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





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





The Conversational Brand

2 09 2012

There’s an old adage in business that says retailers follow rooftops. Build houses and apartments, and the retailers will follow. It makes perfect sense, because people need to eat and buy clothes, and retailers need customers. It may sound chicken-and-egg, but if you do it the other way around, the retailer will likely founder.

A corollary is quickly becoming established in social media. Companies follow clicks. We have seen how thousands of companies, organizations and individuals have embraced Facebook and Twitter (and, once upon a time, musicians on MySpace). Even corporate YouTube channels have become de rigeur. But that’s all old hat now, because the new hot spots are in the fringe-but-growing suburbs.

Take Instagram, for example. The quirky throwback to Polaroid has captured the curiosity of many an iPhoneographer (be sure to use a cool retro filter with a dollop of tilt-shift). Fort Collins CO-based New Belgium Brewing Company has been using Instagram as a way to colorfully feature its products, and in a way that sneaks right in under consumer advertising radar. JUmp over to Pinterest and the same thing is happening. While the Pinterest crowd is about 85:15 women to men, smart companies are figuring out how to appeal to the legions of females actively pinning recipes, home decor, clothing and more to this highly social bookmarking site.

And now the latest site to attract corporate interest is Spotify, the music listening (and sharing) site that appears all over our Facebook News Feed. “Nick Gerlich is listing to Storyville Radio on Spotify” is what my Timeline now says as I write this blog (“You gotta dig some Austin blues to understand,” he says).

This all became news to me last night while escorting my 14-year-old daughter to the Urban Outfitters store on Albuquerque’s Central Ave. While she tried on every top and skirt in the store, I busied myself looking at the wacky collection of books and kitsch (ever notice how UO has an almost juvenile fascination with anything bearing the F-word?), and stumbled upon a sign at the cash-wrap saying “We’re on Spotify!”

Instant conversation starter!

The clerk was not busy, so I engaged him in conversation. Yes, Spotify has its own fave artists and playlists, and they are all part of the branding of Urban Outfitters.

“So is this music I hear right now from your Spotify site?” I asked.

“Yes it is,” Mr. Tattoed-in-a-Tank-Top beamed. (“How is this guy ever gonna get a real job?” I thought to myself.)

Trick question. Either he was wrong, or they were violating the law and Spotify’s Terms of Service. Turns out the folks at BMI and ASCAP don’t like the public broadcast of their music without payment of royalty fees. It would be nice on paper to plant earworms and send folks home, but it’s not quite that easy without first paying the piper.

But I digress, for there’s a broader point to be made. You see, branding these days is not about companies telling you who they are, but rather it is a conversation…between you, me and the company. And this conversation is playing out on the social graph. It’s an organic process, one that must be cultivated carefully like a friendship. Gobe forever are the one-way Brand-to-Customer monologues of old.

As for Spotify playlists, they give customers a chance to see inside to the personality of the brand, but it also gives us all a chance to interact, applaud the music, or tell them we think their tunage sucks. More importantly, they also give folks a chance to continue the conversation…the interaction…whenever and wherever. Dig that Spotify playlist? Fire up that app on your phone and jam away. Stop by sometime and buy something, too.

So important have Spotify accounts become that President Obama launched one in January of this year. You, too, can rock out to the Prez’ favorite tunes, or at least the songs his staff think will resonate with voters.

If you recall, in 2008 the Obama team kicked McCain’s rear primarily on the basis of social media acumen. McCain was still trying to figure out email, while Obama was stirring up a tweet storm. This time around, the GOP has figured out a lot, and Mr. Romney also has his own On The Road campaign channel on Spotify.

The tough thing about all of this is that Marketing communication is infinitely more nuanced than it ever was, and with those nuances come the risk of falling into a pothole. A Marketing staffer who only knows traditional media may as well look into cashing out that 401(k) and settling in Florida. This thing is changing every day, and while Spotify is the newest kid in town, I suspect that by this time next year the hype will be directed to a site the likes of which we haven’t yet heard.

But the conversation goes on, regardless of the channel. Keep talking to me, baby. I need to vote. I need to shop. And I want to engage with you.

Dr “The Beat Goes On” 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





Just Checking

22 06 2012

After I received my drivers license and became preoccupied with sowing the wild oats of a misspent youth, my parents still required me to check in. Of course, back then we did not have cell phones. It meant that I had to either use the phone at a friend’s house, or be sure to carry a dime with me.

You know. Pay phones. Those were the original mobile phones, because it meant you weren’t at home.

Today, “checking in” has an entirely new meaning, thanks first to the likes of Gowalla and FourSquare, and more recently Facebook and GetGlue. The social graph is alive with posts from our friends who are apparently living far more exciting lives than are we.

But now there’s another twist on the check in, one that involves shopping. Checkpoints is a mobile app that rewards users with points for checking in at stores and for examining products. Check in at the store as soon as you walk in, and then the app takes over, telling you specific products to seek out. Of course, we can cross-post to Facebook and Twitter, and rewards can be redeemed in a multitude of locations.

And if you are on the same wavelength as me, your initial response might be, “Oh my God, this is GENIUS!”

This is better than paid product placements. It is better than the new Tivo/Paypal point-and-click TV ads. Why? Because it puts products in your hands that you might not have otherwise ever given the time of day. You behold it. You scan it. You engage with it. And hopefully, you put it in your basket.

Checkpoints has been used primarily with new consumer product introductions, mostly because it is a great way to acquaint shoppers with something they may not have even heard about yet. It can be used with any product, though. As long as manufacturers are willing to pony up money to Checkpoints, any product can be featured.

The cynic in me, though, says that shoppers go to Target because they already have a shopping list, and do not have time to merrily waltz around the store scanning every item that Checkpoints tells them to find. The vulgar side of me says that shoppers may even be whoring themselves for the possibility of a free meal at Chili’s. I guess if you’re hungry you might do anything, but the last thing I want to do is go on a Checkpoints Scavenger hunt.

Still, for those who are willing to participate, it truly is a genius plan. Gaining product trial is a daunting task for marketers. Giving stuff away in sample sizes is costly. But enticing people to actively look for your product helps overcome some of those roadblocks. Maybe scanning the item results in an instant coupon, thereby giving instant gratification. Perhaps it causes you to add the item to your choice set for future consideration. Maybe you will one day purchase it.

For those without a smartphone, though, Checkpoints is a moot point. That leaves out 50-percent of the US population. You’re on your own, pal.

And while I seldom have time to just be entertained at the store, I think I am game for a test drive…all in the name of research, of course. Something tells me that this thing could take off, in spite of my naysaying. I’ll meet you over in Aisle 7.

Dr “By The Buy” Gerlich