30 08 2010

Our story begins in with the wind howling and snow on the ground. The faint smell of a nearby feedyard greeted anyone daring to venture outdoors. Tumbleweeds from the previous summer’s hurrah raced down city streets, only to be snagged eventually by a barbed wire fence.

And I, still a fairly young faculty member, was bundled up like Nanook of the North as I plied my way from the Classroom Center to the Killgore Research Center. Although technically a short walk (it was right across the street, for crying out loud), I felt like I may as well have been summoned to trek to the North Pole. Dr. Vaughn Nelson, then the Dean of the Graduate School, had called me in for a meeting.

Little did I know that my compass was about to be reset, my operating system rebooted, my career redirected.

You see, it was that point forward that I became an online professor. WT was busy forging a trail through an academic jungle few knew about or had ever dared traverse, and Dr. Nelson handed me a machete. “Go that way,” he said, pointing in the general direction of the internet. “Huh?” was about the best I could muster. I hadn’t a clue how to proceed.

But my life has not been the same since that epic moment.

Ditching the tin cans of classroom communication stretched me in ways I could not imagine. I had to rethink everything. Somehow I had to find a way to cram a three-dimensional experience into a two-dimensional array. Oh, and make it engaging enough that folks would not fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” pothole.

Now I cannot claim to have mastered the format just yet. In many regards, I feel like it has mastered me. Little did I know as I started that new journey that I would have to reboot more than once. In fact, I find myself rebooting quite often these days. Sure, this fall marks the 51st online class (as well as many uncounted hybrid courses, equally supported by online content). Long ago I trained myself to think, even dream, in HTML. But the world is changing so fast around me. The wind continues to blow. And more tumbleweeds are coming down the pike. You know…ideas, some of which will stick in the sharp barb of a twisted steel line, while others keep rolling southward.

In the 13 years that have passed since my first online course (the MBA Marketing Seminar), I have had to come to terms with a plethora of changes. The ubiquity of cell phones, and now smartphones. YouTube. Text messaging. Facebook. And the precipitous decline of email. Heck, in 1997 email was still a novelty. And now it is passe.

For that matter, online and web-supported classes are no longer anything over which to get excited. They are part of the academic fabric, a tapestry that now better reflects the changing needs and wants of the knowledge marketplace.

As for me, I labor to stay up to date. No, make that struggle. This dang wind just won’t let down. The scenery is changing before my very eyes.

And you…you are now along for the ride.

I like to think Dr. Nelson would like what his initiative has produced. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that dude changed my life. And by virtue of that, yours.

As we go forward, may you find it easy to push the restart button of your life. May you refrain from cursing the fact that the things in which you once found comfort are now uncomfortable. And may you give me a little grace because I am going to be the one challenging you with new ideas and bringing on a lot of this discomfort.

Because that’s what Dr. Nelson did to me.

Dr “Change Is Good” Gerlich

Stuck On You

7 05 2010

A couple of weeks ago I found myself waiting for a friend to pick me up outside Dallas Love Field. Nothing beats airport time when you have time to kill, because your mind can run freely, unencumbered by the usual office distractions at work.

And so my mind ran freely. Too bad for my friend that Dallas traffic wasn’t doing likewise, because I wound up waiting there a while. But that was not a problem that fine morning, because I really enjoyed just sitting in the fresh air.

Playing with my iPhone. And the Facebook app.

Which is when it hit me that FB has become the Velcro of our online and mobile existence. Of all the simple things I do on my phone or computer, there isn’t much I can’t do via FB.

Like email. Texting. Calling.

That handy little app, despite a few limitations, has become my master contact list. I realized that I am using my email accounts less and less these days, opting instead to just send a FB message…which is pushed to other app-driven phones just like an incoming text message. It pops the same way, it chimes the same way.

In fact, when my plane hit the runway (OK, maybe “hit” isn’t the right word…how about “landed gracefully?”), I wanted to give my buddy a heads-up as to my arrival. I didn’t have his number stored in my phone, though. But by being FB friends, all I needed to do was push a direct message, which accomplished the same thing.

To which he responded with a FB message.
But as 10 minutes grew into 30 minutes, I figured it might be better to actually talk to him. Hmmm…now how can I do this if I don’t have his number?

