Issue No. 266: The HarrisX Report

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The must-read HarrisX report is 53 page deep dive into what is quickly becoming an inevitability. Big tech is facing regulation and if it happens, digital advertising efficacy may suffer with it. The most recent member brief included higher-level action steps for brands and agencies that may have to adjust to a digital advertising space without the targeting capabilities that we have today. We’ve narrowed the entire report to a few key takeaways.

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According to the report, 83% of Americans believe that the government should enact tougher regulations and penalties for breaches of data privacy. Additionally, 67% support major legislation in the U.S. The closest of which is the GDPR act in Europe. The GDPR limits the free flow of information between tech companies and advertisers. Below, I have included the three largest areas of concern.


From Member Brief No 9

What would the regulation of Facebook look like?

Look no further than Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR) set to go into effect on May 25, 2018. There are three areas of interest that will be scrutinized:

  • Sensitive info: sexual preference, religious views, and political views will no longer be accessible to advertisers.
  • Facial recognition: banned in 2012, facial recognition will be made available. But the government will monitor intrusive use cases.
  • Data collection across the web: The GDPR reduces Facebook’s ability to track you across the web.

Facebook, Inc. may outlast Congress’ efforts to regulate their data collection practices but it is smart to prepare for a future without it.


Other eye-catching polling data:

(1) 65% of Americans supporting an Honest Ads Act requiring political advertisers to reveal their funding sources.

(2) 59% of Americans believe that children 16 years or younger should have control over their online profiles. Their data should be permanently deleted.

(3) And lastly, a bi-partisan 53% believe that large tech should be regulated much like the big banks are.

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If the push for regulatory action continues in America, the implications will be felt across ad-reliant digital publishing, advertising agencies, and the vertical brands that benefit from the data farm that’s powered Facebook to outsized profitability. It’s likely that we may begin to see the largest brands in the DNVB space pursue a greater share of offline advertisings spend. This, especially as brands begin to reconsider how they a) reach top-of-the-funnel customers and b) retarget potential customers.

Read the Inaugural Tech Media Telecom Pulse Survey here

Issue No. 265: Can A DNVB Achieve Modern Luxury?

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Om Malik and Lean Luxe‘s Paul Munford had a thought-provoking exchange. Does the modern luxury go-to Lean Luxe (and the industry as a whole) have a grasp on what luxury means in online retail? On its face, a physical product that makes itself available to the masses cannot be a luxury product.

Lean Luxe on Twitter

@om Sure, by the old definition of luxury – you’re correct. But don’t judge modern luxury brands’ bonafides using the old set of luxury rulebooks. More here: https://t.co/ZLjoBdxYUz and here: https://t.co/uHYOPzsI9n

There are very few products, if any, that digitally vertical native brands (DNVB) sell that would qualify as traditional luxury goods. Here is Munford’s definition:

The key strength of a modern luxury brand is its emphasis on the entire package, rather just the product (or logo) itself. It’s a different mode of operation that takes some getting used to, but it disperses with the conventions of the old, blingy version of luxury, and is best optimized for today’s new consumer behaviors and expectations.

The fact of the matter is that competing on product quality alone leaves a brand open to exposure. MLCs have smartly understood that a better overall package or bundle — in an open market like today’s — can be far more compelling to shoppers than just product alone can.

Lean Luxe

Munford makes an important point that I’d like to take a bit further. Lean Luxe tends to maintain a narrow focus on hard goods and the packaging that they arrive in. But what about the purchase process and the attentiveness to customer happiness? And what about time?

The definition of luxury: an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain.


2PM’s Meghan Terwilliger had this to say:

Luxury, however you define it, is a brand’s embodiment of characteristics that make it desirable. Historically, those characteristics have been more ‘What’ features like quality, exclusivity, and cost. You can still define luxury as characteristics that make a brand desirable, but those characteristics have shifted. Quality is table stakes.

The characteristics that make brands more desirable are ‘how’ features like excellent customer experience (how do I experience the brand), meaningful brand mission (how do they give back/make a difference), and community engagement. Is it artist-created and excessively expensive? Maybe not. But if it is a product, or even an entire experience that is highly desirable, it can be considered a luxurious brand. DNVBs just so happen to possess a great infrastructure to support the characteristics that define modern luxury.


Luxury is always relative; it is loosely defined to meet the times and the market. If you walk through a great mall in the United States, you will visit brand experiences that will provide a luxurious taste. Take Ohio’s Easton Town Center as an example. The indoor / outdoor mall features Burberry, Tiffany and Co.,  and Louis Vuitton. However, your perception of luxury changes when you walk through the Bal Harbour Shops in North Miami Beach.  Bal Harbour is considered the finest mall in America. Both malls are considered “luxury” malls but neither are as luxurious as Dubai’s mall.

But can a DNVB be a luxury brand?

The notion of luxury is often applied to tech fashion brands. I partially agree with Om Malik’s statement here.

