Member Brief No. 1: Linear Commerce


This brief is an example of 2PM’s member-only content package. Learn more at the bottom.

Linear commerce. If you’ve built a great product, you’ll need an audience. And if you’ve built a captive audience, you’ll need a great product. Here’s a timely tweet by Founder Collective’s Director of Content. Notably, the three biggest areas of focus for eCommerce executives revolved around influence.


Businesses in the digital economy want to exist along a line, not a point. A point marks a position in space. In pure geometric terms, a point is a pair of x, y, or z coordinates. It has no mass at all. If two lines intersect, they form this point.  Outside of that point, little else is defined. For the sake of this metaphor, a point of intersection lacks commerce significance because the two lines (x = product and y = media) are missing the breadth (or in another measure: critical mass). In geometry, a point can be insignificant and most often it is.

A plane is a flat surface extending in height and width. This plane has breadth.  So when two planes intersect, the intersecting planes form a line. And a line is an infinite series of points (i.e. opportunity). In this metaphor, a line represents the content x commerce goal of many businesses in today’s digital economy. Even companies like Airbnb are operating along two planes. The goal? A captive audience that is in tune with your product offering.

This is how I see content x commerce. Building a breadth of influence in supply and demand may be a requisite for success in this new digital economy. There are examples of this all around us. But there are few that understand this space better than the Jenner / Kardashian family.

Most young companies operate at a point, lacking breadth in the planes of content influence or product commerce. But some businesses covered in today’s member brief have achieved that proverbial line. And when Kylie Jenner tweeted this (whether she knew it or not), she was essentially stating that a proponent of her influence plane (i.e. Snapchat) was losing its breadth.

Reducing Kylie Jenner to a young reality star is short-sighted here.  She’s the 100% owner of two very sizable Shopify Plus-enabled eCommerce brands, including a top 50 store in the beauty CPG space. Kylie Cosmetics may be the crown jewel of Brand Value Accelerator’s portfolio of eCommerce clients. And rightly so, the brand was rumored to earn upwards of $400,000,000 in 2017.


It’s that proverbial line that represents an optimization of publishing influence and product offering. In many ways, the aforementioned Jenner embodies that line. It’s this optimization that many product-based brands and publishing-based outlets attempt to accomplish. While it’s easier to discount the collective from which she belongs, that family understands that content and commerce balance like few others.

At press time, Kylie Jenner is the eighth most followed person on Instagram and of equal or greater import on Snapchat. For more conventional commerce businesses, those two channels have proven to be to two of the most powerful sales drivers. Here’s a look at how powerful of a content generator she is:

Via TechCrunch:

Kylie Jenner is just about as influential a celebrity as they come; many of the product advances of social media companies like Snap have been borne on the backs on influencers like Jenner, who have hundreds of millions of followers across these platforms that she uses to push her makeup products and lifestyle onto culture.

Via Bloomberg:

Shares of the Snapchat parent company sank 6.1 percent on Thursday, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value, on the heels of a tweet on Wednesday from Kylie Jenner, who said she doesn’t open the app anymore. Whether it’s the demands of her newfound motherhood, or the recent app redesign, the testament drew similar replies from her 24.5 million followers. 


Sanchez noted that Jenner’s comment speaks to the demographics of its users, which could put the stock in hot water. “[But] of course the group that uses it, which is the 18- to 24-year-olds, they’re going to hate that. They have the attention span of a gnat,” she added. “I think it’s going to be challenging because they’re going to have to move into an older group and I’m not sure that’s going to work. I think that’s a risk.

As these member briefs continue, we’ll discuss more instances of these concepts with practical examples.

Rapha is at center stage again. This time, as a great example of  why brands build belonging. The cycling brand understands that when you buy a brand, you’re choosing a club. The paradox in merchandising success is that depth of audience matters more than size of audience. Brands / publishers have traffic, very few have captive audiences.

The smartest brands are focusing on customer retention, lifetime value, and consumer happiness by investing in community. And it’s this type of belonging that keeps you coming back.

Fast Company: Why would a for-profit brand put so much work into building belonging? The simple answer is because of the deep brand loyalty it engenders and the commercial opportunities it creates.