Ah, yes. Most people provide their phone number when they register for FB. I scrolled through my friends list on the app and looked for the little phone icon next to his name. Bazinga! I tapped it and within a few seconds was chatting away to my friend hopelessly mired in morning traffic.

Many of my students snickered this semester when I told them that FB was going to one day usurp email. But now I had proof that it’s well on its way to rendering obsolete our contact list. Sure, we’ll probably still use one, especially to file more detailed info about our family and friends, as well as to be able to contact those few people who have yet to discover Facebook. But for sheer ease of use, the FB app is the best.

After all, I’m stuck to it like Velcro. Why leave one app when you already have nearly everything you need in one handy place, right?

Facebook may be making news these days by selling our private information to marketers, and for deftly placing those three ads in the right-hand column. What they really need to be focusing on is pushing ad content through the phone app.

Because that’s where I am. That’s where you are. Hooked and looped. Eyes glazed over. Status. Updated.

Dr “What’s On Your Mind?” Gerlich

What’s In Store

4 05 2010

Call me every bad name in the book, but I just can’t stand it when I feel like I am being guilted into doing something. Even if it means I look like I’m not supporting the local economy.

Today’s Amarillo Globe-News carried a 2-page spread touting the new “Shop Smart. Shop Local.” campaign to try to keep Amarillo shopping dollars neatly and tidily within this silo we call home. The thrust of the campaign is that, if each of us spent 1% of our taxable purchases outside of the area, it would cost Amarillo 6 (yes, SIX) police officers!

Don’t you just love it when people imply our very public safety is at risk because we…gasp…might go shopping elsewhere? Or…gasp again…online?

That’s exactly what they are saying. Then they toss in the old economic saw, that money spent locally returns local salaries for me, you and all of our neighbors. I quote the ad: “But buying goods outside the region or on the Internet means we lose economic power and tax dollars to other communities.”

This may indeed be very true, but since when did economic jingoism ever serve to build an economy the way it should be built?

First of all, let me explain that I teach e-commerce in my Evolutionary Marketing course. E-commerce is not going away. Please don’t tell me that this entire subject matter is fraught with evil simply because you want us to patronize local businesses. Secondly, I must question whether our friendly ralliers have a problem when outsiders patronize local online businesses such as or

That’s what I thought.

Now please don’t misundertake me. I am not opposed to buying from local businesses. And I am not working against our local economy. It’s just that I think we should all be striving to make the most compelling argument for why I…you…everyone else…should spend their dollars here and not online or in Dallas. And what is that argument? Simple. Value. If you can’t provide the best value for our hard-earned money, then don’t be surprised when folks export their shopping dollars.

In case you haven’t noticed, the marketplace has changed. We can no longer live in regional silos. Thomas Friedman buried this wrinkled notion in 2005 with The World Is Flat. From Amarillo to Ankara, the global market is ours.

Instead of emotionalizing the issue, we should be busy building the best possible shops (online and brick-and-mortar) that anyone has ever seen. We should be offering value that none other can match. We should be making ourselves so irresistible that not only locals want to shop here, but outsiders as well.

For therein lies the future to our economic strength. Myopic, incestuous commerce will only serve to isolate us further from the rest of the ever-changing world. We should be tearing down walls, not erecting new ones. I am all too happy to shop locally (and I do for the majority of my purchases, mind you), but make me want to trade with you rather than trying to shame me into it.

Now that’s how you Shop Smart. And it’s the Amarillo I want to see.

Dr “Shop Free Or Die” Gerlich

Privacy Fence

3 05 2010

Many modern suburban communities require all property owners to have a 6 ft. privacy fence. The goal is to ensure some semblance of isolation away from the prying eyes of neighbors and the general public. To be honest, I despise those kinds of neighborhoods, because each property becomes a tunnel unto itself. But privacy prevails as the ideal point; people must want to be able to barbecue naked if they so desired.

Maybe we as a society have come to expect too much of this notion of privacy. But when you live and perform in a drama that is increasingly played out on a public stage, you invariably wind up tossing out a lot of that privacy. That handy backyard fence is not something you can take with you.

Like on social networking sites.

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook changed its privacy settings. Unless users go through a complicated maze of clicks to change the new defaults, everything in your profile can and will be used to market to you. Which is another way of saying that Facebook is going to sell “your information.”

