but every once in a while we figure out something new. Like who likes what. And that are categories of users.

I’m sure you have already noticed this to some degree or another, but probably never really connected the dots. Turns out there are Creators and Curators, and that hybrid who does both.

Creators are those who post lots of pics and videos, as well as post original glib remarks and tasty blogs. Curators are those who post other people’s content. The Cureator does both with reckless abandon.

Naturally, there are degrees of each. Some Creators only post one thing a day, or take the weekends off, or otherwise ration their contributions, while some appear to be endless founts of wisdom and pith. As for Curators, some people share news and political commentary, while others focus on being the 5078th person to share a lame e-card or Willy Wonka graphic.

I hope you aren’t that person.

Not to be left out of the mix are the individual sites catering to these user types. While Facebook and Twitter, for better or worse, manage to oblige every user, Pinterest appeals to women, and Instagram skews younger. Of course, this probably comes as no surprise to those of you who are actively engaged in social media. I stumbled into my 14 year-old daughter on Instagram earlier this year. “I didn’t know you were on Instagram!”

“Yeah, Dad, all of my friends are there.”

And as for Pinterest, the Y-chromosome in me has absolutely no idea what to do with the site. Pinning room decor, clothes, and recipes? That’s OK if it’t your thing, but I just don’t think that way. It just seems like a digital hope chest to me, and if I were to return to all of my unmet hopes and aspirations, I would become depressed. Grrr.

Yeah, that’s it. But maybe that’s just me more than the guy in me (beats chest). If I see it, want it, and can afford it, I get it. I can always beg my wife’s forgiveness later.

All I know is that it’s a jungle out there, and my phone’s flashlight app isn’t up for the task. It’s almost worth writing a blog about. Or perhaps reposting the article linked above.

Or both. Because I am a Cureator.

Dr “Post This” Gerlich


13 09 2012

It bothers me to no end that the whole Kool-Aid metaphor is attached to a gruesome incident in Guyana some 34 years ago. As horrible as that tragedy was, our lingering memory is of a once-innocent kids’ drink. Maybe we cope better by taking the bad and trying to spin in a little humor.

Which may explain why we drive the Kool-Aid metaphor into the ground when it comes to Apple and its sexy product line.

Did I just say that? I’m a married man. This is not Victoria’s secret…it’s Steve Jobs’ not-so-secret to take over the world, even from the grave.

And so the world paused for an hour or so yesterday to swirl another round of Apple-flavored drink, made sweet by the promise of ever more features, usability and coolness. Why, yes, I think I’ll have another.

Analysts are already predicting that iPhone5 will sell 10 million units in the first couple of weeks or so, and as many as 58 million in a year. No wonder apple stock keeps breaking its own records. Good grief.

This is yet another example of when the product is not the actual product, but rather some other aspect…tangible or intangible…that people are buying. Sure, it’s a telephone with a couple dozen other gadgets all built into one, but there are numerous substitutes, and ones that cost less. So why will 58 million people pony up anywhere from $200 to $400 for the latest, greatest iPhone?

Because nothing says “I am cool” better than an iPhone. Never you mind that most of these 58 million will be repeat offenders, people who grew up on iPhone 1, graduated to iPhone3 or iPhone4, and are now off to cell phone college.

The crazy thing is that, while iPhone5 has a somewhat larger screen and can run on 4G LTE (if you are one of the few US cities with this service), it really does not differ that much from its predecessors. Yeah, it’s razor thin and will have other marks of distinction to set you (I mean, me) apart from the crowd, but at its core, it’s just a reissue.

And I do not care.

Never mind that the Home button on my iPhone4 is getting very non-responsive. Disregard that I now have over 5800 pictures on it and only a few gigabytes left. These things could be rectified if I took the time to do so. But in the Gerlich household, Apple is the fruit we consume.

I am the first to admit that I pay the Apple tax with every gadget I buy. Yes, they tend to be better products than that of the competitors, and other offerings are quite a bit cheaper. But we all know about how our choice of brands says something about us…our quintessential good taste, our means, our tech-forward worldview.

Oh, and did I forget coolness?

You see, Apple’s armada of techno-gadgets are really lifestyle products, but they come with great consumer utility. In other words, they get the job done, but you look pretty impressive while doing it. And as much as competitors like to make fun of the price we Apple fan boys pay for our toys, don’t you think for a minute that they wouldn’t like to be in the driver’s seat, that they would like to see their own stock pushing $700, that people would pack their eponymous retail stores just to drool.

I’ve been drinking from this glass for seven years now, but it is empty once more. I’ll see you in line.

