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, 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

Paperback Writer

20 09 2012

The last 20 years have not been kind to dinosaurs. While there’s still a market for vinyl records, photographic prints and books (among other things), the fact remains that we have gone digital and unless you can find your niche with the old school alternative, life support is only a choke and gasp away. Kind of like at Kodak, the company that invented the digital camera a few decades ago, and then politely sat on it. Once others reinvented that wheel, Kodak went into denial and thought that film photography would last forever.

Sure thing there, Ansel.

But every once in awhile Kodak hatches a good idea…like their partnership with On Demand Books to wrap Kodak’s photo kiosks around ODB’s Espresso Book printers. The married products will debut in CVS stores soon.

And it really is a great idea, because in this digital age, inventory of tangible goods becomes a huge risk. And never mind the competition from Amazon who sells both digital and print versions. Being a BAM retailer these days is simply not an enviable position.

But being able to sell paperback books on-demand in a BAM store is a great idea. No muss, no fuss. No inventory. Customer wants The Grapes Of Wrath? No problem. Insert credit card and watch it print, collate and bind your own audience-of-one book.

For that matter, the Espresso Book works great for limited edition books, which is a fancy way of saying “the book of our vacation pics.”

The only kink in the story is that Kodak has also put up for sale its kiosk division. Of course, one might quickly ask why Kodak would forge this relationship with ODB, but the answer is simple: this could easily make it easier for Kodak to unload yet another of its properties as it seeks to get its head back above water.

Whether Kodak will survive in the long-run is another story with great speculation. But as for being able to buy books…yea, thousands of possible titles…down at the corner drug store is appealing on many levels. OK, maybe not so appealing if you happen to be Barnes & Noble, but from the custoemr perspective, it is golden.

By the book? Yep. Buy the book.

Dr “Binding Agreement” 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

Make A Wish

22 06 2012

They are the bane of our Facebook existence. Friend Requests are fine (well, most of the time). Shared pop art, while often lame, is still acceptable. Heck, even the ads are OK.

But really riles us all up are the incessant invites from people to join their app. No, not games. Apps…like MyCalendar, Flixster, BirthdayCalendar, and BranchOut. I ignore them. All of them. I appreciate the “invite all of your friends” sentiments,” but no thanks.

Today, though, was different. I received my first invite to join Wish, an app whose tagline reads “Discover products you”ll love. Share with friends. Unlock special offers.”

Well, if that doesn’t have “Marketing” written all over it, I don’t know what does.

Basically, it is like a digital hope chest (hmmm…I think I have said the same thing of Pinterest before also). But Wish takes it a few steps farther by keeping tabs on the things for which people are pining, and then tries to negotiate deals with vendors to help connect all the dots (and credit cards). Naturally, Wish stands as an intermediary ready to take its share of the transaction, an agent in the newest sense of the word.

At first blush, this may seem like a valuable service. Let’s take our consuming desires (wait, maybe it’s the desires that are consuming us!), make them social so others can tag along, and then see if we can broker a deal on a truck load of them. Everyone wins, as the Wish website happily proclaims.

I am not sold yet, though. Why should we tell the world (and Wish, Pinterest, et al) everything we want? They are not Santa Claus, and in fact will unleash all manner of insidious marketing attacks upon us. It reminds me of one of Gary Larsen’s best Far Side comics. “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal, one deer says to another.

So why paint the bullseye on ourselves then?

My business sixth sense says this app just might fly, though. It is human nature to want to share our wants among friends. The question remains whether we will do it on Facebook, because that’s the only way this app works.

As for me and my invite, I declined. Nothing against my friend. I am just not into FB apps. I mean, unless, I go on to develop one of my own. I’ve got a few ideas, and more than one of them center on photography.

Hey, have I told you about the new camera I want?

Dr “Canon EOS-5D Mark III” Gerlich

Another Round Of App-lause

22 06 2012

It’s another one of those exciting days in Tech Land in which Apple announces what it is doing next. Rumors have been swirling for days amid the hype and hoopla leading up to today’s WWDC. The only thing missing was Steve Jobs himself.