[Lean Luxe] is again confusing smoke / mirrors marketing and what is really luxury. All I know is that AllBirds and Brandless and Casper are not luxury, And no amount of your linguistic gymnastics will convince me of what is luxury, FWIW, LV is not luxury either. Too common.

AllBirds, Brandless, and Casper do not make luxury products but Munford isn’t suggesting that their products-alone are what classifies them within the modern luxury space.

Louis Vuitton was first hired as a personal box maker and packaging expert for the Empress of France. He was charged with “packing the most beautiful clothes in an exquisite way.” It was the practice that helped him to gain influence among the elite and royals, catapulting Louis Vuitton’s namesake to luxury status.

Louis Vuitton began with an early product and the two advantages commonly seen in the DNVB space:

  • Packaging
  • Maniacal focus on customers

The definition of a DNVB: a brand born online with a “maniacal” focus on the customer experience. A DNVB may start online but it often extends to a brick-and-mortar manifestation. Digitally native vertical brands control their own distribution.

Luxury brands don’t always begin as purveyors of luxury products. And due to a macroeconomic consumer shift from materialism to investing in luxury experiences, there are a large number of consumers who prefer DNVB’s luxury-experience over traditional luxury products. For many in the business and wealth classes, it’s a symbol that their money is better spent on even finer things than goods. The definition of luxury is changing.

Here are two relevant passages from 1994’s The Idea of Luxury:

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Buying experiences over buying consumer goods is a trend being adopted by the luxury-set. The interpretation of the word luxury means something altogether different for the types of customers who have the means and awareness to shop with DNVB brands. Skift’s latest research shows a clear shift in demand for more transformative travel experiences among upscale travelers (Skift / May 2, 2017). Whereas expensive products used to be the consumer desire: products, community, and service now play the role of enabling experience economy.

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Many DNVB products (see the database here) are marketed to enable this type of consumer: Mizzen+Main (No. 86) is for the traveling business class male. Ministry (No. 91) is for the well-educated, urban millennial. AllBirds (No. 56) is worn by the business casual, aspiring member of the investor-class. Rogue (No. 8) turned a garage into a coveted space in a home.

Digitally vertical native brands are founded with these basic questions:

(1) How do we make a great product?

(2) How do we build a community around it?

(3) How do we provide an elegant solution for commerce?

(4) How do we enable customers to save time and focus on what matters?

“One fundamental trap that people run into when assessing the merits of a modern luxury brand is the tendency to judge that brand using the ‘best-in-class’ framework,” says Lean Luxe’s Paul Munford. Lean Luxe’s definition is mostly right. Munford discusses packaging as part of the bundle: “[These brands] offer a better bundle to offset [traditional definitions of luxury] — more convenience, transparency, connection, better messaging, pricing, etc.”

But a selection of modern luxury brands are also marketing time as part of the proverbial “bundle” and that’s the only place where Munford and my thoughts differ.

It’s no longer sufficient to define luxury products by how difficult they are to attain. Time is the scarcest resource and the ultimate luxury. Being a modern luxury brand is about being self-aware. These brands sell time as a scarcity and then build products around it.

There may be no greater example of the community / product / service paradigm than Peloton, a DNVB that Malik’s True Ventures joined back in 2015.

Peloton is now shifting gears with a new financing program ($97 per month for 39 months for both the bike and subscription service), an ad campaign that’s more relatable to a diverse consumer base and an NBC Olympics sponsorship. Peloton counts NBCUniversal among its investors, and has raised nearly $450 million in total funding to date.

“We had this idea of a very affluent rider who many of our early adopters were,” she said. “We realized, through conversations with our community, that there was a huge opportunity with people who thought $2,000 was a huge investment but were [buying] it over and over again because the product is so important to them.”

How Peloton is Marketing Beyond the Rich

Peloton is not a traditional luxury product, but it shares consumers with traditional luxury brands. Think about the type of living arrangement necessary to house a wi-fi enabled bicycle or a $4,000 VR treadmill. It’s a brilliant piece of hardware that blends community with product and service. The brand’s proposition explicitly states that the purpose is to free the owner to focus more on experiences.

Peloton’s value proposition is as much about what you can accomplish away from the treadmill. Why take the time to travel to a gym? That time could be better spent elsewhere. This is the mark of a modern luxury brand.

Read more of the issue here.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger |About 2PM

Issue No. 261: Two Years Later | Part One

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On March 22, 2PM begins its third year. The purpose of the 2PM letter remains the same. It’s a weekly (or 2x/week) rundown of news, intel, and commentary that shapes our industry. It’s humanly-curated (with extreme care) and each week, the balance of the articles is influenced by the most read links from past weeks. 

This project began as an initial letter sent to 30 industry friends with a simple philosophy: by studying adjacent industries, you can improve your own. As such, the letter has evolved into a trusted source of information and commentary for many of the brightest in media, commerce, data, and branding.

