It's Thanksgiving week here in the US, and it will be different for many of us. Los Angeles is shutting down again as cases are surging significantly. I am getting tested for Covid again today. The end of the pandemic is finally in sight, but even a few months feel like decades.
I recently got around to finish one of the best online classes I've come across in a while - Build Once, Sell Twice by Visualize Value. I highly recommend it to anyone running a service-based business. It walks you through the process of productizing your knowledge to scale your income. Their previous workshop, Design Fundamentals, is also great if you're interested in learning how to use design to sell your product or service. If you buy through one of those links, I'll receive a small commission that will help me run this newsletter.
Ideas you'll find this week:
- Marketing lessons from the 2020 election,
- How Shopify is dominating culture by empowering creatives,
- How the Internet is canceling the city by disrupting the balance between creativity and conformity,
- Creative work from Burberry, Sodastream, and Zalando.
🧠 Brain Food
This is the first part of a great series from Rand Fishkin, founder of Sparktoro. The American elections are arguably the best way to see the evolution of marketing: they are a globally followed event, their outcome is marketing-driven, and the amount of spend is 10X+ more than any other marketing campaign on Earth.
6 minute read | Rand Fishkin
Why do we choose to take the actions we do? Why do we support the beliefs we hold dear? Are we individuals with free will and independent thought? Or do our beliefs and behavior derive not from consistent principles, but from what our cultural identity biases us toward?
Rand argues that at the individual level it's the former, but distinct patterns start to emerge once we scale up. Those patterns are driven, especially in the United States, by group identity.
Identity is an immensely powerful force for influencing behavior and shaping belief. Your potential customers have cultural, geographic, professional, and likely numerous other associations deeply tied to their identities. These identities lead to pre-existing beliefs that your marketing can either take advantage of or be hamstrung by.
Before becoming President, Trump was widely unpopular even among his own party. Despite that unpopularity, reprehensible actions, and an unfavorable environment for a challenger, he won the presidency. One of the critical factors that led to this was the successful negative branding of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The 2020 elections were similar in the fact that the power of a “Common Enemy” contributed strongly.
Almost every brand, product, and company has the opportunity to position themselves in opposition to something or someone else. Unlike politics, it doesn’t need to be particularly heated or controversial to be powerful. Gatorade made “thirst” and later, “losing” into enemies (hardly controversial opponents). Facebook’s growth was not-so-subtly driven by an opposition to the lonely, disconnectedness of modernity (ironic though that may now seem). SparkToro itself has relentlessly focused on expanding marketing “beyond the Facebook and Google duopoly,” and benefited from those common enemies.
One of the most interesting and fast-growing brands today is Shopify. They recently hired Jon Wexler, the former GM of adidas YEEZY. This article is a great analysis of what this could mean for a new generation of creatives.
6 minute read | Brock Cardiner
Up until the early 2000s, the spotlight in the commerce landscape was mostly reserved to athletes. The 2010s saw the emergence of street culture: products designed by musicians, artists, and skaters and produced in limited quantities began to alter what consumers were after. Kanye West designed and released a highly limited edition pair of sneakers with Louis Vuitton in 2009 (today, they fetch upwards of $15,000). Supreme followed a similar path with its products, culminating in a recent acquisition by VF Corp for $2.1 billion.
West and Supreme understood the best products serve a purpose beyond their immediate function—they capture a set of codes and values that consumers can buy to demonstrate their own codes and values.
Wexler will translate the model he perfected at adidas into the language of Shopify and its merchants. This makes a lot of sense for Shopify:
At adidas there were prerequisites. The world’s second most valuable sportswear brand wouldn’t give just anyone the opportunity to create and sell goods. In the case of Shopify, creators decide how high the limit is.
Everyday people making a living through sponsored posts on Instagram was a milestone in the history of social media. The next milestone will involve creators, artists, makers, and entrepreneurs opening up storefronts that capture their unique perspective in the form of product, regardless of how big or small their following.
A fascinating read about how cities are changing and losing the appeal they had in the past century.
9 minute read | Dror Poleg
Small communities have historically been characterized by strong personal ties, limited economic mobility, and social conformity. Cities used to mean freedom: there, you could be anyone you wanted to be.
This is the contradiction at the heart of the urban economy. The city draws people into a melee in which their various qualities are reduced to that which can be quantified. But the city also provides individuals with the opportunity to differentiate themselves from one another. This opportunity is not without a cost, as many personal experiments end in failure and poverty. In a big city, you can be the next Andy Warhol. But making a living is more manageable for those who conform to mainstream norms.
In the 20th century, middle-class and working-class people could work in routine jobs and enjoy a reasonable degree of self-expression and freedom:
These mass-employees weren’t exactly special, but they felt special. They felt special because they got to buy a house and live better than their parents. They felt special because they could buy more goods in more colors and shapes. And they felt special because television told them they are.
This equilibrium, argues Dror, is collapsing with the rise of the Internet:
The internet is antagonizing the urban economy. It forces more laborers to conform to management-by-algorithm. And it undermines the stability of many middle-class occupations, which are, too, left to the whims of the algorithms behind search engines and social media feeds.
But for big cities, the internet is not merely an irritant. It is also an alternative. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol could only emerge in a metropolis like New York. In the 2020s, he is much more likely to emerge on the internet itself.
🏅 Stuff I recommend
Do you enjoy this newsletter? Buying from the links below would be a great way to support it. You won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission. They are all products I have personally used. Want to post your project here? Write me at email@example.com
✍ Doing Content Right by Steph Smith is a very actionable and in-depth guide about creating, writing, and scaling successful blogs and newsletters. Steph has a very successful personal blog and currently works for The Hustle at their premium publication Trends. Use the code "gian20" to get 20% off.
💻 Everyone Can Build A Twitter Audience is a video masterclass from ex-Amazon employee Daniel Vassallo. I personally took it and it's the best resource I've found on the subject.
📩 Mailbrew is an app I discovered recently and it's quickly become an essential. It's basically a supercharged RSS reader: you can create personal email digests from a variety of sources like Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, and more. It also comes with an inbox address, so you can send all your newsletter there to have them in one place. It's saving me a ton of time and helps me stay updated without constantly checking my feed. You can try it for free for two weeks.
🎁 Box Of Random
🏎️ An absolutely brilliant parody of "man" car commercials.
🎬 A mesmerizing Burberry commercial by director trio Megaforce (via The Drum).
🐶 "Will Snoop Dogg ever stop being the coolest person on the planet?" (cit. from my homie Lleo❤️)
💡 A great thought from David Perell about the paradox of abundance:
Information abundance, like all markets of abundance, are bad for the average person but great for a small number of people. My favorite metaphor is health, where obesity rates and the number of people in incredible shape are *both* rising.
📺 Two great campaigns from Zalando.
Brand purpose in a nutshell:
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