The longer answer is: The commercial opportunity exists because we need belonging at a fundamental level . We have a crisis of belonging–and great brands will step into the vacuum created by social isolation.

Airbnb is moving upstream and into more traditional hotel servicing, this includes traditional loyalty programs. This makes sense as the brand is extremely valuable and traditional real estate will help them to sidestep regulatory worries in certain markets (i.e. New York City).

The Verge: As part of the overall push to higher-end accommodations, Airbnb plans to introduce a luxury tier that is more expensive than Airbnb Plus, called Airbnb Beyond. The company plans to launch the tier in the spring, using the expertise and resources gained by its acquisition of Luxury Retreats last year. Airbnb Beyond will include “custom-designed trips of a lifetime” at the “world’s finest homes, custom experiences, and world-class hospitality.

Let’s give credit to CB Insights for this November 2017 gem:

Airbnb Select homes are inspected by the company and cosmetically improved. Both efforts come as part of a broader push to improve the company’s accommodation inventory.

As of now, it is unclear whether Airbnb Lux will be integrated into the core Airbnb platform or continue to live in the Luxury Retreats property. Both options come with risks, and the former could possibly alienate Luxury Retreats’ core user group, muddy its branding, and (if non-exclusive listings were included) forfeit the platform’s exclusivity.

eCommerce: Porsche moves towards an online retailing future. Given that their first electric design debuts in 2019, this could be another signal that the high-end market is adjusting to Tesla’s online-first style of business by adapting to it themselves.

Retail real estate: Amazon is in the brick and mortar business for several reasons and here are the most important ones:

  • serendipity
  • honing retail technology as IP to license to other retailers (AWS 2.0?)
  • building loyalty
  • driving Amazon Prime sign-ups

Recode: Amazon spent four years crafting a system — dubbed Just Walk Out Technology — that allows shoppers to scan their phone upon entrance, grab desired items off a shelf, and automatically get charged the right amount after exiting without the need to stop at a cash register to pay. (Here’s a photo tour of the first Amazon Go store.)

Lean Luxe is the industry-leading modern luxury publication. The indie media company is also 2PM’s go-to for perspectives on modern luxury companies (MLC) and how they appeal directly to the consumer. This short interview was done by Hero, a company at the intersection of eCommerce and physical retail.

When you listen to this short interview on innovative MLC brands consider that incumbent brands are taking pages from their playbooks to stay relevant. While Jeff Bezos is no stranger to the credit of retail innovation, consider Amazon’s brick and mortar strategy through the lens of what these young, innovative brands are doing to reshape efficient commerce. Does this tried and true MLC physical retail strategy sound familiar:

The store is going to be used less as a major point of sale and more as a showroom and physical place for these online brands to present their brand in a physical way. 

M. Paul Munford, Editor-in-Chief of Lean Luxe 

Glossier is the type of direct to consumer brand that keeps incumbent CEO’s up at night. It is also a great example of the linear commerce.

TechCrunch: The New York-based company — which evolved out of the popular blog Into the Gloss by founder and CEO Emily Weiss — began selling its own make-up at the outset but has more recently added body and fragrance products, too, bringing its total number of offerings to 22. One of the company’s most popular products is a mascara-like eyebrow filler called Boy Brow. Among its newest: a solid version of its fragrance, You.

Let’s look at Glossier’s two sites in January 2018: a) influence plane and b) commerce plane


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Digiday:For example, Glossier has noticed a frequent customer behavioral pattern: An Into the Gloss reader will open an article on mobile, click a link to shop a Glossier product mentioned in the article, add it to the mobile cart and then move to desktop to finish the transaction. It’s now using its new database to follow that pattern, and link the user across sites on both mobile and desktop.

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.

By. Web Smith, 2PM

These briefs will be part of a members-only email, curated and delivered each Friday. You can subscribe to executive membership here.  

Issue No. 255: The Drum Major Instinct


Let’s save the outrage for a moment and look at Chrysler’s Ram ad for what it is, a valiant effort and a missed opportunity. Their ad utilized a speech on what MLK called the fall of the Roman empire. Chrysler and their ad agency deserve applause for being gutsy enough to use this as their source material.