So with that, I’ve highlighted impactful storylines from the last two years. Part one of two will feature the first of five events, shifts, and developments that will influence your industry’s next three to five years.

10. Shopify solidifies its standing as a go-to for top 100 eCommerce.

Platform objectivity is really important here, there’s little evangelism here.Here are the most commonly seen options: custom cart, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, Magento, Salesforce (Demandware), or Shopify. I believe that established brands should build on the platforms that are best for them but the numbers are the numbers.

Based on some recent research, I’ve polled the most notable 110+ eCommerce brands and a resounding 40+% of them are hosted by Shopify. This has tremendous implications for the Shopify agency industry. Current leaders in that space: Bold Commerce, BVAccel, Pointer Creative, Wondersauce, Fuel Made, and Worn. I anticipate that one of them to be acquired by a top 25 brand in the next two years.

9. Affirm redefines consumer credit.

Early in 2015, I encountered Affirm for the first time (albeit late). I was constructing a luxury eCommerce platform for men and I was hunting down ways to bolster the site’s conversion rate. Affirm was one of the first company’s that I reached out to because the premise of the service was simple:

  • offer financing at eCommerce checkout
  • remove friction (long applications, credit checks)
  • keep interest rates low and honest

This process was perfect for the online retailing of higher end items ranging from $500-$10,000. Hodinkee executed this concept to perfection. And now, they are pushing “honest financing” into physical retail.

People can sign up through the website or at checkout on some web stores for financing from Affirm that’s paid off in monthly installments. On Monday, the company said it’s making the micro-lending program available through Apple Pay, letting customers tap their iPhones to pay in brick-and-mortar stores.

This essentially makes Affirm a credit card provider without physical cards or credit scores. The San Francisco-based company pitches itself as superior to traditional credit cards from American Express Co. or Visa Inc. because it’s transparent about fees and charges no interest on purchases from more than 150 retailers.
Julia Verhage, Bloomberg Technology

8. Walmart pivots towards a startup culture.

When Walmart acquired Jet.com, the legacy retailer acquired a new direction led by Marc Lore. Many in the industry remain skeptical of Lore’s ability to bolster Walmart’s position in a market that’s deeply influenced by Amazon, Alibaba, and digitally vertical native brands. But to his credit, Walmart’s market cap is rising. In fact, it saw an all-time high on January 28, 2018. I’ve applauded his innovations. These innovations include his streamlining Walmart’s omni-channel operations, acquiring popular online retailers, and incubating native brands like their new Allswell.

From Member Brief No. 2:

The Allswell brand is strong, it’s independent, it’s inviting. It looks like a Silicon Valley-backed DNVB for bedding and mattresses. But most importantly, it appeals directly to upper-middle class women. If you notice, the “King” bed is now known as the “Supreme Queen”, a nice touch in an era (rightfully) dominated by the rhetoric of feminism and gender equity. Allswell is a play to capitalize on this cultural momentum.

7. Glossier forges a new path for content and commerce.

One of the core tenets of 2PM’s commerce beliefs is that to succeed, you must control both key levers: content and commerce. I’ve called this linear commerce. There isn’t an operation that is executing as well as Emily Weiss’ Glossier.

From the brand’s inception – which spawned from the hyper-popularity of Weiss’s beauty blog Into the Gloss – the beauty company has gone against the proverbial grain of the beauty business. Marketing a sense of authenticity and belonging rather than the beauty industry’s traditional fictitious glamour story, the female-dominant company (Dear Tech People reports 79% of Glossier’s staff is female) captured the love and attention of the coveted Millennials.

Janna Mandel, Forbes

From Member Brief No. 1

Glossier / Into The Gloss has achieved that proverbial line, the result of two planes intersecting to form infinite opportunity. Glossier is operating similarly to Kylie Cosmetics, but in a way that could be more sustainable for the well-funded D2C brand.

The majority of Glossier’s influence referral comes from their blog while the majority of Kylie Cosmetic’s influence referral traffic comes from Jenner’s Instagram and Youtube accounts. While Jenner’s influence is currently stronger, Glossier owns their influence plane.

6. Subscription media becomes the new standard.

Just ten years ago, paywall was a dirty word. And then the New York Times’ innovative commerce department developed a strategy that readers are willing to play for quality. In 2018, with the exception of Axios, Outline, and Inverse, there aren’t many examples of notable media startups who haven’t pursued subscription revenue as their focus.

I’ve cited TheSkimm, Skift, and The Information as innovators in this space.

The newsletter reports a 30% open rate. Since its launch, TheSkimm has expanded to offer podcasts, an e-commerce business and a paid app featuring a calendar of upcoming news and televised events. TheSkimm will use the new influx of money to build more subscription services, perhaps with the help of Google Ventures and Google, and enrich its video and podcasting options, along with plans for data analysis.

Melinda Fuller, MediaPost

In issue No. 262, 2PM will count down the last five storylines. If you have any feedback on 6-10, email me: web@2pml.com.

Read more of the issue here.