This is issue no. 203. The last issue had a 🔥 50.16% open rate with ⚡️ 7.67% of clicks going to Recode article on Tristan Walker. This issue is admittedly media-heavy and thank you for staying put while I took the occasional few days off from 2PML. Here's Ben Thompson on what makes niche media work, via stratechery.com.
The content available needs to be clearly defined, both in terms of form and subject.
Trust about the quality of the content must be established; the easiest way is by having a single author, because then you are subscribing to a person. That said, multi-author subscriber-based publications are possible, but consistency of both quality and sensibility is essential.
Only the “best” content will succeed; the most obvious way to have the best content is to have the best content, but the tautology of that statement is an indicator of how difficult that is. That is why it is so important to focus on a niche: the broader your content, the wider your competition, and the more difficult it is to not only be the best but to prove it consistently.
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TAKEAWAY: It may also work to distance the brand from difficulties created in March of last year after The Wall Street Journal sent a bottle of Honest’s laundry detergent to a lab and discovered it contained an irritating chemical that Honest claimed it didn’t use. Honest countered that the story contained “factual inaccuracies and misleading statements,” but the company did reformulate its detergent several months later. Honest has also weathered widespread complaints in 2015 about its sunscreen, and it voluntarily recalled its baby powder earlier this year.
DATA: Mr. Feinberg wants to sell his tech to the digital platforms themselves, not to brands, agencies or third-party monitors. That's because he's not just out to make money, he said, but to stop terrorists and hate groups from making money off digital advertising, he said. He likened the idea of selling his tech piecemeal to brands and agencies to "fixing your toilet or sink at the house when the problem is at the sewer or the reservoir."
MEDIA/COMMERCE: Barstool is also incentivized to experiment with direct payments by the fact that its audience does not care about the mainstream notion of “premium.” The PPV, for instance, was produced by four people on site, including Portnoy and the staffer competing in the event, with some additional support back at the company’s New York offices.
MEDIA: For ad-dependent publishers, it’s hard because they’re stuck in a business model that makes it challenging to reach VCs’ growth expectations. Other businesses are based on service contracts that let them project revenue; publishers have to constantly pitch the next ad deal. Say their average ad buy is $100,000. They’d have to win 1,000 of them a year to make it to $100 million in annual revenue. To win that many means they’d probably have to pitch three or four times that. “It’s hard to win 1,000 deals every year,” said Todd Sawicki, the former CRO of Cheezburger and now CEO of Zemanta, a content ad network. “That’s a lot of work for a sales team.”
AMAZON: If Amazon can get it working — yes, still a big “if” — it can be employed in all types of settings beyond just Go stores. Industry sources have speculated the tech could move to Amazon Books stores, of which there are currently five with five more on the way. There has also been speculation that Amazon could license the systems to other retailers. But first, Amazon needs to get the initial store right. Until then, retailers can keep telling themselves something they haven’t been able to say about Amazon in a long time: “Told ya so.”
MEDIA: In the long run, the bullish analysts working for Snapchat's IPO underwriters may prove to be correct. Snapchat's future is particularly tricky to predict because it is so young. But as usual, when Wall Street research divisions have rose-colored glasses, it's fair to wonder whether they're seeing dollar signs in their eyes.
ECOMMERCE: However, the retailer has a long way to go until it catches up with rival Amazon — especially as the e-commerce giant expands its apparel offerings. Amazon is expected to surpass Macy's as the biggest seller of apparel in America this year. Before Walmart's recent acquisitions of trendy e-commerce brands, Amazon had similarly ventured into more high-end fashion, selling products by designers such as Zac Posen and Stuart Weitzman. Walmart's market value is now $298 billion, compared with Amazon's $356 billion.
RETAIL INVESTING: After Ms. Green invested in Jet.com in 2014, she chatted with Jet’s executives almost weekly about matters including strategy and potential acquisitions, said Katie Finnegan, who was the online retailer’s head of corporate development. Ms. Finnegan said Jet still consults with Ms. Green even after the company’s sale to Walmart
ECOMMERCE: Many assumed Ma’s bonding with Trump presaged an Alibaba move into selling to U.S. consumers. For now, Alibaba professes to be more interested in helping U.S. businesses sell to Chinese consumers rather than the other way around. “People are always asking ‘What’s your U.S. strategy? What’s your U.S. strategy?’ ” says Evans, Alibaba’s president.