Because nations are caught up on the ‘drum major instinct.’ I must be first, I must be supreme, our nation must rule the world. And I am going to continue to say it to America. Because I love this country too much to see the drift that it’s taken.

Martin Luther King, in the same speech.

In an NFL season that was heavy on the politics, Super Bowl advertisements generally held American politics at arm’s length. It’s clear that there has been social activism fatigue. But this Ram Trucks’ ad attempted to be all things to all people and frankly, only courage can convert a valiant effort into a meaningful outcome.

There are levels to consider here and it begins with the framing of the advertisement:

  • Ram wants to sell trucks. This is the only reason that you pay $5M for an ad on the world’s biggest stage.
  • Chrysler outsourced this concept and direction to High Dive, a boutique agency in Chicago. Their attempt was likely well-meaning.
  • February is Black History Month.
  • Martin Luther King is a safe American hero.
  • Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots fielded activist players in the 2017-2018 season.
  • Chrysler is leaning on the President’s approval rating to make a statement that they felt most reasonable Americans agreed with.

This particular creative agency would likely identify as liberal. And it’s also likely that they felt that this advertisement was an opportunity to do more than move products. Ram’s agency has an interesting mantra on their homepage:

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This likely motivated their approach here. The juxtaposition of the famous MLK Drum Major Instinct speech, exactly fifty years prior to the biggest game of the year, was too much to pass up. This, even though the speech’s context makes little sense when you consider what they chose for the advertisement’s imagery.

The above agency requested permission from the King Family Estate to use his likeness in the ad. And upon receiving that permission, we can infer that there was a battle between the creative agency and the in-house marketing team at Chrysler.

Martin Luther King was obviously a great man but for context, by 1968 he had grown weary of the Vietnam War. He’d also taken up the mantle for America’s poor (of all ethnicities). He’d publicly called for an end to American corporate greed. His popularity was at an all-time low by then. With the “Drum Major” speech, he established a few basic tenets of the American far left platform that endured for decades. This ad was an attempt to juxtapose his words with our times.


I’d venture to guess that the creative agency wanted imagery of a player kneeling. Because, of course they did. The Ram team at Chrysler likely objected and compromised by allowing High Dive to include the 1.7 seconds of a team of African-American high school football players kneeling for their pre-game prayer. It’s imagery that’s vague enough to be a political non-issue in an ad about trucks that targets 25-35 year old men in towns like Cookeville, Tennessee.

The real appeal of using this MLK speech was his re-defining of the word “great” – an argument against the current administration’s “Make America Great Again” motto. With an approval rate in the 30’s, this was a safe calculation. The Chrysler team latched on to this politically-centrist approach because it is inoffensive to the right and (assumably) endearing to the left.

In so many words, the ad in a sentence was:

America is great already and it’s because we are a nation of servants who believe in helping our fellow man. Ram is the vehicle for those who serve.

I completely understand this collective thought process. If you don’t, consider that no sport delved deeper into the world of social activism than the NFL’s small band of players – one of whom was starting for the Philadelphia Eagles.  The other of whom was banned from playing the game. Neither of whom were involved in the advertisement and for obvious brand demographic reasons. The stage was set to execute one of the most meaningful ads of the past year.

But the ad fell flat. And this is where a diversity of opinion and background is handy in creative environments.

Throughout 2017, there was quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. Many NFL fans, commentators, politicians, and our President damned those men who took part in peaceful protest. This while uplifting and honoring the man who originated it. In this way, Ram inadvertently highlighted that cognitive dissonance and set off quite a nerve on social media and beyond.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell in a message to 2PM:

A company really cant use that speech to sell something. It just feels dirty. I at least had that reaction and everyone on Twitter seemed to have as well. Just like the Prince projection, when we bring back the dead, we have to be so careful. I think Dodge got caught up on the 50 years idea. But didn’t fully think through how the crass commercialism make it hard to use the speech as a device to better sell.

I am not upset by the advertisement, itself. The King family’s estate approved it and the creative agency likely did the best that they could with some mighty restraints.

