It Came From The Water

26 09 2012

There’s probably no better way to start an argument in America than to bring up evolution. Regardless of where you stand on this topic, one thing’s certain: the resulting display of emotions and rhetoric will take on the appearance of de-evolution.

But if we start talking about the evolution of marketing, and specifically in the digital era, then everyone will step to the same side. There’s just no debating that the field has come a long way in a short period of time.

The crazy part is that many of the things we use today actually had their start…well, a relatively long time ago. The first SMS message was sent 18 years ago; the first QR code came that same year. And Friendster? Who remembers that? Well, it was a precursor to everything we now know in the Facebook and Twitter era. Think of it as the Neanderthal social media site.

Another way for me to look at the Infographic is that I have been married precisely one year longer than the earliest innovation pictured. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but I do know that both my wife and I, and all of this high-tech marketing, have evolved significantly. Some memorable things, some not so memorable.

Yeah, but still part of the story we (and marketers) will tell grandkids one day.

Since I toil in this field on a daily basis, I am frequently asked where I think it is all going. Of course, if I had the answer to that question, I probably would not be sitting here in an office ensconced in the ivory tower of academe. I’d be in California hustling up venture capital funds. But I am still willing to give it my best shot. Heck, it might make for a good comedy sketch someday.

So here goes.

I see a day coming very soon in which we will all have televisions connected to the internet, whether it be by Roky, Apple TV, Google TV or whatever. The device won’t matter as much as that they are integrated.

We will also watch these TVs with one or two other screens (phones and/or tablets) in our hands or only inches away. We will interact with network- or show-specific apps while we are watching the shows, tweeting and Facebooking all the while, and engaging with programming in ways never before imagined possible.

And we will then be able to shop during the show. Smart remotes or mobile apps will allow us to point and click at anything we see in a scene. In fact, each and every scene will double as a showroom, which means that paid product placement will be the norm. Nothing will be left to chance. And while paid placements like these date all the way back to the 50s, at least now we will be able to connect the dots and buy it. Right here. Right now. On impulse.

Virtually everything we do will have the possibility of it being broadcast to our legions of fans and friends on the social graph, whichever part(s) we use. I am already seeing this in small bits and pieces today. As part of my track record at GetGlue.com, I now get push notifications at the beginning of Survivor and How I Met Your Mother, telling me how many people have checked into those shows.

And the message is, “Hey Nick! Don’t be left behind!”

Which is, I suppose, an important part of evolution. No one wants to be left behind, while everyone else is evolving. Shedding the vestigial dorsal fins of the analog era. Reaching farther. Growing the long legs needed to leap farther into the future.

Yeah, count me in. I kind of like this stuff. I like where we’re headed. And I like to think I fit in. Swimmingly, of course.

Dr “(d)Evo” Gerlich

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Conversion Factor

26 09 2012

Just when you think you have all this futurecasting under control, social media presence cemented, and mobile devices charged and ready to go, along comes a report that says that less than 1% of online sales are influenced by social media.

Gulp. How can that be?

It is admittedly very difficult to track such influence, regardless of the source. While the study examined 77,000 online transactions during early April 2012, it had to rely on sophisticated tracking the grabs click-throughs like where the shopper came from immediately prior to the purchase. The study concludes by recomending “traditional online marketing tactics” be relied upon more than social media.

First of all, allow me a brief chuckle while I process the words “traditional” and “online” in the same sentence. That’s another way of saying organic and paid search, as well as email. Email? Who does email anymore?

My, we have come a long way, baby. How many years has it been since Amazon opened? (It was 17 years ago, in case you didn’t know.)

But what the study does not begin to include is the cumulative effect of consumers having been exposed to ads, wherever they may be. Older “traditional” media are likewise not included (how could one begin to tabulate whether the shopper just put down his Sunday newspaper?), nor have we included the soon-to-be-introduced concept of live television shopping (see it, click it, buy it). And, of course, nor does it include seeing all those pesky ads down the right-hand pane in Facebook, the images on the corporate Instagram account, the cool pics and information available on the company Pinterest page, or the last month’s worth of branded tweets.

In other words, it was a noble effort to understand online buyer behavior, but there’s just too much else going on that we cannot begin to think in isolation. Search (both organic and paid) may still reflect a high degree of consumer purposiveness (after all, you were Googling it, right?). Website traffic may still be driven by shoppers seeing your URL plastered somewhere. But so, too, are consumers driven to your social media sites.

