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

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

Turn The Page

20 09 2012

There is a sneaky side to me that often only becomes apparent once I have played my cards. For example, I will often play devil&3039;s advocate in my classes, and argue something around the block, even if I do not believe it is the right route. It’s a good way of stimulating conversation.

Kind of like what I did yesterday when I presented the news about Kodak’s partnership with On Demand Books. On paper, it looks like a very good deal for both parties. It should enhance Kodak’s abilities to sell of its kiosks, it will add nicely to CVS’ product array by offering books, it eases inventory requirements in the channel, and it gives consumers broader access to tangible copies should they desire them.

Except for one thing: E-Reading is going through the roof.

The study linked above shows what many of us already know to be true: that while tangible books are still king, the incidence of reading on tablet devices is quickly gaining in popularity. Furthermore, those who read on tablets are heavy reader, consuming nearly twice as many books in a year as those who prefer paper.

The study shows that 29% of US adults own a tablet device. The only problem is that the study did not include devices like the iPad, which is a tablet by any description. A recent study that my colleagues and I did at WTAMU showed that 33% of our students own some kind of tablet. Either way, these devices are becoming increasingly popular, and they are changing the way that we read.

I have also read recent reports that tablet usage on airplanes now exceeds that of laptops. They are far more convenient to tote, and in many instances, can perform the same tasks as those of a laptop. On a recent flight from Chicago to Dallas on Southwest Airlines, I availed myself of the $5 wifi service in flight. It worked marvelously on my iPad. Oh, and for grins, I did a Facebook Check-In from 36,000 feet. I’m waiting to see if anyone else has found my “spot.”

But as tablets become ever more ubiquitous (just wait until this Christmas–they will be the hot gift item), we will consume ever more of our books in this format. It just makes sense. E-books are normally cheaper than their tangible counterparts, they are more portable, and, as your collection grows, never exceeds the size of the tablet itself.

You can start planning what you will do with all that extra space in your home.

Sure, the entire reading experience is transformed. No matter how authentic the software developers try to create a metaphor of turning pages, booking etc., it will never be quite the same as the real deal. While I love to lie down to read, and then slowly drift off into a nap with a book on my chest, I sure as heck know that I don’t want to awaken only to find my iPad had crashed to the floor. That’s an impact only a tangible book can withstand.

But if you compare the growth of my bookshelves items to the gigabytes on my iPad, you would know where I and how I am spending my money. I am reading more than ever before. I just make sure to put my iPad on the nightstand before drifting off.

Dr “Cover To Cover” 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

It Only Takes A Spark

10 09 2012

I love a good fight. In the marketplace, I mean. Whenever you get a couple of powerhouse companies in a knock-down, drag-out, consumers are the ultimate winners.

Like today after Amazon’s Jeff Bezos came out with punching with a fistful of new Kindles.

While Kindle may have been first to launch tablets in recent memory (I say that because Sony tried and failed a few years prior), it has been Apple stealing all the thunder with iPads. Over 60 million iPads have been sold since April 2010.

But Kindles have always been cheaper than iPads, even if not in the same features league. Not anymore, though. While Bezos further lowered the price of a base Kindle (to $159), he hit the upper end with a Cadillac-on-a-Chevy budget model that will rival any iPad out there…and for $230 less.

While both companies have had the benefit of visionary leaders, their strategies are very different. Apple is primarily a high-priced hardware company that has managed to make good money selling music and apps. Amazon, though, is a mass retailer that also happens to make lower-priced Kindles. And, as Bezos well knows, the real money to be made is through selling stuff.

Which is why he wants to get a Kindle (any Kindle, for crying out loud) in the hands of as many people as possible.

You see, each and every Kindle Fire is basically a shopping cart in the Amazon store. Apple’s limitation is Amazon’s strength. Apple sells primarily music and apps, a few movies, and even few books and periodicals. I learned this a couple of years ago while trying to buy books for my 1st-gen iPad. The iBooks store is pathetic; I quickly downloaded the Kindle app to the iPad and started buying all of my books there.

Oh, and a ton of other stuff from Amazon, although I had to navigate to it using the o-board Safari browser. Bezos fixes all that, though, on the Kindles because you are never more than a tap away from being in the store.