You would think that Facebook had just pried open our front doors and stolen the artifacts of our very existence. There is public outrage. There are Facebook groups demanding a return to the old way. Why, there is even a group of senators who want the FTC to intervene to save our vital stats from the greedy money-grubbing hands of the marketers.

Excuse me while I yawn.

You see, all this brouhaha is just a lot of wasted hot air. Facebook is an opt-in site. And, make a note of this, it is FREE. What do users expect anyway? Facebook has to monetize its operations, or it will go under. The only way it can do so is to provide the means for marketers to reach us through advertising.

That, my friends, is facilitated by providing personal information that will allow marketers to target us ever more precisely. And it is precisely why users need to back down. Unless (and until) we are all willing to pay for the FB experience, this is what we can expect.

We do not have to use FB. We could elect to live our lives in the primordial technological soup of the mid-20th century. Snail mail. Phone calls. Or conversations over that backyard fence.

But to get up in arms about Facebook’s ambitious efforts to monetize itself is to miss the broader point. Facebook is all about making oneself transparent. Why else would anyone join a social network for the express purpose of hiding? The whole idea is to share information, and once and for all dispel that whole Six Degrees of Separation thing (with special thanks to my bro-in-law Brian for pointing that out yesterday). We are all now more closely connected than ever before, save possibly our nomadic days.

It’s time we let Facebook run its own show. We do not need the government to interfere. And if any among you wish to live behind the fence, so be it. Just don’t complain when you’ve paid nothing to be on this playground.

Dr “Don’t Fence Me In” Gerlich


2 05 2010

When I was young, my parents always stressed to me that I must respect my elders. Revering age and the wisdom that went with it was part and parcel of our culture in the mid-20th century. The most valued members of our society were those who had been there the longest. They had earned their stripes, and even if they could no longer be economically productive, we were to admire their tenacity for having stuck it out so long.

But somewhere during my lifetime the cultural emphasis changed from age to youth. Our future, after all, is predicated on our progeny carrying the ball a little bit farther down the gridiron of our very existence. Age became despised, a burden on society that had to be carried on the backs of those younger.

OK, blame the Baby Boomers. Blame Woodstock. Blame me if you’d like to. Hell, it’s just that my generation vowed to never get old, and, in the lyric of Roger Daltry, we even hoped to die if that were to start to happen.

Maybe you could blame the tech revolution we have lived through for the last 50 years. But it’s not just that we had a lot of change. No, it’s that the change occurred at ever faster rates, to the point that it can be dizzying at times. And if you should happen to pull off at the rest area of life, everyone else will go zipping by. On a highway where there apparently is no speed limit.

So it was with great interest I read a Letter to the Editor yesterday (01 May 2010) in the Amarillo Globe-News. A very frustrated (and presumably elderly) woman bemoaned what seems to her as seniors being pushed aside. To wit:

“Those who do not have computers are being ignored. The newspaper and TV sometimes continue their stories online. Some credit card companies are charging for paper billing. Saturday mail delivery may end; going to the mailbox for some is the highlight of the day.”

While I never wish to disrespect my elders, I have to ask an important question: What the hell have you been doing the last 50 years? Did you not get the memo about computers? The internet? Email? Good grief. I’ve been using computers since 1973, so this is not something new, ma’am. Do you expect us to further subsidize the Post Office so you can get junk mail on Saturday? Do you expect the media to put everything on TV or in print so the Techno-Luddite demo can catch it?

I know, I know. You were busy working hard to provide for us. Busy having children to populate a subsequent generation. But ma’am, that excuse just doesn’t cut it anymore.

You see, at the same time we have shifted our focal point to youth, another huge change has occurred without fanfare, but still very implicit: We have a social responsibility to keep up. Yes, I respect my elders, but at the same time I expect them…me…you…to keep apace of the change around us. Don’t have a computer or internet service? We have libraries. Don’t know how to use one? There are plenty of classes for that, offered by communities far and wide.

This is not about growing old and being forgotten by the young. No, it is about making conscious decisions to stay in one’s comfy, cozy comfort zone. I’d be willing to bet money this woman was part of the group of bleeding edge folks who helped TV supplant radio as the dominant media format back in the day. Today we have more media than we can begin to manage, but we must find our way through that jungle anyway.

