No. 314: On Linear Commerce

On the aligning of digital media and commerce. I’d never seen anything like it. It was my first time at Augusta National and I wasn’t just a casual observer of the craze, I was a willing participant. Within two hours of being on the course, I convinced my father to join me in observing the consumerism that you’ll find at the pro shops at the Masters. The shop’s guests were mostly affluent and leisurely people; the audience at Berckmans Place took that affluence up a notch or two. Reports suggested that the average order value (AOV) of a Masters patron surpassed $750. And within 48 hours, at-home viewers will find these products on Ebay for 2x – 5x of their suggested retail prices. And those resold products flew off of the product pages, as well. But despite the availability of the souvenirs and memorabilia, it didn’t seem like a money grab for the golf tournament. The prices were reasonable. And within 15 minutes of the Tiger Woods’ fist pump, the pro shops were closed to the public.

Perhaps golf’s most prestigious event, the audience was captive to say the least. I observed more than engagement, I observed a giddiness, an unnatural cordiality, and a sense of overwhelming joy by most on the property. Maybe it was the lack of phones (they were to be left at the entrance). But there was a particular effect that I cannot quite articulate. It’s an effect that brands only hope to emulate. It’s when the experience indexes so positively that consumers have no choice but to return the value by giving brands more money. Here’s an anecdote from a 2018 article in GQ:

The line to get in doubles as a Masters museum, and post-checkout, customers are given the option to ship their purchases home directly from the store. But what’s most interesting isn’t the fact that you can buy so much Masters gear in one place, and do so efficiently. No, it’s that this—one shop in Augusta, Georgia—is the only place in the entire world that you can buy it. Because of this, Masters merch has taken on a cult-like following, spawning obsessives and even a large resale market. To put it another way: Officially branded Masters products are basically Supreme for dads.

Sure, part of it is “I went and I want to show you that I went.” That’s the rational trigger that influences a great deal of modern retail. But sometimes, it’s a little more than that. An event, an experience, a streaming media property, or even a widely read blog can evoke an emotion that influences consumerism. These expressions can almost guarantee a baseline of organic sales. But it’s rare to see brands use these principles for their own growth. For the longest time, I searched for a physical manifestation of what I called linear commerce. I found it in Augusta.

The Masters was one of few physical examples of what happens when a curated and eager audience meets sales opportunity. A conservative estimate suggested that 2018’s Masters tournament generated $60-70 million in sales in its week. With an estimated 160,000 visitors over the four-day tournament, the Masters out earned the yearly revenue of the 40th percentile of all digitally native brands in less than a week’s time.

On Linear Commerce

The digital economy rewards the companies that work along the line that separates traditional digital media and traditional eCommerce. A great product needs an organic and impassioned audience. Captive audiences need products and services to offer the community. Linear commerce is the understanding that digital media and traditional online retail will eventually meet at the center – along the line – the most efficient path for growth. Brands will develop publishing as a core competency and publishers will develop retail operations as a core competency. Below, you’ll find a visual representation of the launch strategies often found in the direct to consumer space.

The five basic stages of DTC linear commerce.

While versions (1) and (2) are the most predictable paths taken by venture-backed DTC brands, we’re beginning to see more of version (4) being implemented. Founder of Recess, Ben Witte launched “IRL.” A form of repurposed physical retail space, the location is designed to develop the consumer’s understanding of the Recess brand and his product pipeline. The space is designed to give the drink a purpose. At IRL, Witte schedules educational events to enrich and inspire the CPG brand’s target demographic.

Meanwhile at Away, “Here” magazine provides a tether between Steph Korey and Jen Rubio’s first market (North America) and their international growth. In this way, “Here” is a blend of versions (4) and (5). While many of Away‘s North American target consumers are aware that Away exists – “Here” has served, abroad, as an introduction to the brand. Nearly 12% of the publication’s traffic is derived internationally through WhatsApp, a sign that the approach to educating international consumers is tangible.

While version (5) is rare, chief marketers are beginning to understand its value. The best practical example of the Version 5 launch plan was Emily Weiss’ go-to-market strategy. Into the Gloss began as the primary sales driver for Glossier’s line of makeup and accessories. A newly minted unicorn, Glossier.com‘s 2.6 million monthly visitors now arrive from a sustainable blend of customer acquisition methods: organic traffic through Into The Gloss and Instagram, paid search, Facebook / Instagram advertising, and a quiet affiliate deal with BuzzFeed. Here is Emily Weiss on Glossier’s growth:

We are building an entirely new kind of beauty company: one that owns the distribution channel and makes customers our stakeholders. By connecting directly with consumers, Glossier has access to endless inspiration for new products.

A Version Five in the making

Curating an audience is an involved process with long tail benefits and short-term headaches; marketing executives have long underestimated the value of this approach to community development and marketing. In this way, several digital publishers are ahead of the curve. 2PM recently spoke with Front Office Sports on Erika Nardini’s plans at Barstool Sports. Nardini on her recent product launch:

Golf is appealing because we love golf, and we have young fans who love golf the way we do. We try to have fun with everything we do and to approach stuff in a way that’s easy-going and approachable. The Barstool Classic is a great example of that.

With a long history of direct to consumer merchandise, their amateur version of pay-per-view sports, and a successful subscription membership under their belts: the edgy media company launched their third commerce offering and another way to monetize the nearly nine million monthly visitors and hundreds of thousands of daily listeners who’ve propelled several Barstool podcasts to top ten sports charts. Barstool Classics is the media brand’s first foray into high dollar events and it begins where this report started – with golf.

As media and commerce continue to meet along the line, the primary KPI is similar for both industries: do the visitors transact? At $600 per ticket, Barstool’s marketing team is betting that: a) they understand their audience and b) the audience will eagerly pay Barstool to express their support. In this way, DTC linear commerce concepts are akin to those fabled pro shops at Augusta National. And for challenger brands looking toward sustainability, there is a lot to learn from these examples. Audience-driven businesses have figured out how to monetize their visitors by providing value that captures attention. The alternative is paying the audience to show up at your party – a cost that is rising by the year.

Read the No. 314 curation here.

Report by Web Smith | About 2PM

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