Among the announcements concerning all the bells and whistles, new features, and retina screens coming to MacBook Pros, there were some very cool numbers trotted out. Apple lives and dies by numbers. Well, mostly lives. And profits handsomely. In fact, today an analysts predicted that Apple stock will hit $1650 by 2015. What I found more compelling, though, were the stats about apps.

Recall once more that the iPhone has only been with us for five years. During this time, some 650,000 apps have been introduced, 30 billion have been sold, and Apple’s App Store has 400 million customer accounts.

That’s a lot of credit cards on file.

Sure, Google’s Android Store went from 0-to-60 faster (500,000 apps and 15 billion sold in 18 months), but one would expect that from a follower. After all, Apple paved the road on which Google cruises.

But the very subject of these apps is one screaming for a closer look, which is code for academic research. “Ah…now I get it,” my students sing in unison. “That’s what that survey invitation was all about!”

As I discussed yesterday, five years ago no one knew how this thing was going to unfold. We knew the paradigm was shifting, but we didn’t where or how. Our goal in the study is to try to get a better idea of how people use apps on both smartphones and tablet devices. While there is some overlap in the Venn diagram of apps, there are also a lot of distinct uses that keep the two categories of devices separate but related.

There are many areas ripe for study, such as how much money people are willing to spend on an app. For example, is $1 the new dime in terms of risk assumption? How long do people use an app before they forget they even have it? And how many apps do people have on their phones and tablets (I have well over 200 on my phone, but probably only use a dozen or so with any regularity).

As for Apple, they are beyond “getting rich.” No, they are bloody stinking rich, and only getting richer. Google’s foray into mobile devices is much like the Microsoft model, in which an operating system and software are offered but little else. Apple, on the other hand, is perfectly integrated and sells the OS, software and hardware. While Google and Apple are running neck-and-neck right now in terms of current stock price, the future is much rosier for Apple because of its revenue model. Google makes about $10 for each Android installation, with the remaining profit going to the hardware maker. Apple keeps it all.

The numbers guy in me loves today’s report, because it means that, if we consider only the USA, 96 apps have been sold to roughly every man, woman and child. That’s a lot of apps. That’s a lot of things we do with our phones and tablets. And that is one hell of a paradigm shifted in only five years.

Dr “What’s Your App-titude?” Gerlich

A Smarter Smartphone

22 06 2012

When the iPhone was introduced in July 2007, everyone was in agreement that it signaled a paradigm shift. A new way of doing old things. A new way of doing new things. And a convergence of a whole lot in the process.

The only problem was that no one was exactly sure how it would be used, including Steve Jobs. It was a grand experiment, a noble product launch that, in true Apple fashion, addressed needs we did not know we had.

As it turns out, two of the most popular uses of the iPhone (and most other smartphones, for that matter) have been mapping and photographs. In the former, uses include GPS, mapping and directions, and basic trolling for general types of places (trying entering “Mexican food in your map app and see what happens). In the latter, it includes everything from taking the pic to editing and sharing it, by email, social media or SMS.

Oddly enough, Apple has utilized a Google-based mapping application, which is kind of like pre-loading a MacBook Pro with Microsoft Office. But tomorrow, this will all start to change when Apple is predicted to announce both new mapping and photo-sharing features with the upcoming iOS 6.0.

And it makes good sense, since these are two hotly contested applications on our phones. We have done away with our Garmins and TomToms, and in other case, quit carrying heavy and expensive cameras. Our phones can do it all. It just makes sense for Apple to ditch arch-rival Google and offer an improved mapping interface, especially when Google is also upping the ante with its own maps on Android phones.

As for photos, I for one never saw it coming. While I am an avid amateur photographer with nice gear, I still use my iPhone to shoot things. Lots of things. OK, almost 5000 things.

