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. 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. 225: eCommerce and middle America


A last word: Amazon v. Alibaba

The differences between Alibaba and Amazon are numerous but there is one glaring difference. eCommerce in America is increasingly marketed as a solution for the middle-to-upper class. In China, eCommerce has made progress opening channels to rural and poorer citizens. Here, it is a novelty and growth is more difficult. In China, eCommerce is an economy open to all (mostly out of logistical necessity).

At last survey, eCommerce has a 30%+ adoption rate in China vs. 12%+ in the United States.

Why the difference? eCommerce is a relative luxury in America and the cost of fulfillment is to blame. With the (1) proliferation of “free” shipping, (2) the skyrocketing costs of warehousing, (3) and the slim margins of many major eCommerce players, adoption is reduced to a smaller slice of the American population than our Chinese counterparts.

In short: in America, we only market to people that can best support our rising logistics costs.

It is through this lens that you should view Amazon and Walmart’s recent developments. While we’ve all read the strategic differences between Amazon’s acquisition strategy and Walmart’s, one similarity is that both are moving upmarket. Solid Yarn Spun Tees and Kombucha Tea anyone?

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Issue No. 219: On TheSkimm

Opinion: The Skimm treats its readers like they’ve never read an article, looked at a map, or accidentally seen a CNN segment in their dentists’ waiting rooms. Its patronizing tone assumes that female news consumers tune out anything of import if it’s not processed through verbal eye-rolls. The very existence of such a service, especially one marketed specifically to women, is insulting.
As a fan of The Skimm’s business, I can understand how a lack of intellectualism can seem demeaning to an educated audience. But I also applaud the two founders for accomplishing two things with their unique style of content: a) keeping a very busy professional class semi-informed b) helping to make a general populace curious for real, intellectual depth. – Web Smith

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Issue No. 213: One media group went all-in on commerce. 🙀

One could imagine the potential for similar deals with other e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce or perhaps marketplaces like Etsy. Kaufman joined BuzzFeed last year when the company acquired his e-commerce startup Scroll. He previously founded and ran an invention startup called Quirky, which has struggled, and also started the successful smartphone accessory company Mophie. Kaufman reports directly to BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti.

Graphic of the Week



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