If anything, the high road is one paved with a durable macadam of old and new, and everything in between.

Which, of course, is another way of saying “everything in moderation.” Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one electronic basket, or you might miss the sale. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about converting people, getting them to become your customer, and keeping them coming back for more. Studies like this one need to be viewed through the proper lens. And when you do, you will see that the futurecast may be complicated, but with proper planning you really can dress for this weather.

Dr “View Cart” Gerlich





Right Here, Right Now

26 09 2012

For the last several years, I have shared futurecast videos with my students. Yeah, sometimes they are a little farfetched, but then again, so were The Jetsons. Still, they give us a snapshot of where we are right now, and hint at where things appear to be headed. These futurecasts are a lot like the 6-10 day weather outlook: the closer you are to today, the more likely you are to make a good prediction. But once you get out a week and a half, your guess is as good as mine.

For what it’s worth, then, share this video (which my student Julia Greif shared with me this morning…so appropriately, I might add…via Facebook:

While this one is not perfect, it does make some very valid claims…claims that no business can afford to ignore. Like I told my students 15 years ago, the question was whether your business would have a website. No, the question was when. And now, the questions is not whether your business will have a presence on social media. Instead, it is when and how much. Or, as the video queries, how well you do it.

Which is another way of saying that the train has left the station, but if you run fast enough, you might be able to hop on.

I recall futurists saying similar such things some 20 years ago when email was just starting to take off, that the world would begin to look like it currently does. I also embed a rather somber video (with schmaltzy late-60s jazz soundbed) in my Evo Marketing class in which future shopping is foretold from the view of 1969. One look at the gigantic computers and clunky connections is good for a quick laugh, but they actually hit the nail kind of on the head. OK, maybe a glancing blow, but they got most of it right. We are buying more and more of our stuff online without having to venture out to stores.

The moral to the story? Pay attention to folks in the middle of the fray, for they have the best view of the crystal ball. They may not own the crystal ball, but who else is more qualified to predict what is coming down the pike? Who else would you trust to draw out the implications of all that is happening today?

But what do I know. I’m just the guy who teaches the class.

Dr “Let’s Get Sociable” Gerlich





Bird Of A Different Feather

20 09 2012

These are very dangerous times. Social media have made it difficult to say anything without being berated, scorned, boycotted and belittled.

Or praised and feted. It all depends on which side of the issue you stand. Like the recent Chick-Fil-A (CFA) debacle regarding the company’s donations to groups that are anti-gay, as well as statements by the company President, Dan Cathy.

In July of this year, the nation was abuzz about Cathy’s comments about gays and gay marriage. The “A” word…abomination…was used. Lots of people got their feathers stirred up, both pro and con. A CFA Appreciation Day was held on 1st August; a response was staged by the “other side” shortly thereafter.

But now word has leaked that CFA may stop funding anti-gay groups, as well as no longer voice its views on the subject.

While various sources today can neither confirm nor deny if CFA will go through with this, even the possibility of it suggests that flip-flop season may not be over just yet. Can anyone say Susan G. Komen Foundation?

There are numerous issues at play simultaneously, including: (1) boycotting behavior of consumers; (2) free speech, both personal and corporate; (3) the blurring of personal and corporate speech; (4)oh, and sensitive subject matter.

Take boycotting behavior, for example. At what point do a shopper’s and company’s convictions and practices clash so much that they part ways? Or, stated differently, how much are we willing to overlook as shoppers? For example, I have long said that Walmart is the store that everyone hates, but shops there anyway. Never mind low wages, few benefits, mediocre selection and quality, and a store full of Chinese goods. The price is right for many.

And what about when a person speaks on behalf of a company? Sure, one could argue that CFA is private, and can do and say whatever it wants to. But what about the social contract? Do they not have an obligation to serve the public? To recognize that their corporate existence is still through the beneficience of federal, state and local governments? If you have been paying attention lately, you will know that Hobby Lobby is marching to a similar drummer, because they have filed a federal lawsuit protesting their obligations to the forthcoming ACA and coverage for the morning after pill.

I have no problem with individuals holding convictions, as well as acting on them. But even privately-owned companies need to tread carefully. It is hard to reconcile taking money from anyone and everyone, then turning around and condemning some of them. There is much to be said for not wearing your convictions on your sleeve, as well as not making it part of your corporate communication platform.