But here is the big take-away: mapping and photography are inexplicably intertwined, and everyone has been leaving advertising revenue on the table. Sure, Google has sold some minor mentions in its map app (like when you look for a Red Robin but instead get a pin for an Applebees). But this is small potatoes.

Recall that our smartphones are GPS-based. The map app needs location services turned on in order to work. And we geo-tag our pictures without even knowing it (on your iPhone, while looking at your Camera Roll, tap “Places” at the bottom to see what I mean).

OK, so why don’t Apple and Google start selling location-based ads for their phones? Imagine opening up your map app, and, after typing Red Robin, receiving not only a map with directions, but also a coupon. Or, for that matter, when you shoot and share a pic within proximity of, say, Abuelo’s, getting a Happy Hour reminder and promo?

Yeah, now you have it. They really have left ad money on the table.

Before everyone excoriates me for opening the door to ever more advertising, allow me to remind you that I am the marketer here, and it is my job to show my students how to make money. There. Absolved from all wrong-doing and sin with one pithy little statement. Don’t you just love pith?

I am excited to see Apple and Google ever refining our smartphone operating systems, as well as features. Look how far we have come in just five years. And try to imagine a life in which you did not have your handy little portable brain in your pocket or purse. Good luck there.

As this refining continues, we need to expect not only improved services, but also more precision marketing aimed specifically at an audience of one. Yes, that would be you. And me.


“Hello? Oh, just a sec.”

I think it’s for you.

Dr “Map My Life” Gerlich

The Wired Brain

29 03 2012

You really can teach old dogs new tricks.

According to a recent study, it is entirely possible that our brains can completely rewire and adapt to the technological changes around us. of course, it may drive you crazy, and you have to actually want to rewire, but it is possible.

The rest of the story, though, is that all of our technology is totally consuming many of us, regardless of age. Give it an inch, and it will take a mile.

Not to mention my nightstand, which is where my iPhone and iPad sleep comfortably beside me.

I did a telephone interview yesterday with Jon Mark Beilue of the Amarillo Globe-News about this very subject. He was interested in my comments about another recent study, one in which British researchers showed that worker productivity improved if people would take just one evening away from their phones. The answer: Yes, resoundingly.

But just because research shows this to be the case does not necessarily make it any easier for phone addicts to put the damn thing down. There is fear that business will be lost. Others argue that we are truly a 24/7 society, and that we must always be ready for a command performance.

Heck, my boss likes to work around midnight. I often receive emails from him in the middle of the night. Not that he expects me to respond within 30 minutes or anything, but I do confess to having anxiety attacks that I might be late to reply to something important. And I also must confess that there is an implicit “competition” among the three department heads to see who can reply first to his group messages.

Thank God my 53-year-old body can’t sleep straight through anymore. I nearly always awaken around 2:00am. With phone at my side, I am able to jump on those emails while the steam is still rising. Score one point for Dr. Gerlich.

But in response to Mr. Beilue, and much to my great credit, thank you very much, I did say that we all need to set aside some sacred time during which we are not reachable. For me those times are when I am out on my bike, at church, or sharing a dinner and movie with my wife and kids. And thanks to push-notifications from incoming text and Facebook messages, I can see them pop on my screen and decide if it’s an emergency or not without having to open them up.

As we continue to leap head-long into the always-on culture we have created, I sometimes feel like we have become the victims of our own device. But it is what it is, and this technology is not going away any time soon. In fact, as I mentioned to Mr. Beilue, it is only going to get worse. Remember those Google Glasses I wrote about not long ago. Yeah. Get used to them.

The good news is that as we age, we can adapt to these changes, as long as we are willing. the bad news is that we will be on ever shorter digital chains, attached to our desks and work stations…unless we retain some semblance of control over it. Therefore, we must stand firm in our resolve to unplug a little bit. There is no magic number of days or hours, but the time itself must be magical.