Dr “i to the oh yeah!” Gerlich

A New Old Batch

13 09 2012

The American brewing industry is a duopoly with hundreds of hangers-on clinging as best they can, fighting among themselves for the remaining 15-20% not already dominated by the other two. Belgium-based A-B InBev (Anheuser-Busch products) and UK-based SABMiller (including Coors, Miller and Molson imports) have a mighty lock on the sector. The regionals and micros vying for what remains offer up tastier more exotic fare, a pleasant alternative to the mass-produced drinks that have a lock on shelves and beer coolers.

But I continue to be amazed at how hard the duopolists keep trying to introduce their own craft beer wannabe. Apparently they are either not satisfied with over 80% of the market, or they secretly fear for their lives. A-B has been trying for years to sneak in the back door, marketing such brands as ShockTop (in several varietals) and Budweiser American Ale (a weak attempt to combat Fat Tire Ale). SABMiller likewise is foaming over trying to find its niche, and thus far has scored fairly well with Blue Moon (and its varietals), yet every serious beer drinker knows it’s just a macro masquerading as a micro.

The latest effort from SABMiller, though, has my curiosity aroused. Batch 19 is a throwback brew based on a pre-Prohibition recipe found somewhere deep in the Coors’ basement. And there it sat, not seeing the light of day (if even through an amber bottle). The name itself stems from the onset of Prohibition (1919), which ruined many a bowling league and countless backyard BBQs for 14 years. I found Batch 19 on-tap last night at Crush in Amarillo, and have since learned it is in very limited distribution for the moment. That’s code for “test market.”

Now here’s the crazy part. I swear I have tasted this before…like in a different Coors product. A couple of summers ago I picked up a 6-pack of Colorado Native while on vacation. It has a nice amber color, malty finish, enough hops to make it interesting, and foams nicely. My thoughts back then were that it was a rather lame attempt to, once again, match Fat Tire. If I had never tasted Fat Tire before, perhaps it would resonate. It just fell a little flat. Nice try, but no refill. Not from me, at least.

Of course, failure never stops a serious marketer from trying again. We have already seen how Pepsi doesn’t learn from its mistakes.

SO as I sipped my Batch 19 last night, I closed my eyes and put myself back on that hammock in Rocky Mountain National Park, Long’s Peak looming to the south. “Yeah, I’ve been here before,” I thought.

Of course, I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison, as well as extensive lab testing, to prove my claim. I also know that there are difference between lagers (cold-fermentation) and ales (warm fermentation). But consumer juries are not held to such high standards. If it tastes alike, then it is alike. Case closed.

But I must admit that I love the marketing behind Batch 19. From the very distinctive tap handles to the half-gallon growlers for carryout, this beer has some genius behind the message. Even the gigantic coasters showed attention to detail (imagine how big the coaster must be for a half-gallon bottle). While the SABMiller brewmaster may not be the best, the folks in marketing down the hall are pouring winners.

And with throwbacks so popular in general (remember my blog on Polaroid!), this one just makes perfect sense. Never mind my disconnect in the Rocky Mountain dream sequence. No. I’m thinking back to my grandfather’s day (he was also a Nicholas). In 1919 he was a young man of 24, newlywed, and a mere two years away from fatherhood. I remember his stories of Prohibition clearly. Those were rough years particularly for those of northern European extraction, for beer was a part of the diet. I miss everything about my grandfather.

Hmmm. Nostalgia in a half-gallon growler. Now that’s some foam to take home.

Dr “Down On The Pour Farm” Gerlich

Package Deal

13 09 2012

My kids love their Caprisuns. I buy them by the boxful. I hand them out like candy. And I find the foil pouches all over the house.

Yeah, we’ve got some work to do here. Self-monitoring is not high on their list, apparently.

But could you8 imagine a day in which the parents were the ones leaving the pouches all over the place? Don’t dwell too long on this, for the answer is a resounding Yes.

Perhaps you have already seen them in supermarkets, liquor stores and convenience store. Little foil pouches like those from Arbor Mist are now making alcohol consumption as easy as poking a straw.

Now get that picture out of your mind adults driving down the road with a pouch of booze.

In a strange kind of way, though, the wine (liquor, etc.) is not the product. It’s the package. The convenience. Non-breakable. Easily chilled. And oh-so-portable.

While not everyone is keen on them, the industry is certainly abuzz, with sales of $154 million in a recent 12-month period. That’s a lot of booze.

The beverage industry is filled with examples of packaging innovations as well as duds. Back in the early-1980s, Pepsi, Coke and Dr Pepper all tested resealable half-liter aluminum cans/bottles. It was a pretty cool idea until you actually tried to drink from it, for the hinged plastic lid had a nasty habit of rubbing your nose the wrong way. Retailers did not like them because they would not stack easily.

