Member Brief No. 3: The Attention Stack

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Successful commerce companies and vertical brands want to know how to generate authentic happiness with their customers. A customer kept > a customer gained. The attention stack is a buzz phrase that you’ll hear quite a bit about as brands try to solidify their standing in a quickly evolving market.

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Issue No. 253: Seven city-dwellers who should root for Amazon


Amazon’s HQ2 campaign is a Rorschach test for your personal politics. But as with anything in politics, there will always be an upside to accompany the downside and vice versa. Here’s what a recent policy article in CNN had to say about the Disturbing part of Amazon’s HQ2 Campaign:

But, there’s one part of Amazon’s HQ2 competition that is deeply disturbing — pitting city against city in a wasteful and economically unproductive bidding war for tax and other incentives. As one of the world’s most valuable companies, Amazon does not need — and should not be going after — taxpayer dollars that could be better used on schools, parks, transit, housing or other much needed public goods.

Perhaps there is truth in this. But in accepting that one of these cities will be home to 50,000 new jobs at an average salary of ~ $100,000, there are tremendous positives to consider. Here are the seven people that you know who will love the HQ2 in their city:

The urban homeowner | Face it, Amazon is likely to move to an area where the housing market is affordable-yet-appreciating. This person’s home will appreciate with the influx of upper-middle class homeowners and the investments into their city to support thousands of white collar professionals.

The residential developer | We all know a person who spends their days buying abandoned multi-units at Sheriff’s auctions and turning them into $2,000 per month rentals. If this friend can find the cash flow to do it, her business will expand quite a bit.

The city’s income tax department head | This one is self explanatory. Salaries in excess of $100,000 are very important to growing cities, as these citizens are less likely to receive tax returns. An influx of this demo means more money to spend on infrastructure.

The area’s MLS team owner | Big three sports rarely have economic crises. But for a Major League Soccer club, adding hundreds if not thousands of new season ticket holders and general fans could make their investment more viable.

The elite independent school administrator | With urbanization comes a stark reality, most urban schooling systems are failing. And charter schools in most of the top 20 cities aren’t much better off. Given the demographic of a well-off millennial, the ones with kids will likely invest in private school education.

The local state school college graduate | Congratulations to this young person for increasing their odds of finding that great, technical job right out of school.

The branding agency senior manager | What most don’t know about Amazon is that they are one of the largest advertising businesses in America. By some estimates, Jeff Bezo’s ad business is larger than that of Twitter’s and Snapchat’s. Expect Amazon to poach talent from local agencies as they continue their takeover of the digital advertising market.

Amazon’s campaign for a new home city is a risky bet for the policy-maker who determines the incentive package. But if Amazon delivers the goods, as promised, one local government will be set for the next 5-7 years. It just so happens that delivering is what Bezos does best.

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Issue No. 252: 10 to Observe in Content and Commerce


She who controls supply and demand will rule the internet. Publishers are recognizing that they must become whole ecosystems to thrive and commerce is a key component (again).

The ‘content and commerce’ movement was supposedly dead when Ben Lerer (Thrillist) and Jason Ross (JackThreads) chose to part ways. With this failure (hint: it really wasn’t a failure), it emboldened many in publishing to proclaim that commerce didn’t work.

Across newsrooms, from coast to coast, many publishing executives ignored investing in eCommerce between 2014-2017. Affiliate marketing teams were prioritized over ad sales teams and as a result, well-written articles went from literary showcases to collages of products to purchase.  As ad sales continue to dwindle and affiliate sales remain on shaky ground, many of the healthiest digital publishers had a paradigm shift of sorts:

  • How do we gain independence from platforms like Facebook?
  • How do we hedge against falling ad sales and a weakening affiliate market?
  • How do we foster community within our readership?

For many non-subscription and subscription digitals alike, merchandising has been used to address each of these questions. By building community, publications become a destination. Digiday covered this phenomenon, “The story behind that New Yorker tote bag.”

The must-have signifier of urbane sophistication in 2017 wasn’t Yeezys or torn jeans. It was a tote bag that The New Yorker gives to new subscribers.

The bag itself isn’t new — it’s been a gift the glossy has given out since 2014 — but thanks to Donald Trump and an iconic design, the bag became a hit. The magazine’s marketing department has distributed over 500,000 of them to new subscribers and existing ones, who soon started asking for bags of their own.

Continue reading “Issue No. 252: 10 to Observe in Content and Commerce”

Issue No. 248: The nine boxes

On: “The End is Already Here” by @LukeOneil47

For quite sometime, I was fascinated by the storm that is digital media. If Jonah Peretti is scared, so is just about everyone else. Buying, selling, shifting, moving, falling, rising – the tectonic plates beneath the foundation of digital media are moving ever faster. Only visionaries capable of playing three dimensional chest will remain on the sturdy ground. Count Jessica Lessin as one of them.