Each year my family goes camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Cell phone service in the park is lousy at best. I have to go to “the rock” to be able to get a weak signal, and then check email, post a few FB updates, or return calls. Yes, I climb atop that rock a couple of times each day, because in my position you sure don’t want to miss an important message from your Dean or Provost (even if you are off-duty). But the rest of the time, I am in a glorious no-contact zone, going on long hikes with my wife, riding my mountain bike up over 12,000 feet elevation, or, better yet, taking a nap on the hammock.

My brain has weathered the changes well. of course, I have been working on computers since 1974, so this wasn’t a big stretch, but it still takes some effort to embrace the new.

As for you, I encourage you to hang on to that sacred time, but never stop allowing your brain to rewire. Your career depends upon it. Your shopping depends on it. Your communications depend on it.

Just be sure to keep those wires straight and tucked away nearly beneath your cap. The guy in this picture doesn’t look at all cool, does he?

Dr “Wired That Way” Gerlich

They’re Ba-ack!

20 03 2012

One of the more memorable lines from Poltergeist II (1986) is when the toy phone rings, and the Beast, appearing as a ghostly Reverend Kane, alerts little Carol Anne of his return. Insert scary music and sound effects, topped with crying and screaming. The movie kind of goes downhill from there, which is understandable given that about the only thing people remember today are those two cryptic words.

Unfortunately, I found myself thinking the same two words when I read of the return of NetZero, the once-popular 1990s free dial-up service making its return to the internet realm. The only difference this time (and it is arguably a big one), is that NetZero is now offering free mobile wifi service instead of clunky snail’s-pace dial-up.

OK, there are some strings attached. Big ones.

First of all, you have to buy the device ($50 for a USB wifi card, or $100 for a stand-alone wifi hub). You only get 2000MB per month of bandwidth. And…here’s the kicker…it only lasts for a year.

Which is another way of saying that this time around, NetZero is basically teasing wifi newcomers to the table. You can’t do much more than send and receive emails with that kind of data plan. Naturally, NetZero is going to hit users with full frontal assaults to upgrade to pricier options (that can reach $50/month) that allow up to 4GB of bandwidth (or $9.95 for 500MB).

NetZero is actually reselling Sprint/Clearwire wifi in this instance, which means that technical support is now two steps removed from users. Clearly, this offering is designed for those who have not yet jumped on the wifi train. I currently pay $60/month to Sprint for a similar wifi hub that supports 5 devices, and gives me unlimited 4G bandwidth (or up to 2GB in 3G mode). I never have to worry about approaching my limit, and I know who I can call if I ever have trouble.

But NetZero is coming in essentially with a blue light special. And if all you really need to do is check your email, this might just be the trick. Even after the trial period is up, for about $10 a month users can have 500MB (still rather limited) to play with.

All told, this is actually a very clever strategy, because NetZero learned long ago that those most likely to fall for the free model are not likely to be heavy users in the first place. I am sure they no doubt have clever algorithms in place predicting exactly how much bandwidth each person will use. Given that they are bulk-buying unused capacity from Sprint/Clearwire, they are getting a huge deal…and then passing it on as if it were a real bargain for consumers.

Good marketing, as long as you don’t decide to become a YouTube junkie.

As for me, I abide by the “you-get-what-you-pay-for” mantra. When it comes to internet service, I don’t want to be bound by ridiculously low limits, only to suddenly find myself into a bonus round of fees. I’d rather pay up front for a smorgasbord, and then eat what I want.

Which is why when my toy phone rang this morning, I wasn’t the least bit scared of the Reverend Kane as he came down my street. He can walk on the other side.

Dr “I Can Be A Beast” Gerlich

Play Time

7 03 2012

We live in good times. Technology is developing so fast we can hardly keep up. While change is a constant, the rate of change is changing. And companies are duking it out in a slugfest to continually offer us the best of everything.

Like Google Play, the latest offering from the search engine giant. Google eBookstore, Google Music, and the Android AppStore have been combined into Play, and are now a direct competitor with Apple’s iCloud service. Basically, everything you do on one device can be accessed or continued on another.

Can anyone say convergence?