As for me, I seldom if ever boycott anyone except when I simply do not think I am receiving fair value in return for my dollar. If I were to take my vegetarian practice and try to impose it upon everyone else, I would have few friends (probably only other vegetarians). Nor would I be able to eat out in most places, since nearly every restaurant serves meat products. Could you imagine if I protested every restaurant because they served meat?

Silly.

What it all boils down to is this: a little give and take. I am willing to overlook a lot, but companies must be willing to do the same. Hell, we have to live together. We’re not here long enough to justify squabbling over who is right and who is wrong; instead, let’s figure out how we can all come to the table of diversity. There’s plenty of empty chairs.

Dr “Pecking Order” Gerlich





Screen Saver

20 09 2012

It’s fun watching my 14 year-old watch TV. Well, actually, she’s not watching that much TV, if you sit down and watch her. What she’s really doing is juggling…TV, iPhone and iPad. She is busy interacting with three different screens.

And she is not alone. Digital natives can handle this task with ease. Then there are folks my age who have trouble figuring out the remote control.

Marketers and broadcasters, though, are very much aware of this multitasking. They are onto the fact that for many viewers, there are second and sometimes third screens involved. It is completely divided attention, but if this can be turned to the marketers’ advantage, there is much to be gained. And retained.

Which explains why NBC is going bonkers with its NBC Live initiative. A full slate of new Fall shows have companion sites on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. And NBC is doing everything it can to steer multitasking minds to those landing pages. It can work both during and after the show, but especially during.

Imagine getting real-time viewer comment while the show is airing. That kind of stuff is priceless. It’s called engagement. The more you can engage your viewers, customers, etc., the more likely you will be to retain them.

In the TV business, jobs are won and lost by number of eyeballs. Do whatever it takes to keep them glued.

More than anything, all of this activity by NBC in response to changing user habits shows that not only can and should a company be resilient, but that these viewing habits are for real. This is no aberration; if anything, it is only going to intensify. Even for oldtimers like yours truly, I know that watching TV is seldom a singular activity. I already have a problem sitting still long enough to watch a show (unless it’s Breaking Bad). My mind starts to wander, and pretty soon I find myself playing with my phone and iPad. Of course, I sleep with these two only a few inches away anyway, so it is pretty much now second nature to reach for them whenever my mind drifts.

Maybe I was born 40 years too early.

Within the context of today’s teens and young adults, NBC’s moves make perfect sense. In fact, it’s do or die. There are so choices available today, so many voices in the media landscape. That efforts to engage have escalated so dramatically is really no surprise. In fact, the real surprise will be seeing who doesn’t reach out. Anyone who digs in their heels and refuses to budge is bound to be left behind.

Now if I could figure out a way to put my talking head on one of my daughter’s gadgets. Maybe then I’ll be able to engage her in conversation.

Dr “The Big Screen” 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.

Literally.

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





For The Health Of It

10 09 2012

Turns out that “going green” results in bottom lines equally green…as in cash. The current US market for organic foods and beverages is $30 billion…not bad for something that was once deemed the province of hippies and tree huggers. It is so mainstream that most supermarkets carry more than just a token selection of organics; it also explains why Whole Foods is now a Fortune 300 company.

Never mind the often higher prices of organics. The real question is whether they are good for you. A recent study purports that organics are no more nutritious than non-organics. So what does this mean for the industry?

If you read the study results closely, it should mean absolutely nothing.

How’s that again, Dr. Yogurt-and-Granola?

Simple. The research question of the study is whether organics are more nutritious than non-organics, which completely misses the mark. Consumers who purchase organics are likely to be buying them not for perceived benefit, but instead for detriment avoidance. No one ever said that organics are any better for you; no, the claim is that they are less bad for you. One does not eat organics to get more vitamins and minerals.

Two very different claims, as it turns out.

The growth of organics mirrors the aging of the US population, in particular the Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, the Boomers are either in their peak earning years, or recently retired. Paying a little more for groceries is not much of a problem, especially for a generation that decided long ago it wanted to live forever. And if paying more for foods without all those nasty pesticides, herbicides, etc., can deliver the promise of a healthier life, it’s a rational expense.

Frankly, I am surprised the study has gotten such traction, because it asked the wrong question. Instead, the researchers should have asked, “What are the measurable benefits, if any, from eating organic foods?”

But what do I know? I am just a Baby Boomer trying to stay healthy, trying to not ingest a chemical cocktail each time I eat, hoping to keep this body in good shape for many more years to come. Think of it as rust-proofing my body. We do the same for cars because we want them last a long time.

And I am happy to pay more.

Dr “The Whole Truth” Gerlich