There’s also some delicious irony today (especially if you do not like Apple), because Apple just announced a Big Announcement Day for 12th September. On that day analysts expect not only iPhone5, but also a smaller, leaner iPad to do battle with Kindle. But Bezos got the first punch.

And what a punch it was. Do you think there are many persons alive who won’t be getting some kind of tablet device for Christmas this year? This fight is only warming up, and the sparks are already flying. I see lots of boxes on doorsteps with the familiar smile logo. Never mind that I am the quintessential Apple junkie…today’s showing could be Amazon’s coup de gras in the tablet market.

Dr “Jump Into The Fire” Gerlich

Generation Gapped

29 08 2012

Those who know me are already convinced that, while my furrowed brow may signify 50-plus years, I refuse to sit idly by. I sang along with Roger Daltry back in the late-60s when he rhapsodized about hoping to die before getting old. Besides, I get paid to stay current on this stuff. If I were to give up, I would have to go back to teaching more mundane subjects.

That said, the differences between the generations is growing exponentially. Just last night this all became crystal clear to me when 14-year-old Becca came to me while I was catching up on work emails.

“Dad, I want to buy something.”

Uh-oh. That always involves me. “Um…what did you have in mind?”

“I want to buy this shirt at Wet Seal.”

“Well, why don’t you just buy it in the store?”

“Because they don’t carry everything at the store, Dad. I’ve been looking at their website on my iPad. See?”

“Yep, I see it,” as I checked to see if my wallet was still there. “Hey Becca, have you ever bought anything online before?”

“Nope, Dad. That’s why I need your help.” Code words for “Dad’s credit card.”

“Wait…you’ve downloaded hundreds of songs and apps to your phone and iPad. That’s not the same.”

I thought for a second. “Hmmm…you’re right. Those only involve entering my iTunes password.”

So I handed to keyboard to Becca and let her navigate through the shopping mall that the members of Generation C (as in “Connected”) know. She quickly found what she had seen on her iPad, and I walked her through the process of buying a pair of jeans. Sure, we could have done it on her iPad, but I wanted her to get the full e-commerce experience the way we old timers have known it.

I then retired to bed, only to be awakened by a bright light (wait…had I died and begun my walk to the other side?). I was brought to consciousness by a loud announcement informing me there were more things to be purchased…at American Apparel and PacSun.

Isn’t it fun having a teenager?

The Dad in me secretly loved the whole exchange, though, for Becca learned some valuable things in the process. She has learned how to pre-shop (on whatever device is handy), she learned painfully that her desired item was not available in her size (necessitating a search for something else, lest Dad’s credit card go unused). She had already observed that many retail stores do not stock everything in their BAM storefronts, and instead use their websites as superstores with many times the product choices.

And finally, she learned that shopping is just much easier when you don’t have to actually go anywhere. No traffic. No crowds. No cute outfits and make-up (for her, not me).

Yeah, it’s a whole new world out there, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Never mind my membership in the Over-50 Club, I dig this as much as does Becca. I only wish I could let my Dad pay for it all.

Dr “Folks Who Bought This Also Bought…” Gerlich

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

27 08 2012

Often, it is hard to know how far you’ve come until your look over your shoulder. It’s kind of like going mountain climbing. The path is steep and rocky, and the air getting thin. But just one look back affirms everything as you see the trail behind vanishing into .the blur of horizon.

Kind of like how things are with the Internet.

Of course, for those of you keeping score, the Internet has been around a very long time. Electronic computers, introduced in the 1950s, and ARPANET, developed in the late-1960s, have both evolved to the internet we all now take for granted. But even the last 10 years have produced an enormous amount of change. Just take a look.

Hey, is that our path I see way off in the distance?

It really is hard to believe we once lived in a land without Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. If we wanted to share something, we had to meet at the grapevine, or forward it to all of our friends. Liking something meant holding an intense affinity, and more than likely just keeping it to yourself. And real comedians appeared in comedy clubs and occasionally on television. Heck, now they think they are rock stars and have their own YouTube channels.

But perhaps most importantly, it means that everything has changed for marketers. Gone forever are the days of traditional media only campaigns, like TV, radio, print and outdoor. Sure, we still use those media, but nowadays companies hire social media managers to oversee all of the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feeds the company runs. Oh yeah…and let’s not forget Instagram and Pinterest.

Must be nice to be 22. They’re the ones getting all those cool jobs.

