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





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





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





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





What’s In Store

20 09 2012

Old Retailing professors never die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

True dat.

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

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

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

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





Creator Or Curator?

20 09 2012

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you aren’t that person.

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

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

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

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

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

Or both. Because I am a Cureator.

Dr “Post This” Gerlich





eye2i

13 09 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I do not care.

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

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

Oh, and did I forget coolness?

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

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

Dr “i to the oh yeah!” Gerlich





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





Leave Me A Message, Maybe I’ll Call

10 09 2012

Remember when answering machines were in vogue? I do. You had to be someone pretty important to have an answering machine (which is what those machines were called long before someone thought of the word “voicemail”). Before answering machines, people just let calls ring and ring, in hopes of someone either walking in the door, or giving up to your tenacity.

Answering machines changed everything, because suddenly you could tag someone, and then there was an implicit social contract to return the call. Unless the power went out and deleted everything (or, as in the really old days, your tape filled up), there was simply no excuse for not calling back.

But things are different now. Where as we once anxiously looked forward to hearing whom we had missed while out and about, today checking voicemail is an ugly task.

Taking my cues from my 14-year-old daughter, I have observed that talking in general is loathsome. If you cannot text or Facebook someone, then forget it.

And businesses need to step up to the plate to figure out how to respond to this new development.

Three years ago I started inviting students to reach me via text or FB (having shared my cell number with them a couple years prior). Lucky for me, I am surrounded by young people, so I already had a sense that talking was going south. Maybe not as much as it is for teens, but still not the preferred means of communication.

In spite of what critics say about social media destroying our social skills, my take on it is that people really do not want to interact with one another, or at least the way we once did it. The preferred methods of communication are now short blurbs, often filled with emoticons and text-speak. At the risk of opening another can of worms, let me also say that we are graduating entire classes of students without the ability to write to, much less speak with, other people in a meaningful, grammatically-correct way.

But that’s another problem for another day. Right now, businesses need to embrace the notion that we consumers do not want to navigate through a voice menu from Hell, or speak to someone who really should be asleep in their time zone.

If anything, this presents opportunities for businesses, because we live on our phones. We are logged into FB 24/7. And the apps on our phones are like screwdrivers and wrenches in our toolbox. Companies that can redirect their communication…two-way communication…through these avenues are poised to gain customers, not turn them off.

While social analysts wring their hands over our inability (nor desire) to actually deal with spoken conversation, folks on the leading edge are figuring out ways to cope. And survive. For example, if I really need to give a detailed voice message (or am driving and can’t text), I will record a voice memo and then text it to the recipient as an attachment (just like an image). Others are using voice recognition software to capture messages and then embed them in emails.

But the really savvy ones are figuring out how to do it with just basic keystrokes on a mobile device.

Just as the primitive answering machine once separated the crowd, the ability to communicate in new ways will do likewise today. Now if I could just figure out how to embed my blogs into a mobile message, and allow you to respond from that device. Yeah, we’ll have it made then.

Type your response at the tone.

Dr “TTYL” Gerlich