I am also quite aware of the fact that when you point a finger, you had better be standing in front of a mirror. I know that the forefinger of harsh criticism is aimed directly back at me. This very same responsibility is upon me. While I have managed to stay abreast of change for a little more than a half-century, I have to keep running at the same pace as that of a 20-year-old (and FWIW, I recently had the opportunity to do this on the rainy streets of Dallas as we raced to our parked van…and it nearly killed me).

It’s not going to be easy, but this burden is upon all of us. There’s going to be a lot more change in my remaining years (if I live that long, as my Mother always said to me whenever I criticized her). But I am looking forward to it.

Because I rather like the fast lane. You can bury me at the Rest Area in due time. But until then, those white dashes just look like dots on the road.

Dr “Faster Farther” Gerlich

Fa La La La La

30 04 2010

I admit. I am confused. But then again, so is everyone else. Apple is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. And no matter what they do, they somehow manage to come out of it smelling like a rose garden.

Just last December, amid all the speculation back then about what would eventually be the iPad, Apple bought online music service, ostensibly for the ability to better leverage iTunes and streaming music.

But now news has leaked that LaLa us shutting down at the end of May. Users will be issued credits at the iTunes store, but the whole idea of LaLa is going away. Poof.

So the big quest is this: What the heck is Apple up to? Did they purchase LaLa simply to make it go away? Or do they plan to roll LaLa’s engineering into iTunes to make that a better product/service offering?

Good questions. I, for one, will miss LaLa, because I love being able to access my music library via the cloud. As a LaLa user, my library is uploaded on their site. I can also purchase listening rights to other songs for a dime. At the College of Business holiday party last winter, I played DJ by hooking my MacBook to a PA system, and streaming my Christmas mix into the room.

The geek in me loved the technology that was being deployed, but I’m afraid it was lost on everyone else. They just wanted music. Of course, I had to complicate things.

But I digress.

My hope is that Apple will one day soon incorporate LaLa’s key features into iTunes so that we can not only share our library across computers in our homes, but also access them from anywhere. And I also hope that Apple adds an inexpensive listening-only option.

Why? Because ownership is really not the issue these days. We have so favorably bought into the notion of legal music downloads that having tangible product in our hands is no longer important. No, all we really want to do is listen to the music, and if we have to pay a small fee to rent it, the so be it.

As for Apple and their snarky business practices, I hope they are not killing LaLa for good. Because to do so would leave a soft, mushy bruise on an otherwise perfect piece of fruit.

Dr “Download This” Gerlich

Road Does Not End

28 04 2010

The end of a semester is always a bittersweet time for me. While my students and I are always relieved to finally be able to take a breather, a big part of me wants the journey to go on. It’s like practically any other journey I take. Endings can be sad, and you want the road to keep going.

Which is why I have always loved the sign pictured below. It is another one of the quirky signs appearing around Amarillo typical of the wit and wisdom of Stanley Marsh 3 (think: Cadillac Ranch). While I am not exactly sure what the sign painter was thinking at the time, to me this sign symbolizes my take on classes and on life in general. That barricade you see is just an illusion; that large body of water ahead simply means you may need to take another form of transportation.

It was on January 11, 2010 that we began this journey. My first blog of the semester pushed you out of the boat and into deep water as I discussed Everything Is Miscellaneous. Now I will confess: I have blogged about that book before. But it is such a challenging idea that it is worth hashing and rehashing.

And for the last 3.5 months I hope that I have continued to challenge you with what probably seem like radical ideas. My goal has never been to make you comfortable. No, I want to make you exceedingly uncomfortable. You see, to navigate the choppy waters ahead, you have to be willing to row through the night, through uncharted territory, amid sharks and numerous other threats to your very survival.

It is my hope that your journey does not end. Sure, as an academic, my year repeats itself quite nicely. There are seasons of academia, and I follow them like the seasons of earth. Heck, I get to teach this course again in 5 weeks.

But there is one thing you can bet on: It will be a completely different experience from the one we just had. Because everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you can’t handle all that flux, you had better find a rest area. No, every time this course is offered, the content changes to reflect what is happening right then and there.