After a three-year stint in and around the digital media space, I have seen enough to know that executives must be forward-thinking to survive this whirlwind. I know some who are, I know many who are not. So O’Neil’s words strike me because many will read them today after reading Peretti’s words on Buzzfeed’s future. Here’s a striking para from O’Neil’s essay:

Dailies who aren’t already well ahead of the game in terms of reverting back to subscription models, or of significant enough national prominence, or don’t find their own relatively benevolent billionaire owner, will continue to either be neutered or flattened out by conglomerates into content distributors. The ones that don’t will buy some time, but will ultimately become vanity projects read only by people wealthy enough to remain interested in the superficial comings and goings of other wealthy people.

To Luke’s point,the remedies that I envisioned were tactical departure for most in the media space (and very difficult to execute). These were the five points on my whiteboard:

  1. Build a premium subscription product for our most loyal. Do not ignore this advice, bosses. Recurring revenue is something that we can build upon.
  2. Let’s treat news like a commodity but let’s treat our platform as a brand. This means avoid discounts or promotions. It also means that we must think like a CMO.
  3. Direct-to-consumer commerce and native advertising partnerships should be influenced by affiliate data. Affiliate revenue is a treasure trove of data.
  4. Let’s measure success, not in DAU or MAU but in affiliate / D2C commerce conversion. What are eyes without the ability to influence the mind (i.e. cart conversions)?
  5. Let’s build a community, not a readership. Communities persist, readerships do not.
Read Neiman Lab’s 2018 predictions in journalism, including Luke O’Neil’s “The End is Already Here.
This is just my opinion. – @Web Smith


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Issue No. 246: DNVB&’s will be just fine

A last word: eCommerce is a bear

Consumers are becoming brand agnostic and DNVB’s seem to be holding on to their loyalty by appealing to internet-first consumers. It’s expensive but for some DNVB’s, there may be a positive outcome.

Read: From a digitally-native gold rush to an impending bloodbath

One passage stood out when I read Richie Seigel’s latest for his Loose Threads project.

While many people believe that Digitally-Native Brands have both larger addressable markets and cheaper acquisition avenues to realize their potential—leading to this influx of capital—there is little proof that these theories will result in long-lasting or profitable companies.

Building a successful brand takes time. While many Digitally-Native Brands have tried to take shortcuts—raising more money and spending it faster—many of these companies find themselves in precarious positions, with investors breathing down their necks, employees’ livelihoods in their hands, and uncertainty about what comes next.

When I reached out to a prominent (profitable) DNVB founder / CEO to discuss this prediction, we both agreed that it had merit. There will be many bad DNVB exits. But there will be even more heritage brands that will fail along with the stores that propped them up for years.

You know that age old adage, you only have to outrun one person to escape a bear’s pursuit? In this analogy, heritage brands are the ones being outrun by DNVB’s.

Of the heritage brands that Seigel lists in his second para, the publicly traded ones are trading at an average of -25% on the year. This includes Columbus’s own L Brands (owner of Victoria Secret); VS is a heritage brand that’s anchoring a crumbling stock due to inbound intimates competition from a growing number of DNVB’s.

In addition, most heritage brands rely upon department stores and costly ten-year leases to bolster sales. Most of these investments are quietly financed by toxic amounts of private equity. Someone check on J. Crew for us.

Wal-Mart, who invests heavily in DNVB’s, understands the importance of the internet as a platform for retail. They are doing something interesting to compete against Amazon:

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is near a deal to add Lord & Taylor to its website, part of a broader effort by the retail giant to build an online shopping destination that can compete with Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.” – WSJ

This is why Wal-Mart is doing this: They will now sell fashion’s heritage brands through, becoming a new-aged destination for all things department store: including Patagonia, Ralph Lauren, Nike, and maybe even Commes De Garcons.

This is while their six most recent acquisitions are also helping them appeal to new audiences. has already announced a private label. And it’s no secret that Wal-Mart is building a strong case with Mark Lore’s new strategy. In time, Wal-Mart will be a machine capable of launching new private-labeled brands that target the consumers of the heritage brands of old.

Mark Lore’s recent Lord & Taylor move has Bezos’ tutelage written all over it.

Amazon, Alibaba, and Wal-Mart are vying to become this century’s version of the department store. And every brand should be nervous but it’s the (eCommerce-lagging) heritage brands that should be most afraid of the bloodbath. These brands have invested little in eCommerce and even less in the types of communities that innovators like Stitch Fix seems to have fostered.

As consumers become more brand agnostic, heritage brands are closest to being devoured by the bear.


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Issue No. 236: But first, define “middle-class.”


Graphic of the week: Besmirchbox

Walmart’s purchase of Birchbox seems to be imminent and Wall Street is signaling that the reasons are: (1) logistical shortcomings (2) a shrinking middle-class.

The addition of upscale merchandise demonstrates the changes that the discount retailer has been forced to grapple with as the number of potential middle-class customers drops.

Pew Research Center defines “middle class” in America as households with two-thirds to double the national median income. While that still includes roughly half of American households, it’s a shrinking group — from 2000 to 2014, middle-class populations decreased in 203 of the 229 metropolitan areas reviewed in a Pew study.


See more of the issue here.