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013: Commerce & Selling
[During - Session 4] Heads up, this is a long one: Get an MBA in five minutes, embrace six themes, then open your custom drop ship e-comm platform and win the big game!
🏈📺 RE: Sunday night — I still think Google’s “Fixed on Pixel” was the smartest strategy and execution seen during the big game. But Fox-owned streaming platform Tubi’s efforts were quite genius. “Rabbit Hole” was entrancing. AND THEN. This is where Comms Planning really creates value. In the fourth quarter they released “Interface Interruption.” As Tubi CMO Nicole Parlapiano put it, “We can’t be forgettable in this moment.” I was out of the room when the :15 aired, but I heard my family’s reaction—definitely unforgettable. Well done, Mischief (the agency behind the work).
I write about leveraging creativity in business. My current focus tracks along with the Future of Advertising course I teach at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Each session gets a “Before,” “During” (like this one) and “After” post. Subscribe if you like.
I remember live-tweeting the Super Bowl in 2008, 2009. 2010, etc. And then, in 2013, a faulty electrical relay outside the New Orleans Superdome cut the power for 34 minutes, stopping the game. Suddenly the purpose of all those social media war rooms made sense. And brands have been chasing earned impressions ever since. The war rooms became de rigueur. But 2013 looks like the peak now.
Skittles seemed to sum up the 2023 attitudes of social media managers during global tentpole events. Hard not to concur with, “They’re gonna make me screen shot each brand engagement and put it in a deck to prove my worth.” Which is one way of segueing to the point of tonight’s Future of Advertising class.
Last but not least, who else watched Rihanna’s half time spectacle and thought, “Why do I want to play Smash Bros?”
Major Theme #1: Commerce & Selling
As I noted in yesterday’s “Before” post, the future of advertising is inherently rooted in finance and the flow of money. Seems a wise first point of departure as we begin assessing major themes.
I’m so grateful my friend Sheila Erickson (LinkedIn) was available to join us for the first half of tonight’s class, and bring her Big CPG, consulting, start up, retail and investing expertise to the conversation. The students got what amounted to a mini-MBA in 45 minutes. Some highlights:
Insights illuminating human behavior are critical in developing products and services that resonate and sell
Speaking of selling… wise marketers and entrepreneurs have to know the difference between Markup vs Margin (especially when contemplating investors or retail partnerships)
The same goes for Gross Margin vs Profit Margin
You’ve also got to acknowledge total costs: materials, labor, tax, rent, shipping and especially e-commerce platform and payment processor fees—all of which impact margin and ultimately, pricing
Finally, savvy marketers and entrepreneurs should be able to evaluate how and why a DTC brand will ultimately go omni-channel
We talked at length about the storytelling value of pricing, how price is much more than a simple spreadsheet calculation. Understanding the market, cultural precedent, competition and behavioral economics bring necessary strength to affect price as an element of brand distinction.
I’m glad Sheila referenced Benedict Evans’ latest presentation, The New Gatekeepers. 👈🏽 This is a very solid “must read” for anyone trying to understand and leverage the shifts from old to new media, from old to new retail and the prevailing economics supporting the evolution.
Woven throughout, Sheila suggested pragmatic ways in which young entrepreneurs, principally those focused in the arts, design and advertising can use the skills discussed above to stand apart and generate economic value. She specifically called out UpWork as a savvy means of establishing credibility, and a client base, early in a career.
In the second half of class, I drew out my perspective on commerce and selling, starting with an apt assessment of marketing’s sheer complexity via advertising legend Jon Bond:
“The marketing checklist today is so long, it makes no sense to try to check every box. All that results in is doing everything badly.”
In other words, we have no choice but to make choices—about where we’ll focus, and not. True both for buyers and sellers. In the face of complexity stands Motivating Force #1: Commerce and selling requires us to make choices.
Then I think it helps to step back and comprehend the roots of commerce and selling in human affairs. Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens points us to the first incident of human writing (on a clay tablet 5,000 years ago). Alas, not a poem, or prose—rather, a receipt for a financial transaction. Who feels seen?
