Thank you for all the positive feedback from last week's new format.
This is truncated version of the briefing I send out on Tuesdays to Marketing BS subscribers (so by Saturday it is sometimes a little out of date). If you would like to get it when it is fresh, I am offering a 60-day free trial for all startup.curated subscribers (you do not need to put down a credit card or anything). Just sign-up here.
You will also receive the Monday weekly essay and Wednesday/Thursday two-part podcast. Last week it was Coinbase and Mission Based Companies and an interview with Adam Doppelt (founder of UrbanSpoon currently building FreshChalk).
Hope to have you join us!
- Antitrust Committee: The House Judiciary Committee published their “sweeping” 451-page report(!) on Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple. Admission: I have started the document but have not come close to reading the whole thing. Good thing others have. Takeaways:
- The report is largely “anti-big-tech”. It is less, “here is what these companies are doing wrong or illegal” and more, “These companies are evil. And here are some things they do (all of which are evil).”
- The report is riddled with errors. It claims big tech has led to a decline in start-up creation (it has not - see Benedict Evans chart below); They claim “a decade in the future, 30% of world GDP may lie with [Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple] and just a handful of others” by sourcing a McKinsey report that predicts that 30% of GDP will come from _ALL_B2B and B2C commerce combined (not just four); The report admits that Amazon has 40% of US online sales, but “estimates of 50% or higher are more credible” (presented with no “credibility” evidence); Or that Amazon is using AWS to subsidize retail to sell below costs (their retail is clearly profitable from their public financial statements); It claims it is impossible to build a new social media companies to compete with Facebook (TikTok? Snapchat?); And impossible to compete with Amazon in eCommerce (Shopify? Walmart?); And impossible to build a competing internet browser since Chrome has suck “lock-in” (no mention of the share Internet Explorer had - and lost - with similar “lock-in” characteristics)
- Many other examples in the report are just standard business practice (Facebook directing different divisions to target different demographics; Apple building “brand loyalty”; Amazon Prime providing “too much value”; Google’s direct listing of information being “too convenient”; Google requiring Google search as default on Android if you want to use their (free) operating system AND (also free) Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Play).
- The report makes the mistake of ignoring trade-offs and blaming the companies for the trade-offs that do exist. For example claiming it is a “race to the bottom” on privacy and then _in the very next paragraph_claiming the companies’ focus on privacy has “anti-competitive effects”
- My favorite: Walmart (biggest retailer in the world) refuses to use AWS because they don’t want any dollars flowing to their (smaller) retail competitor. Rather than this being an issue of Walmart retaliation, Amazon is blamed because Walmart is “forced to consider patronizing a competitor” and cannot “select the best technology for their business”.
- The consensus seems to be that this is GOOD news for the tech giants. There IS a case against tech and (I would argue) very clear ways they should be regulated, but if this is the best the committee is going to come up with, effective regulation that gets implemented seems far away.
Further reading: Stratechery (free post - including a history of antitrust and treatment of monopolies in America), Washington Post “seven-takeaways”, Amazon’s response, Platformer, Summary of the Democratic committee members recommendations, Summary of the GOP committee member recommendations, Sam Bowman Twitter Thread, Alec Stapp Twitter Thread
- Cambridge Analytica: The UK government has completed their investigation. CA was a story four years ago for two reasons:
- The belief they had some sort of “secret sauce” they used to significantly swing elections in both the US (Trump) and UK (Brexit)
- They had obtained the data they used illegally
This report basically squashes (I hope) once and for all the idea that there was a secret sauce. The stuff CA was doing was standard practice in 2016, and largely not very effective (regardless of any data they had). Any claim otherwise was exaggeration and “branding” from CA itself. When the elections did not go as planned, many people chose to believe CA’s BS - it was nice to have a scape-goat. The report is largely silent on the data legality part of the issue. More coverage in the London Times.
- Nobel Prize:The price in Economics was announced yesterday. The winners were Milgrom and Wilson for their work on auctions - specifically how to use auctions in the real world. Their most relevant finding for marketing is that greater transparency leads to higher prices - hence long detailed product descriptions and seller ratings. Since their work, transparent auctions have become the default way to buy advertising - and allowed Google and Facebook to become two of the most valuable companies in the world. Also the committee could not reach Milgrom, so Wilson walked down the street and banged on his door before the sun came up - caught on a Nest Cam.
