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





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





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





At The Movies

10 09 2012

I remember when I was a kid and went to the movies. Whether it was a drive-in (long before they became retro-stylish) or in a classic theater building (complete with balcony and usually a pipe organ), there was always one truth: Once you saw it, that was pretty much it.

Sure, you could pay to see it again (or hide beneath the seats between showings, only to reclaim your seat once it started over). Or you could hope and pray it might one day show up on TV. But that was it. Watch it. Savor it. Remember it.

Things changed in the 70s and 80s with cable TV channels like HBO and Showtime, and then VHS movie rentals. Suddenly we had access to back catalog movies, as well as new releases once Hollywood got around to making them available. I remember watching many an old movie for the nostalgic value, wishing I had been able to own it all those intervening years.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the movie biz has once again experienced a paradigm shift, with VOD (video-on-demand) available from Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster and others. This has once again changed the way I access movies, because I can do everything in my jammies from the comfort of my recliner.

Guys are notorious for this anyway.

But now the movie industry is adding yet another wrinkle: Fox is rolling out UltraViolet, a cloud-based delivery system that will offer movies up to three weeks before they are available on other VOD platforms.

Heck, if they keep this up, I may no longer have any reason ever to actually go to a movie. Let me download it a few weeks after theatrical release, and I’ll be likely to pay the upscale download price ($15) just for the convenience of it all.

Naturally, Hollywood has a huge say in when movies can be available on DVD (for purchase or rent), as well as VOD. They fully understand the sales decay curve at the theaters, and want to help the theater chains maximize their revenues as well. It’s all a fairly predictable six-week period, unless the movie proves to be a blockbuster. But the UltraViolet announcement shrinks that lag time from theater to renter, giving me even more reason to ride it out.

Which raises an important question: Are theaters even still necessary? Sure, 50 years ago they served a noble social purpose, bringing people together for entertainment. But as technology has focused on our living rooms, we have fewer and fewer reasons to venture forth to be entertained. We can do this at home, either alone, or with family and friends.

Now if they can just come up with an app that pops the popcorn and delivers beverages, we’ll have it made. Double feature, anyone?

Dr “Film Flam” 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