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





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





As Seen On TV

10 09 2012

Back in the 1960s we thought we had it made. As in died and gone to heaven. Television. In the living room.

Never mind that for most of us, it was black-and-white. With a little imagination, we could superimpose a little color on all that grayscale.

If anything, family television viewing back then was just the same as listening to the radio…but with a screen. Everyone gathered close. Everyone, dammit. No splinter groups. This was a family activity. Sit down, shut up, and pretend like you’re enjoying yourself.

I have to laugh (maybe “cry” is a better response) when I think of my own family when it comes to TV. We have no fewer than seven TVs in the house. Just try to get all of us together to watch something. Between multiple screens and DVRs, no one ever watches anything with anyone…or when it originally aired.

Then add in Big Sis and her 2nd and 3rd screens (aka, iPhone and iPad), and you have the 21C viewing family. Yep, we put the fun in dysfunctional.

I was reminded of all this the last couple of days when a few colleagues and I started the process of responding to an RFP (that’s Request For Proposals) to a major media company seeking to award a major research grant to qualified applicants. The RFP mentions media, technology, family, and all that stuff that just complicates things. Why? Because whoever can put the puzzle together first is bound to make a big pile of money selling ads through it.

I feel like we are on the verge of yet another media revolution (as if we haven’t already gone through the fire already). Internet TV will finally stick (after repeated failures by Google). We will engage with this TV via our mobile devices (the 2nd and 3rd screens). We will shop while we watch (pointing our smartphones at the screen to scan that dress that Penny is wearing on BBT, or the way-cool t-shirt Sheldon has donned). Tap-tap-tap. Two days later, it lands on our doorstep.

But it will all likely be time-shifted. Mom in the bedroom. Dad in the den. Kids in bedrooms or the living room. All cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter, Klout scores growing by the minute with every person who Likes your discriminating choice in televised drama. Or the fact that you Liked Sheldon’t latest shirt.

It’s all a far cry from what my family did back in the 60s, and some would say it reflects the demise of the American family. Perhaps there’s a glimmer of truth there, but I also know that some of my more memorable intra-family exchanges of late have occurred while two or more of us were sitting under the same roof, “talking” to each other on FB and Instagram.

I know. Why don’t we just turn around and speak to each other? I dunno. But maybe, just maybe, our electronic communication was complimentary, not a substitute. The fact that I found my 14 y/o on Instagram was a fun encounter, for I had no idea. And my wife and I have had some really fun exchanges while sitting a foot apart…albeit back-to-back.

I suppose that’s the new living color. Why live in shades of gray?

Dr “Now Watching Breaking Amish–on DVR” Gerlich





Biden Time

10 09 2012

Once upon a time, an audible faux pas left one vulnerable for a long time, to be mocked and mimicked relentlessly by late-night TV and stand-up comedians until everyone grew sick of the pun.

Not anymore. Today if you screw up, you just buy the word. Literally. Actually, “literally.”

Like how the Obama campaign just bought the word at Twitter. VP Joe Biden’s speech at the DNC the other night left people literally laughing out loud because of the Veep’s over-use of the word “literally.” The Twitterverse lit up with snide remarks, and #literally became a trending topic.

What else could Obama do but buy the word? Now if anyone searches on that word, they will be greeted with a promoted tweet in support of President Obama.

Smooth move there, Mr. President. Someone on your team was on their toes, and understands social media.

This is the kind of thinking it takes to survive in the oft-cutthroat world of Facebook and Twitter. You have to roll with the punches, and beat people at their own game. Had Lowe’s, Susan G. Komen and Chick-Fil-A used their noggins, they would have been busy buying up words…words that had turned against them.

Forget fighting fire with fire. Nope. Today we fight words with words. Sure, there is always the risk that someone can launch a new hashtag on Twitter, or craft another pithy graphic of Gene “Willy Wonka” Wilder (Oh, puh-leeeze!).