I am upset that the opportunity was wasted and even the smallest tweak to the visuals could have eased the uproar.

There was no stock footage of Ram trucks serving others in times of need. There was no archival footage of peaceful protestors jumping out of the bed of a truck to meet their friends at the front line. There wasn’t even that reconciliatory visual of a service member (who serves) and the athlete / political activist (who serves) both coming to terms with each other’s efforts.

MLK’s sermons were so powerful because they made us think about our own human flaws.

But perhaps next time, agencies and in-house corporate teams can possess the courage to take a step out of their comfort zones, leaning in to authentic messaging. Even if it’s not tidy or politically correct. This, too, is a form of service. 

This is the opinion of  the editor. The 2PM Parse pod is devoted to breaking down advertisements like these – the good and the bad. 

Read more of the issue here.

Listen to the entire MLK speech here. At the time of publishing, this ad was viewed 14x more than Ram’s lauded viking ad.

Issue No. 251: 10 thoughts for 2018


  • Brand: Nike will make small gains against Adidas by copying the German brand’s “creators” playbook (click above) but Adidas will remain the brand for rebels and the message will resonate better in 2018, as consumers shun the status quo.
  • eCommerce: Podcasts will continue to mature their eCommerce operations. There will be more examples of refined stores and high quality brand plays in merchandise.
  • Digital Media: Netflix is on to something and may scare the likes of AMC and Cinemark in 2018. Will Smith scored a big win with 11M week-one views. This is out of the 53 million Netflix subscribers. Expect the streaming service to redefine what Netflix means by building on the critical momentum of “Mudbound” and the viewership success of “Bright.”
  • eCommerce: Amazon will cut its affiliate spending by upwards of 40% in 2018. This will most likely affect independent media groups and some of BuzzFeed’s most recent efforts.
  • Digital Media: 2018 will be the year that Youtube influencers take ownership over their eCommerce presences and flock to white glove services that are fully vertical.
  • DNVB: Walmart will buy 1-2 more digitally vertical native brands in 2018. They will also test a smaller-box urban storefront, by a different name, for their higher end brands.
  • Brand: Brands with evergreen products will reduce Google SEM spend and shift to Amazon search products. Remember, Amazon is now a $1B+ advertising business.
  • eCommerce: Spurred by GGV Capital’s belief in China’s commerce sector, brands will begin spending considerable time working with China’s trove of mobile-first eCommerce platforms to grow through international channels. In 2008, it was SEM. In 2012, it was social. In 2016, it was the Soho pop-up. In 2018, it will be American exports in China.
  • eCommerce: Shopify will develop a ‘featured’ marketplace for its top Shopify and Shopify Plus performers and it will compete against the likes of Wish and others. Expect this to be launched in the form of a mobile app with one-click purchasing. Tobi, Harley, and crew will also launch their first of many private label brands to appear on this marketplace app.
  • Digital Media: 🗣2PML will become a leading commerce podcast in 2018. It will become the go-to 20 minute pod for polymaths with little time for market research, continued education, and Porter’s Five Forces analysis.

Follow @2PMLinks for this thread and other updates.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 238: Inclusivity has many forms.

The Launch of Cotton Bureau’s Blank

I first mentioned Cotton Bureau in Issue No. 203, where I expounded on what I found fascinating about the Commerce startup (and fourth fastest growing company in Pittsburgh). Most recently, their focus has been on sizing inclusivity. In Issue No. 217, I wrote:
Cotton Bureau is one-step closer to filling a void left behind by American Apparel’s bankruptcy. They’ve begun manufacturing a new type of tee for all shapes and sizes. It’s called “Blank” and it has the potential to solve a gaping sourcing issue in a major fashion segment.Women and men needed better, more accurate t-shirt sizing. 