- TikTok: The Verge profiles Ricky Desktop, a musician who creates “viral beats” used by many TikTokers. He explains his (highly analytical and well thought-through) process for creating a viral beat, “You need concrete, sonic elements that dancers can visually engage with on a person-by-person basis… for example, I have this beat called “The Dice Beat.” I added a flute sound, which in my head was like, “Okay, people will pretend to play the flute.” And then there’s the dice sound, where they’ll roll the dice. It was super calculated. I would create the music with the dance in mind.” Lots of lessons here for designing things that have a CHANCE to spread.
- Microtargeting: Regular readers know how much I think this is BS. Now there is a book about it. Wired has a profile: “Subprime Attention Crisis”. The claim is that there is an AdTech bubble. That’s one way to put it. I think a lot of digital marketing is clearly VERY effective (paid search and Facebook newsfeed ads are the majority of digital spend because they WORK), but there is also lot of waste going on.
- OceanSpray:Guy makes TikTok video skateboarding and drinking OceanSpray. Video goes viral. OceanSpray responds by giving him a truck (video if the gift-giving goes viral), and then having their CEO re-create the video(which goes viral). Then TikTok responds and turns the meme into a commercial they launch during MLB playoffs. Result: Empty shelves.
- Telsa: The auto manufacturer has disbanded their public relations department. They have effectively become a media company - they don’t need to feed their “scoops” to competitors (i.e., mainstream media). But I feel like having a group of people who augment “owned media” it get it additional coverage from “earned media” is a valuable thing no matter how effective your owned media. That doesn’t mean the team needs to spend their time writing press releases. Maybe you just need to change the specific activities your PR department is doing. Feels like the answer is less “disband the police” and more like “rebrand the police”
- Matt Levine: The NYTs wrote a great profile on Matt last week. Levine writes an incredible daily email on the finance industry (he is on break right now). This is what content marketing SHOULD look like from B2B brands. Telsa has Elon Musk, but almost any firm could have their own Matt Levine if they were willing to shell out $100-$200K/year.
- Mondelez:Owner of Oreos, Cadbury and Ritz (among others) has reallocated their travel, consulting and real estate budgets to increased digital marketing. Good for them I guess? But if the marketing spend has positive ROI they should have been doing it before. If it doesn’t then they shouldn’t be doing it now.
- Facebook: Google’s quality score is very granular. If you make an ad a little bit better, you will pay a little bit less per click. Facebook has an effective QS metric in that they are trying to optimize for CPM (even if you bid on a CPC basis). But Facebook also has a “feedback score”. Fireteam ran some testsand found that an ad’s feedback score does NOT matter, unless it drops below 2.0, then it sees an immediate +30% increase in CPMs.
- Bing:Has a new name and logo. Now it’s called… wait for it… “Microsoft Bing”. This is what happens when a brand manager is searching for a way to add a bullet to their resume.
- Thumbtack:Great case study from FirstRound on how Thumbstack grew it's SEO. There is a lot more in the essay, but just skip to the Thumbtack stuff. Key points: They worked really hard and made REALLY long long term investments. The founder was writing 130 press releases for each city. They had over 100 people working on content. And it took ~3 years to show big ROI...
- Stripe: Patrick McKenzie has written a very good piece on what it was like working for Stripe for the last four years. I mentioned Stripe last week with respect to “moving fast”, and that comes through in the piece: “The returns to pushing your cadence to faster are everywhere_and they compound continuously, for years. Don’t send the email tomorrow. Don’t default to scheduling the meeting for next week. Don’t delay a worthy sprint until after the next quarterly planning exercise. Design control and decision making structures to bias heavily in favor of preserving operating cadence. I don’t think Stripe is uniformly fast. I think teams at Stripe are just faster than_most companies, blocked a bit less by peer teams, constrained a tiny bit less by internal tools…” Paul Graham recently predicted Stripe will be the next Google. If so, maintaining a culture of speed may be a big reason.
- Marketplaces: Versionne has created a solid guide to building and growing a marketplace
- Total Addressable Market (TAM): Financial Times has a feature on how much TAM has grown in importance in the last few years. TAM was always important for early stage companies - “Are you going for a big enough prize?”. Most of the time companies got it wrong anyway (Even Travis Kalanick at Uber initially thought they were going to disrupt limo services, not taxi companies, and certainly not ALL transportation and logistics [which was the claim in their S1]). Jeremy Siegel (Wharton professor, “Stocks for the Long Run’), explained that when rates are low (like they are now), future profit is worth basically the same as current profit - which is why, assuming a companies will not go out of business, its stock price should not drop significantly even if their profit will drop to zero for a year (say because of a global pandemic). What’s most important to valuing a company is “how big can its profit be?” rather than “What is its profit now?”. Hence TAM is a better predictor of value than profit.