Today’s marketers who think like traditional marketers are in for a bruising. I recently intoned that brands are now conversations, not one-way communications. It makes no different whether you are selling candy or candidates, all are “products” in the broad sense. More importantly, those who choose to not engage in the conversation will have the story written for them by the audience.

Literally.

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





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





Ink Stains

30 08 2012

We live in dangerous times. In days of old, whenever we experienced something with which we did not like agree, we simply told our friends, family and acquaintances. These stories spread slowly, if at all.

Today, all it takes is a few posts and it’s Katie bar the door.

As a researcher of corporate communication crises, I have seen a lot. Last December, Lowe’s Home Improvement got its backside kicked after it dropped its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim. Thousands and thousands of people posted their (dis)approval on the Lowe’s Facebook page, with the vast majority being those who despised the action. What did Lowe’s do? It ran from the controversy and simply deleted all 28,000 comments.

Yeah, smart move. Lowe’s a bunch more heat, and then wound up launching a new thread with a fresh apology for the initial debacle.

A few weeks later, the Susan G. Komen Foundation stepped on a landmine when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. Once again, the social graph lit up and howled its disapproval. SGK more or less ignored it, and to their great harm, for donations and race participation this year are down up to 30% in some markets.

The latest to fall into the social media trap is Bic with Bic For Her pens. While they have been available online at Amazon for nearly two years, it is only recently that citizen reviewers started lambasting Bic for insulting women with special pens. Worse yet, Bic has no Twitter presence, and has thus far ignored comments on Facebook.

To ignore social media in 2012 is courting disaster. Companies cannot afford to dwell in the halcyon days of a Facebook-free internet. It is here, and it will hurt you if you do not attend to it.

Never mind what the heck Bic was thinking in the first place by offering pens for females. Are women somehow unable to write with “man pens?” Do women need different colored pens? In other words, are there legitimate reasons why women would prefer these pens over, say, a regular old ballpoint pen?

Now before you start citing instances in which companies have successfully marketed male and female versions of similar products (Bic comes to mind, in fact, for male and female razors), it is highly unlikely that there are sufficient differences between the sexes to warrant a full-on marketing effort to sell gender-specific pens.

If all Bic wanted to do was perhaps appeal to women with more “feminine” colors, they could have done so without drawing attention to the packaging. Lego made a similar mistake earlier this year when it launched a line of pastel-colored blocks for girls, but made a big deal of it. The simpler path would have been, for both companies, to just sell the same product in multiple colors. End of story. Let the boys and girls figure out what they like. If a little boy (or grown man) prefers softer colors, so be it, or if a little girl (or woman) likes bold colors, then more power to her.

But for Bic to be completely aloof in the social media era is just risky business. The biting sarcasm on the Amazon page is telling, and Amazon is not appear to have any intention of removing those comments.

And if you’ll be careful to not slip on the irony, in many ways Bic is penning its own future. Except that they handed the writing instrument over to the masses. Allowing them to write the ending to a story is just plain stupid.

Dr “Write On” Gerlich





Prints Charming

28 08 2012

Film is dead. Processing is dead. Heck, Kodak is almost dead, too. But printing is a whole other proposition. Turns out there is still a present and a future in printing photographs.

Anyone who visits my office will instantly see my walls covered with gigantic canvas prints of my photography made by CafePress.com and PictureItOnCanvas.com. Just the other day, I saw a Kickstarter.com campaign for a startup called Instacube, through which users will be able to wirelessly beam their Instagram pics to a desktop digital viewer. And then they can contact CafePress to order canvas prints of those same Instagram snaps.

Yeah, we really are enamored of our photographic skills, aren’t we? Ansel Adams would have loved living today.

So I was instantly intrigued this morning to read about the new Walgreens Facebook photo app in which you can send your Facebook photos to Walgreens, and it will even include all the Likes, Shares and friendly comments.

“Hey, there’s your next canvas!” my research partner and most excellent friend Dr. Kris Drumheller poked.