A few years later, Coke tested recyclable plastic cans (with shrink-wrap labels). It was the perfect gimmick…on paper, at least. Coke owned the company making the plastic cans, as well as recycling facility. The only problem with their plan was that it hinged on consumers politely returning their empties to the store so Coke could recycle them in perpetuity.

And no one did. End of experiment.

The jury is still out regarding the longevity of these pouches. Will they be just a short-term novelty, or long-term packaging concept? And what about the fact that yet another packaging variation requires some degree of extra handling and display?

I just hope the kids don’t grab one of these thinking it’s another juice beverage. We could have some problems then, with or without the straw.

Dr “Whine Cellar” Gerlich

Look What Just Developed

10 09 2012

It hasn’t been that many years since Outkast sang “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” The only problem is that most young people at the time of the song’s release (2003) pretty much had no idea what the heck a Polaroid picture is. Or was.

Well, what goes around, comes around. We used Polaroids when I was a kid. Sure, they were crappy pics, but being able to watch the picture develop before our very eyes was novelty writ large. Never mind the price per picture, this beat sending off your film and waiting for two weeks. Yeah, go ahead and shake it.

Today, Polaroids are quickly becoming all the rage. They are so retro cool and stylish. Old Polaroid cameras can be found at garage sales and antique stores for little or nothing. And who among us can say that Instagram didn’t help fuel this craze with its snazzy filters and square images?

The only problem has been finding the film to use in the cameras. But no longer…The Impossible Project has made its mission the salvation of all things Polaroid.

My 14-year-old daughter’s life is now almost complete, for very soon she will begin her own Polaroid adventure. A confessed Instagram addict, she wants more than anything to see what photography was like when her old man wasn’t quite so old. course, such new-found novelty doesn’t come cheap. An 8-pack of film runs $23.49 (they also sell new cameras if you can’t find an old one). Go ahead and shake your wallet, too.

TIP was started in 2008 by 10 former Polaroid employees. They bought the last remaining Polaroid film manufacturer, and set upon developing (pun intended) new products to be used with traditional Polaroid cameras. It’s an underground movement that is quickly going above-ground, especially with the likes of my friends over at Fading Nostalgia and their penchant for Polaroid photography (heck, Christopher Robleski recently released his first book, Polaroid Photos From Route 66).

Don’t think this is for real? The competition has awakened. Check out Fujifilm’s new Instax cameras. It, too, relies on instant processing, but produces pictures the size of a credit card. You can be the life of the party with a retro Polaroid or Instax if you don’t mind the coolness tax.

I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned here: Nostalgia never goes out of style. It just takes a while for the nostalgic yearning to emerge. While marketers are often in a hurry to move on to whatever the latest newfangled gadget may be, there is value in looking back to see what’s worth keeping…and worth re-introducing to an entirely new generation of users.

Once I made the move to digital back in November 1996 (with a Casio camera featuring 320 X 240 resolution!), I thought I would never go back to film. Digital is so much easier. The quality is now picture-perfect (as long as I can see straight enough to focus). And with memory cards, the price of “film” is pretty darn cheap.

Famous last pixels, eh?

Dr “Here, Let Me Take One More” Gerlich

As Seen On TV

10 09 2012

Back in the 1960s we thought we had it made. As in died and gone to heaven. Television. In the living room.

Never mind that for most of us, it was black-and-white. With a little imagination, we could superimpose a little color on all that grayscale.

If anything, family television viewing back then was just the same as listening to the radio…but with a screen. Everyone gathered close. Everyone, dammit. No splinter groups. This was a family activity. Sit down, shut up, and pretend like you’re enjoying yourself.

I have to laugh (maybe “cry” is a better response) when I think of my own family when it comes to TV. We have no fewer than seven TVs in the house. Just try to get all of us together to watch something. Between multiple screens and DVRs, no one ever watches anything with anyone…or when it originally aired.

Then add in Big Sis and her 2nd and 3rd screens (aka, iPhone and iPad), and you have the 21C viewing family. Yep, we put the fun in dysfunctional.

I was reminded of all this the last couple of days when a few colleagues and I started the process of responding to an RFP (that’s Request For Proposals) to a major media company seeking to award a major research grant to qualified applicants. The RFP mentions media, technology, family, and all that stuff that just complicates things. Why? Because whoever can put the puzzle together first is bound to make a big pile of money selling ads through it.

I feel like we are on the verge of yet another media revolution (as if we haven’t already gone through the fire already). Internet TV will finally stick (after repeated failures by Google). We will engage with this TV via our mobile devices (the 2nd and 3rd screens). We will shop while we watch (pointing our smartphones at the screen to scan that dress that Penny is wearing on BBT, or the way-cool t-shirt Sheldon has donned). Tap-tap-tap. Two days later, it lands on our doorstep.