Play and iCloud allow users complete control over their content and when, where and how it is accessed. It’s all about mobility. Convenience. Portability. And the cloud.

There’s that word again. You’d think I’d quit hammering this point home with my students, but I happen to think this thing is huge. It is redefining not only how we compute, but how we do everything.

And both Google and Apple have now effectively created their own ecosystems that reinforce each device. It would be foolish, for example, for an iPhone owner to buy an Android tablet. What these companies have done is basically make it hard (and silly) for anyone to consider jumping ship. Which is why my family’s tech toys are all Apple products. Once you sip the Kool-Aid, you have to take a refill, not a different cup.

And it must be repeated (as I have said numerous times before), that Apple and Google have accomplished such ecosystems in entirely different ways. Apple’s is one based around both hardware and operating system, whereas Google’s is just about the OS. Either way, though, both have a way of locking the door on you.

All of this convenience must have a price, though. Apple offers 5GB of free storage, but is giving the legacy MobileMe users a free upgrade to 20GB for a few months, at which time we will be given the option to pony up an unspecified premium. It remains to be seen how Google will handle the revenue side. Of course, since Google is nothing less than an advertising company, maybe they will be able to offer everything for free, the “price” being that we have to endure more ads.

Orf course, one big piece missing from all this bundling is television, but not for lack of trying. Google TV was supposed to bridge that gap, but landed with a thud. Google is rumored to be in development of its own line of TVs with built-in Google TV features; Apple is also rumored to preparing its own line of TVs for introduction this year. Once we get all of these devices linked via the cloud, there won’t be much left that we do not already have.

Which is another way of saying I may never have to leave my recliner to do anything. These really are good times. Now if I can just train my Golden Retriever to retrieve some food and beverage for me.

Dr “Refill, Please!” Gerlich

The Day Has Come

2 03 2012

It is here. There is no turning back. You cannot hide. Get used to it. Or retreat to a self-imposed Google exile.

Good luck with that.

Today is the day that Google’s new privacy policy go into effect. It has been talked about, debated, feared, and otherwise put through great amounts of hand-wringing. People are upset, but then again, they always do whenever their online privacy is at stake.

Google was even nice enough to consolidate about 70 different policies into one handy document so that we have a better chance of understanding it. Of course, no one ever reads those Terms of Service agreements anyway, so it is rather a moot point. A nice PR-positive moot point, but moot nonetheless. what’s really happening is that Google has now allowed its various services to talk across platforms, whereas prior to today they tended to be self-contained little accumulations of usage history.

And while today is technically the big debut, the policy began leaking out a couple of weeks ago. I noticed that, if I was logged in to my Gmail account, when I went to YouTube it would suggest videos posted my some of my Google+ friends. To be honest, I was creeped out the first few times it happened.

But this is really only the beginning. because nearly everyone on the planet with a computer or smartphone has a Google account of some kind, it basically means that our lives are now completely open books to Google. It can now access our search histories and match them to our emails, our video searches and views, even our pictures on Picasa.

So don’t be surprised if you start seeing more highly targeted advertising in one arena based on what you did in others.

Privacy fearmongers worry that our personal information could easily be breached, as well as used for exploitative commercial gain. But guess what? We have never paid a single nickel for any of Google’s services. And this just in: Google is really in the advertising business.

Not search. Not email. Not document storage. Not videos. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

And the more ads they can sell, and the more they can sell them with frightening accuracy, the more money they stand to make.

So what’s a frightened user to do? Well, for the most part, just suck it up. Sure, you can drill down through your account to delete your web and video searches, and you could use one service (e.g., YouTube) without also logging in to your Gmail first. But guess what? Google also tracks your IP address, so it will still know you.

Aside from simply shunning all Google services, we don’t have a whole lot of options. Sure, we could search at Stealth, but I am not convinced they will be around forever with their business model.

More realistically, just be careful what your searching for, don’t watch any questionable videos, and keep your email clean.

Because Google is watching you. And it wants to help someone sell you something.

Dr “D-Day” Gerlich