“And then again, maybe not,” the nonplussed Marketing professor replied.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. Photography took a sudden turn around 1996 with the introduction of digital cameras. Film, processing and printing started a precipitous decline. Apparently we secretly yearned for printed pics, though, even if all our pics were reduced to a bunch of code. And that’s how and why companies like CafePress and PictureItOnCanvas are doing gangbuster business.

Except for one little problem, in my estimation. Who wants their photos, complete with artistic angle, sepia tone filter and tilt shift blur, to be printed along with FB commentary? I’m not sure I want that on a 5X7, much less a 24X30 canvas print. Furthermore, I’m not sure my FB friends want their comments hanging on my wall, either.

But I do have to credit Walgreens for a very clever app, one that leverages the changes around us, the technology, and the highly social aspect of our computing lives. This is a home run, even if it is near the foul pole.

Sure, some will cry they have been quoted without permission, but that’s the risk we all take with social media. If you don’t want others to Share or Retweet, then don’t post it. Which means that given this latest wrinkle in FB partnerships, we had all better be a lot more careful with what we say in response to other people’s pictures. The last thing you want is your so-called friend with a drinking problem to print pics from your last party together. Worse yet, let’s just suppose you replied with a hearty “Party on, dude! That was one awesome night!”

So as we continue to evolve in the social media era, let us use more caution in all that we say and do, and especially what we do in front of someone else’s camera. While I still applaud Walgreens for a timely novelty, there are some things that you do not want or need to be in print. Or one someone’s desk or wall.

Because your future should not hinge on a photograph from the past, no matter how witty your comment may have been.

Dr “Present Tense” Gerlich





Students And Their Phones

3 07 2012

I think I must be one of only a few professors who allow students to use their phones while in class.

Of course, I must add a side note clarifying that I seldom, if ever, actually teach in a classroom. But when I do (and if I ever do again), phones are allowed. I know that SXSW attendees tweet with reckless abandon throughout speeches; it is likewise OK if my students are updating statuses, tweeting, texting or surfing the web.

Except on tests.

I think my lax policy stems from the fact that I use my phone wherever I go also. Multitasking is my middle name. As long as it does not disturb others around me,then I am OK with it (and with you doing it as well). I don’t use it in movie theatres (the light is annoying), but many other places are fair game. Oh, and for the record, I try to not use it when in the company of other people (such as dinner), unless there is an absolute emergency.

Notice also that not once did I say a thing about talking on the phone. No, I am referring to using it for its myriad other purposes. If my 14-year-old is reflective of her cohort, talking is so lame anyway. No one actually talks on phone these days, Dad.

The fact of the matter is that college students are in a relationship with their smartphones. Judging by Mashable’s Infographic, they would essentially be lost without them.

The implications are huge, because as today’s college students grow older and are replaced with yet another generation of tech addicts, it means that there will be an increasing number of people for whom living and using the phone (for whatever purpose) are synonymous. It will be up to businesses to figure out how to speak to a growing number of people for whom television and computers have less and less relevance.

Which is another way of saying that the future invariably holds much more marketing coming at all of us via our smartphones. It may be the only weay some companies have of reaching their target markets.

Does this mean that advertising budgets must increase? No, not at all. As each new communication medium has come along, it simply means the advertising pie gets sliced into ever smaller pieces. And businesses will have to decide how to allocate their budget dollars.

This does not necessarily mean that more and more companies are going to start shifting money from traditional media to social. In fact, it may not happen at all, depending on the company, their product(s), and the effectiveness of the advertising vehicle. Earlier this year, General Motors decided to cease advertising on social media, and instead take a more old-school approach. But while they have ditched Facebook’s paid ads, it doesn’t mean a thing about their free corporate Pages.

As I have too many times lately, why pay for something when you can get it for free?

Still, the general trend will continue to be toward smartphone advertising (in one form or another), because that is where people’s eyeballs are glued. And if you do find yourself in one of my rare campus courses, use it freely but with discretion. I mean, unless you happen to receive a really compelling coupon or something, at which point I may have to confiscate your phone.

Dr “Professor’s Perogative” Gerlich