And so must you. Your content, your very “put together,” as someone I recently met so eloquently said, must be in a constant state of flux.

So as I sign my final blog for this semester, please know that I am plowing ahead. And I hope that you do, too. Keep going. Drive right around that barricade. Blaze a new trail. Cross uncharted waters.

Because the end is nowhere in sight.

Dr “Best Wishes To All” Gerlich

Bicycle Democracy

27 04 2010

When future ethnographers and anthropologists look back on the early 21C, they will certainly attribute nearly every social trend to the popularity of the iPod. While there were certainly other tangible influences prior, the iPod established the era of mass customization.

And if that sounds just a tad bit oxymoronic, perhaps you have been living in a cave this last decade. We are a nation of 304 million individuals, each with a different soundtrack.

And we have carried that notion of personal playlist into nearly aspect of our lives. Custom tennis shoes. Custom jeans. And now custom bikes, via Republic Bike.

Everyone from urban hipsters to grizzled old racers wanting a simple ride are repurposing old bikes as fixies (aka, fixed gears), each one a unique piece of bicycle art. Republic Bike has raised the bar by allowing customers to literally design their own new fixie online. Everything from wheel and hub colors down the chain can be spec’d as you see fit. Want a pink seat? Ya got it, Paula. Yellow rims? Roll on, Rocky. Red frame? It’s in the box, Buddy.

And to Republic’s credit, they have now partnered with way-cool Urban Outfitters to sell their bikes. With over 100,000 possible color mashups, Republic stands right up there with Waffle House in combinatorial supremacy. The link to UO is a match made where the rubber hits the road.

But from my perspective as critic of all things online, Republic is a master stroke. It is a bike factory and bike shop wrapped into one, but without the haughtiness that often goes along with shops catering to Lance Armstrong wannabes in a hurry to drop $8000 on a cool bike. No intimidation. No insecurity. No dudes with shaved legs making you feel uncomfortable (OK, I am guilty here).

Until just recently, Republic offered only one model (the Aristotle). They recently added the Dutch-style Plato, which is equally customizable.

The simplicity of both bikes allows Republic to sell them at ridiculously low prices. Letting customers in on the design phase is like the chef inviting you to the kitchen to help prepare your dinner. The $400 price point is extremely competitive for fixies. By comparison, this year I have acquired two fixies, spending $700 on an Origin8 custom, and $1100 building out a 20-year-old Paramount frame.

I don’t need another bike, but that has never stopped me before. I vote for a black frame with all white accessories.

Dr “Under My Wheels” Gerlich

Flip Flop

26 04 2010

One of my favorite movies is War Games, the Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy suspense flick from 1983. Maybe it was the Sheedy who captured my attention. Or maybe it was all that electronic gear. You know, tech porn. Everyone who knows me knows that a cool gadget will probably grab my attention before anything (or anyone) else.

Like that very cool Imsai 8080 computer Broderick had in his bedroom (with the 8″ floppy disks), which he then used to hack into the WOPR mainframe housed at NORAD. Sure, it was a bit of a stretch, but it made for good silver screen drama.

It was just a couple of years after War Games that floppies started shrinking. At first they were trimmed to 5 1/4″, followed a few years later by 3 1/2′ hard sided dual-density not-quite floppies. As the size shrunk, the capacity increased (Gordon Moore, take a bow).

But somewhere along the line, floppies of any size fell into disfavor, starting with Apple’s dropping support for them back in 1998. Today, Sony announced it will cease production in Spring 2011.

And the world asked, “You’re still making these things?”

It is hard for me to fathom someone still toting floppies around. Heck, all of mine became drink coasters years ago, even the 100MB Zip disks I had bought into. CD-RWs, flash drives, and more recently, cloud computing, made floppies obsolete for me a decade ago.

Ironically, though, it was just last year I had to purchase a USB external floppy reader, because I had discovered some floppies from 1999 loaded with pics of my oldest daughter when she was but a year old. But once I uploaded all of them to the cloud, I quickly resumed my position on the bleeding edge.

I suppose one could rationalize hanging onto a small niche market to serve the Luddites among us, but Sony? This is a company supposedly leading the vanguard of All Things New. For them to hang on to a piece of the past is laughable, if not reckless. I bet the stockholders won’t be too happy when they find out their investment dollars have been helping support an ancient technology.