ECOMMERCE: Amazon promise is lowest prices, better selection, and since the launch of Prime, incredible convenience. This model worked really well, customers got what they wanted, and over time Amazon has continued to grow. They sold $79 billion worth of merchandise last year in North America alone. That is roughly 20 percent of all US online sales.
ECOMMERCE: Last Monday, the actress turned life-style entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow summoned a small group of employees to her bright Santa Monica office. Goop, the weekly newsletter she founded nine years ago, has grown into an e-commerce empire, and she wanted to discuss the online marketing plan for the company’s latest enterprise: pills. In 2014, sales of dietary supplements in the United States reached $36.7 billion, so it makes sense that Goop would expand its stock of wellness wares
BRAND: In the coming years it will be interesting to see how many brands echo the political and societal shift which speaks to the counter-narrative, one which does not meet our ideologically liberal view of brand activism as we sit here today. There are brands that know their heartland is consumers that voted for Trump, for Brexit, that campaign against gay marriage, female clergy and that support the regressive policies in relation to human rights that are currently being discussed.
Last Word: Not all brand activism is equal
Normally, I'm not an advocate of politics spilling into business, nor I do believe that brand activism is a typically a sincere practice. I've gone on record as a fierce detractor of startups, brands, and agencies who hop on a social justice bandwagon while denying equality through employment within their own walls. Say "culture fit" three times, as fast as you can.
Cotton Bureau's founders are a rare case of personal beliefs intersecting capitalistic opportunity. Watching Jay Fanelli fired up about a housing project being gutted for a larger Whole Foods in their homeland of Pittsburgh, really struck me. Often, folks talk the talk until silence can benefit them. And well, who wouldn't want easier access to vegan sausage or the free-est of range eggs? Nathan Peretic, the more introverted of the two partners is equally passionate about matters of social justice.
They’ve sold t-shirts for Pod Save America, a podcast run by former Obama aides and speechwriters. And the investigative website ProPublica commissioned a “We’re not shutting up” shirt in response to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon’s statement that the media should keep quiet.
One of the best sellers was a t-shirt with the word “Resist” emblazoned on the hat of a character resembling a displeased Smokey Bear.
That t-shirt — titled “Only You Can Prevent Alt Facts” — will benefit national parks, though it’s not affiliated with any federal agency. So far, they’ve sold over 9,000 of that one.
It is through this lens that I evaluate Cotton Bureau's heavy liberalism. As someone who is moderate and apolitical enough to avoid daily Twitter outrage, I'll admit that the fire by which they pursue matters of public policy is often uncomfortable to me. But when authenticity and drive translates to their growing success, few can hold their positions against them. Not even when you're against them. It seems that the popular vote is on Cotton Bureau's side:
“The most t-shirts we’ve packed in a short amount of time is 15,000. It’s going to be about 50,000 over the next three or four weeks,” Fanelli says. “We’re not only all hands on deck; we’re asking anybody who has a brother or boyfriend or coworker who has a few hours to spare to help get these orders out.”
In Cotton Bureau’s small warehouse space next to the printing press, Nate Peretic’s brother, Joel, sorts through a pile of packaged Smokey shirts ready to ship to various places — everywhere from Fairfield, Ohio to Brooklyn and France.
I marvel at their numbers, both sales and conversion rates (7+% in February). Even more so, I applaud how well they've maintained visual consistency across each of their designs. Each subsequent hit of a t-shirt becomes another statement for the Cotton Bureau brand. In the t-shirt design industry, this is rare.
And they are not slowing down. If I was consulting a brand (including the ones I remain closely aligned with), I'd suggest avoiding activism. This, especially if it isn't in the brand's DNA. But these guys and gals are different, they're more than tweets and anecdotes. They are outfitting the resistance and selling shirts by the thousand.