From this simple assessment,Blank was born. From the now-successful Kickstarter for the project:

You see, finding a wholesale t-shirt manufacturer that fits all our criteria has been…challenging (to say the least). We need a brand with modern fits, a wide range of colors and fabrics, ethical manufacturing, reliable quality and consistency, always-available stock, and it’d be reeeeal nice if it was made in America. Finding a brand that checks all those boxes and oh yeah also fits women is damn near impossible. If you can find a women’s brand that comes in our preferred colors and fabrics, it’s only available in mega-tiny junior sizing. If it’s sized to fit most women, the cut is awkward, the fabric isn’t anywhere near our standards, and it comes in whatever color you want…as long as that color is pink. It’s frustrating for us as a company, and every bit as frustrating for you as our customer.

In a recent conversation with a Senior Editor of a lauded men’s publication, the gentleman posed the question to us: “but what’s the angle to cover for men?” He asked this un-ironically but in doing so, it established why I believe there will be a successful product market fit for Blank’s offering.
Sizing woes can illicit a sense of embarrassment or even shame from consumers – especially men. Men seem to be more ashamed to seek a solution to sizing inaccuracies. But this is nothing new, it took a decade of female consumers lauding performance fabric sportswear for men to do the same. Now, athleisure is leading the industry in product innovations and companies like Lululemonand Outdoor Voices are widely accepted by all.

Long before American Apparel exacerbated the sizing issue by marketing their products as exclusionary, this practice was found in tween retailers. Many can remember being a normal-sized kid while needing to purchase an XXL tee from A&F or American Eagle. In a normal world, XXL would be worn by an NFL tight end. Today, you’ll see the same practices at Hollister and other retailers who target teenage and young adult consumers.

For adults, sizing in t-shirts hasn’t improved either and the product shaming has only increased. American Apparel set this market trend, years ago. Though it’s now owned by Gildan, producing a wider offering with accurate sizing would still be viewed as detrimental to the brand.
By the conclusion of our chat, that Senior Editor recognized that there was, in fact, an industry problem and he welcomed the solution. I have a feeling that many consumers will welcome Blank, just the same.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.
See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 231: Commoditization is the enemy.

A last word: what does a DNVB mean anyway?

After issue number 230’s feature on Pixlee’s DNVB round up, I received no less than twenty-seven emails from readers seeking clarification on the list.

For one, I would have made a few additions and deletions to the list. But it’s also important that we narrow down the meaning of what the industry means by DNVB. In issue number 228, I highlight differing distribution strategies.

Under the startup umbrella, there are retailers and vertical brands. The difference between the two depends upon the company’s level of exposure. By all accounts, Andy Dunn is the godfather of the vertical commerce business and in May 2016, he wrote the penultimate piece on the online retail business.

Two paras stood out:

The digitally-native vertical brand is way more customer intimate than it’s competition. The data is better because every transaction and interaction is captured. You don’t have to combine data across businesses, because it’s all one business. You are not blind to your wholesale business, because you don’t have a big wholesale business. It’s one CRM. It’s one store, where everybody knows your name.

While born digitally, the DNVB need not end up digital-only. This means the brand can extend offline. Usually its offline incarnation is through its own experiential physical retail, or highly selective partnerships. In nearly all cases of partnerships, the brand controls its external distribution versus being controlled by it. Any offline retail is not about warehousing product, it’s about marketing the brand and delivering great one to one customer service. It may be pop-ups. It may be permanent locations. It may be installs at existing retailers.
There are numerous arguments for being a retailer, the first being a retailer’s hundreds or thousands of touch points. Many of the finest brands on earth fall under this category. But as I mentioned in 228, DNVB’s are data-driven with eCommerce as the core competency. These strategies cannot be more different; one strategist employs a data scientist and the other strategist employs of VP of Sales.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.


See more of the issue here.

Issue Issue No. 227: When Malls Fail, Go Private?



If malls are another victim of urban revival, so are they younger brands who depend on a volume of foot traffic to elevate their brand. Some retailers are finding ways to counter quantity by courting quality.

Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at brands who’ve adjusted their brick and mortar retail KPI in innovative ways. You’ll find interesting retail approaches, commentary from retail analysts, and commentary from DNVB executives.

Part 1: Brands that’ve successfully pivoted to retail in city clubs, athletic clubs, and country clubs – leaving traditional retail in the dust. Coming in Issue no. 268.

See more of the issue here.