As for me, I’ll hang on to a few floppies, along with a bunch of the other detritus of tech gone by. It will make an interesting home museum one day, to go along with my “old” digital cameras. I will regale my daughters and their progeny with tales of what life was like in the good old days. I will tell them how those old floppies used to become corrupted so easily, and had to be reformatted (thereby deleting all stored data). I will recall with great horor how every once in a while a floppy would become stuck in that little disk drive and had to be pried out with a screwdriver and pliers.

And I will tell them how, four years ago, I completely gave up on Sony…for computers and digital cameras, because they didn’t seem to be as close to the edge as they let on.

Pardon me while I go shine my Apple.

Dr “Ally Sure Was A Cutie Back Then” Gerlich

On Three Legs

25 04 2010

I have been teaching this class for over a decade now. It started out as the then-revolutionary topic of e-commerce. Few universities had even broached the subject in curriculum meetings; after all, academia is often the last place new things happen. If anything, a special course in a topic is probably the best validation there is that a topic has merit.

So revolutionary was this subject that back in 1998 I quietly co-opted what was once my Marketing Channels class, and changed the entire course during cover of night. Students were expecting another boring semester learning about distribution methods and strategies, which is about as exciting as watching an old brand die a slow, painful death.

It took another year before I could convince the Powers That Were that the course should be renamed. Naturally, there was resistance. “Are you sure this thing is even going to be around in 10 years?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure.

And so I was off (and running, not off-base).

Back then, a company’s online strategy had but one leg…the website. If you had one, you were cool and definitely ahead of the curve. This one leg would more than likely be basic brochureware, although there were a few avant garde folks actually selling things from their site. Everyone fell in love with the metaphor of an online shopping cart, for it made the e-commerce experience very relatable.

Fast-forward to 2010, though. That one-legged online strategy has grown considerably, and so has my course (hence the new name, Evolutionary Marketing). We have grown a couple of appendages to the point that a company must use a tripod to prescribe a firm’s online strategy.

And so as we continue to evolve, the three legs of our online strategy must now consider the following:

    • The website.

    • Social Media.

    • Apps and Permission-Based Marketing.

The website is still the website, but it has a much different role today than it did a decade ago. No longer is it the bleeding edge; in fact, it is now really just a necessary evil. Everyone has to have one; you may or may not conduct sales from it. No longer is the website a badge of honor; it is more like a lowly business card. Show up at a meeting without one, and you look pretty foolish.

As for social media, it is now imperative for companies to consider not only The Four Pillars I pushed a few days ago (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube), but also take a look at LinkedIn for employees to network with other associates, and now location-based social network providers such as Gowalla and 4square.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy here, because not all companies will need the same cocktail. Bars and restaurants will definitely benefit from using the leading-edge GPS-based locater apps in order to crowdsource, but an office supply store would probably be stretched to just have a Facebook Fan Page.

Finally, and growing quickly in importance, is Permission-Based Marketing, under which umbrella I lump mobile phone apps and outbound SMS blurbs along with the more traditional email blasts. Email is so last-decade anyway, and pretty HTML-based email newsletters may look nice, but only reach the 50+ segment who still actually opens them.

But outbound text messages are the perfect way to reach customers if they are under 30, for they are glued to their phone. There is perhaps no faster way to communicate directly with a customer short of actually calling them (which is so last century).

Finally, apps are invited by users too reside on their phone, but can be used not just for pull activities, but more importantly, for push messaging. The CNN app lets users accept breaking news pushes; Gowalla pushes my location to my friends whenever I check in somewhere.

Like all tripods, the thing only works when all three legs are functioning. Depending on the shot you want, as well as the surface on which you stand, those legs may vary in individual height. But you still need all three to make it work. It just depends on the situation

And as for this class, I suspect when I step back from the forest again in 5 years, much will have changed. We may very well have evolved a fourth leg. And there will be no denying there are evidences of that vestigial tail of traditional old-school marketing (print and broadcast). It’s hard to make things go away, but in this business, it is not only possible, but desirable, to keep evolving and growing.

As long as we can avoid tripping over all those new feet.

Dr “Channel This” Gerlich