Let’s not forget shopping, either. While BAM (brick-and-mortar) stores will probably never go away, their roles are being redefined. They are becoming more and more showroom, and less and less inventory repository. Which is another way of saying that Amazon is kicking some major league booty these days.

Today’s marketing-savvy professional cannot afford to be without social media nor mobile devices. Anyone wishing to call him or herself a marketer must be on the cutting edge of technology, not the dull back side. Any company wishing to prosper in this hyper-advanced internet era must embrace the changes, or risk losing everything.

And while the path feels like it is only getting steeper, turning around is an option reserved for those whom we otherwise know by this word: Quitter.

Yes, that’s a hard pill to swallow, and perhaps I am being harsh, but this is the new reality. Ten years ago you could get away with having an e-commerce site, and quite possibly nothing at all.

The rarefied air of today’s high-altitude internet may cause us to stop to catch our breath, but it’s the only choice we have. Keep climbing. Suck some air. Trip every once in awhile. It’s OK, because we’re all in this together.

And that really is our path way down there at the horizon. Doesn’t it feel good to have come so far?

Dr “Three Miles High” 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

Rested Development

22 06 2012

I have heard it said that USAmericans are exposed to as many as 5000 ads per day. They come at us from a variety of directions, some subtle, some in your face. Broadcast. Print. Online. Outdoor. Mobile.

Some are so subtle that they fly under the radar. For example, last summer about this time we went to see the Padres and Nationals at Petco Park in San Diego. Other than possibly being the perfect cure for insomnia (two lousy teams duking it out for the honor of being the league’s doormat), it was a nice evening spent in the cool June Gloom of Southern California. Little did I realize I was being marketed to at every turn.

Corporate naming rights are now being sold for anything and everything. Stadia are perhaps among the more common, but universities as well are getting in on it (thanks to state governments decreasing funding for higher education). But now it appears that we may have one more location in which to soak up monetary messages: highway rest areas.

If anything, rest areas have remained virtually ad-free for decades. Sure, there might be vending machines and state tourism attendants, but it’s pretty much virgin territory for marketing. If the recession has taught us anything, though, it is that governments either cannot or will not continue to pay for the things we once took for granted.

So imagine taking the freeway exit and being confronted with signage like this: Welcome to the Coca Cola Rest & Safety Park! Park your car. relax. Stretch your tired legs. And have an ice cold Coke!

Yeah, it could happen. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but with state budgets getting ever tighter, and now a few states willing to give this notion a whirl, it could happen.

It’s something that should have been considered in Texas. In the last year, TXDOT shut down dozens of small picnic areas, citing budget problems and escalating upkeep costs. Imagine if these picnic areas had been sponsored instead by companies? They could have remained open…and continue to provide not only a place for a family snack, but also a safe place to take a rest from driving.

I am sure that some social critics will find this reprehensible, but it is something we must come to accept in the future. I would not be surprised to see bridges and entire road segments underwritten by corporations.

Heck, it’s already happening to some degree. For example,, the Amazon shoe subsidiary headquartered in Las Vegas, has paid handsomely to be the exclusive Adopt-A-Highway along I-15 from the California state line all the way to Sin City. Every mile, in both directions, there is a nice blue sign saying that Zappos is picking up your litter. The irony is that Zappos hires another company to actually do the dirty work (all that bending and bagging takes time, you know, plus it sounds a bit like work). Drivers along that stretch of freeway are peppered with little Zappos reminders every 50 seconds (or less, depending on how much of a maniac you are).

Having grown up among tollroads in Chicago, I am also very familiar with the companies that paid significant sums to have the gasoline and fast food exclusives. Somehow, we did not mind all that commercial activity along I-294. It was just part of the landscape.

There are lots of untapped opportunities for marketers along our nation’s highways. Numerous states provide free wifi at rest areas. Why not let companies underwrite that? The opening screen could be all advertising as you look for the TOS box to click. Bathrooms and picnic benches could be sponsored. CoinStar could place Seattle’s Best coffee machines (caffeine is a great waker-upper, and thus ties in nicely with highway safety).

Let’s take this a step farther. Why not see if Petco would be interested in sponsoring the doggie runs? It seems like a natural fit. And I guarantee it would be more fun watching dogs fight over bones than viewing a couple of last place teams vie for obscurity.

Dr “Play Ball!” Gerlich