And consider the gilded lobbies of older financial institutions. All that marble and gold leaf and ornamentation seem unnecessary for a bank to function, and yet they were critical to survival. Because we are emotional creatures, and a perfectly functioning savings institution dressed like a warehouse inspires concern, not confidence. Hence, Motivating Force #2: Commerce and selling are innately emotional.
Thirdly, I referenced Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. The salesman’s play demonstrate Motivating Force #3: Commerce and selling are rooted in friction. How can our systems, our architecture, our designs, our ideas continuously propel a flywheel of closing? There’s a propelling tension in literally every single moment of commerce and selling.
With those motivations in hand, we dove into a final stretch.
6 Commerce and Selling Themes Impacting the Future of Advertising
We typically reduce friction, and benefit from emotions, if our commerce and selling are user-centric. It means the product team, the engineers, the lawyers, designers, project managers, leadership, even the board of directors agree commerce and selling work best when based upon empathy and respect for the user. And you can ask yourself how often that actually happens. User-centricity is hard, yet differentiating.
The benefit should be obvious—consistent experience across screens and environments reduces friction; a close sibling to user-centricity. We’ve been personalizing since the late 1990s. The hard part has never been the data. The hard part is representing data accurately, and appropriately, on the screen of your choosing. This only gets more challenging in AR, VR and the Metaverse.
It took long enough. But once the iPhone arrived in ‘08 it was inevitable “mobile-first” would dominate how we experience commerce and selling. I remember selling cars online in 2000 with desktop Flash apps. Today the majority of traffic on my auto retail client’s sites comes via mobile. In a way, thinking and operating “mobile-first” is just an extension of personalization. It’s essential in how we conceive of the future of advertising.
For my money, the most important theme is marketplace. Where and how commerce and selling occur have evolved radically since the initial electronic transactions of the 1960s and 70s. Yet once the public Internet arrived in 1991, commerce soon emerged. It’s hard to believe Amazon will turn 30 in two years.
I recall building out the legal, technical, dealer agreements, financial processing, never mind user experience, design and content elements to help Volkswagen become the first OEM to sell cars online. (If you see a vapor blue New Beetle driving around, it’s one of 2,000 rare moments in history.)
Building a marketplace is hard. There’s good reason brands and sellers will continue to consolidate around frictionless environments, especially those which reveal insights and enable emotional connections.
And we couldn’t leave the theme of marketplaces without acknowledging Jim Collins and his Amazon flywheel. What resonates here is the notion of inevitability, i.e. “lower prices on more offerings” inevitably leads to “increased customer visits,” and so on and so on. The most effective marketplaces just feel inevitable.
Of course the flywheel leads us to…
Enabling individuals to operate likeminded, global, “mobile-first” marketplaces is clearly a huge economic unlock. I am aware of at least one pre-teen and several teenagers currently selling merchandise through Amazon, Shopify, et al. The means to engage are near frictionless, and the appeal is hugely emotional. Next, draw the lines from affiliate marketing to social influence and social selling then look at MrBeast’s revenue projections. A young person in 2023 could aspire to play in the Super Bowl, but more likely they’ll set up an affiliate marketplace and drop ship curated merch.
It’s certainly not new. It’s just exploded. Grandview Research suggests the U.S. drop shipping sector generated $149.4 billion in 2022. I have purchased one hoodie, one pair of jeans and a backpack from drop shippers. Thank you, Instagram and Shopify for enabling frictionless joy. Do I recall the marketer who sold them to me? Of course not.
The point is enabling choice. An individual can choose to launch a customized e-commerce experience that rivals Amazon in mere minutes, mostly because the experience runs on Amazon, or similar.
What used to define a traditional brand—the ability to manufacture, the ability to distribute, to sell, to have retail presence—is no longer exclusive or distinct. This flexibility will drive considerable impact in the future of advertising.
“Art is a verb. Only in the last couple of hundred years have we turned it into a noun. Art is something that does something.”
I’ll be back in your inbox with an “After” missive related to tonight’s class sometime Wednesday.