But it will all likely be time-shifted. Mom in the bedroom. Dad in the den. Kids in bedrooms or the living room. All cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter, Klout scores growing by the minute with every person who Likes your discriminating choice in televised drama. Or the fact that you Liked Sheldon’t latest shirt.

It’s all a far cry from what my family did back in the 60s, and some would say it reflects the demise of the American family. Perhaps there’s a glimmer of truth there, but I also know that some of my more memorable intra-family exchanges of late have occurred while two or more of us were sitting under the same roof, “talking” to each other on FB and Instagram.

I know. Why don’t we just turn around and speak to each other? I dunno. But maybe, just maybe, our electronic communication was complimentary, not a substitute. The fact that I found my 14 y/o on Instagram was a fun encounter, for I had no idea. And my wife and I have had some really fun exchanges while sitting a foot apart…albeit back-to-back.

I suppose that’s the new living color. Why live in shades of gray?

Dr “Now Watching Breaking Amish–on DVR” Gerlich

Biden Time

10 09 2012

Once upon a time, an audible faux pas left one vulnerable for a long time, to be mocked and mimicked relentlessly by late-night TV and stand-up comedians until everyone grew sick of the pun.

Not anymore. Today if you screw up, you just buy the word. Literally. Actually, “literally.”

Like how the Obama campaign just bought the word at Twitter. VP Joe Biden’s speech at the DNC the other night left people literally laughing out loud because of the Veep’s over-use of the word “literally.” The Twitterverse lit up with snide remarks, and #literally became a trending topic.

What else could Obama do but buy the word? Now if anyone searches on that word, they will be greeted with a promoted tweet in support of President Obama.

Smooth move there, Mr. President. Someone on your team was on their toes, and understands social media.

This is the kind of thinking it takes to survive in the oft-cutthroat world of Facebook and Twitter. You have to roll with the punches, and beat people at their own game. Had Lowe’s, Susan G. Komen and Chick-Fil-A used their noggins, they would have been busy buying up words…words that had turned against them.

Forget fighting fire with fire. Nope. Today we fight words with words. Sure, there is always the risk that someone can launch a new hashtag on Twitter, or craft another pithy graphic of Gene “Willy Wonka” Wilder (Oh, puh-leeeze!).

Today’s marketers who think like traditional marketers are in for a bruising. I recently intoned that brands are now conversations, not one-way communications. It makes no different whether you are selling candy or candidates, all are “products” in the broad sense. More importantly, those who choose to not engage in the conversation will have the story written for them by the audience.


Dr “And This Is Why We Hire Speech Writers” Gerlich

At The Movies

10 09 2012

I remember when I was a kid and went to the movies. Whether it was a drive-in (long before they became retro-stylish) or in a classic theater building (complete with balcony and usually a pipe organ), there was always one truth: Once you saw it, that was pretty much it.

Sure, you could pay to see it again (or hide beneath the seats between showings, only to reclaim your seat once it started over). Or you could hope and pray it might one day show up on TV. But that was it. Watch it. Savor it. Remember it.

Things changed in the 70s and 80s with cable TV channels like HBO and Showtime, and then VHS movie rentals. Suddenly we had access to back catalog movies, as well as new releases once Hollywood got around to making them available. I remember watching many an old movie for the nostalgic value, wishing I had been able to own it all those intervening years.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the movie biz has once again experienced a paradigm shift, with VOD (video-on-demand) available from Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster and others. This has once again changed the way I access movies, because I can do everything in my jammies from the comfort of my recliner.

Guys are notorious for this anyway.

But now the movie industry is adding yet another wrinkle: Fox is rolling out UltraViolet, a cloud-based delivery system that will offer movies up to three weeks before they are available on other VOD platforms.

Heck, if they keep this up, I may no longer have any reason ever to actually go to a movie. Let me download it a few weeks after theatrical release, and I’ll be likely to pay the upscale download price ($15) just for the convenience of it all.

Naturally, Hollywood has a huge say in when movies can be available on DVD (for purchase or rent), as well as VOD. They fully understand the sales decay curve at the theaters, and want to help the theater chains maximize their revenues as well. It’s all a fairly predictable six-week period, unless the movie proves to be a blockbuster. But the UltraViolet announcement shrinks that lag time from theater to renter, giving me even more reason to ride it out.

Which raises an important question: Are theaters even still necessary? Sure, 50 years ago they served a noble social purpose, bringing people together for entertainment. But as technology has focused on our living rooms, we have fewer and fewer reasons to venture forth to be entertained. We can do this at home, either alone, or with family and friends.

Now if they can just come up with an app that pops the popcorn and delivers beverages, we’ll have it made. Double feature, anyone?

Dr “Film Flam” Gerlich