- Venmo:Is launching a credit card. The hardest part of a credit card business (like many businesses) is customer acquisition. One way to do that is increased distribution. If you have access to a customer why NOT ask them if they want a credit card from you? Cards were a significant profit driver at Expedia. Venmo has distribution and is a financial services company, so why not? More companies should be issuing their own cards - if your company is not, why not?
- K-pop: A very long deep dive into how the industry works. Before singers are famous they are commodities. Agencies recruit the singers and sign them to ironclad contracts and then attempt to make them famous. This is the studio system in the US taken to the extreme.
- Streaming Fraud: When a business gets to scale it will become profitable for scammers to attempt fraud. Rolling Stone has a feature on how groups are building bots to constantly stream their own songsto take revenue share from Spotify. Every successful company has to deal with some version of this as they get bigger.
COVID and the New World Order
- Apps:Sales are up 20% YoY
- Voting: Early voting is up 108x(times (!) - not percent), vs this same time in the cycle four years ago.
- Sports: Viewership is WAY down. US Open Golf -56%, US Open Tennis -45%, Kentucky Derby -43%, Indy 500 -32%, NFL -10%, NHL Playoffs -39%, NBA finals -45% (more at the link). How much of this is the fact people watch sports either in groups or to talk about it later and will bounce back once that changes, vs new habits that have formed with sports off the air that may lead to a new normal?
- Saturday Night Live: NYC banned live audiences with the exception of paid employees. So SNL paid their live audience $150 each to be “paid employees”. Rules will be bent.
- Times Square:WSJ has a great piece on COVID’s impact on Times Square(including some striking photos “then and now”). Daily Pedestrian traffic has recovered slightly but is still down 80% YoY.
- Cities: Works In Progress has a piece on “cities as talent incubators” and shows that talent returns for being in a city have been going down across many fields (pre-COVID). The internet was supposed to make distance irrelevant. That hasn’t happened, but there are some signs that is may be starting to happen now (and that trend accelerated by COVID)
GPT-3 / AI / Machine Learning
- AskReddit: Someone set a GPT-3 bot lose on AskReddit to answer questions posed. The bot was detected NOT due to its content, but because it was so FAST. It was writing obscene numbers of detailed answers within seconds of new questions being posted. If the designers had put some speed breaks on it it may never have been caught…
- Video Compression: Not sexy, but here is a video explaining how machine learning is being used to radically increase the ability to compress video files while maintaining image quality. A lot of new AI will change the world, but be invisible to consumers.
- Onions: Facebook’s machine learning algorithm flagged some Walla Walla onions as being “overtly sexualized”. There is always a balance between missing something you want to flag and hitting some false positives. Take a look at the image below - it suggests Facebook is trying to catch everything they can these days…
- G-III Apparel Group: Owner of brands such as Calvin Klein and DKNY. They are looking for a head of eCommerce located in NYC.
- TCG Player: A leading builder of technology and tools for the collectables industry. They have become one of the largest online stores for Magic the Gathering. They are looking for a CMO based in Syracuse NY.
- Severance Pay:Related LHH has a white paper on severance pay. “Severance is a fundamental building block in the relationship between employer and employee”. Most interesting data is on how much severance is offered by level:
- Supersonic: Boom Supersonic rolled out their demo planethat can can make intercontinental flights at 2x the speed, designed to be priced at business class rates. Good thread from the CEOon what he and his employees thought their chances of success were when they started
- Bronze Age: From around 1250-1150BCE humanity suffered potentially it’s greatest single calamity in its history. “…every major settlement between Pylos in Greece and Gaza in the Levant was destroyed and abandoned… Not just the subject of battle or hardship but outright vanquished, never to be inhabited again… Languages vanished. The arts were destroyed. Records gone. Trade completely halted. Literacy dropped to near zero.” We still don’t know why. This article has a few theories.
- TikTok Progressive Musical: Guy creates a 45-second Tiktok video acting out a scene from an invented “grocery-store musical”. Then someone builds off of his creation and turns it into a duet. Then a girl adds to their creation by playing their daughter. And then it just keeps going. Someone joins in as a grocery store employee, the intercom system, the ding-ing door at the front of the store, a can of soup... This twitter thread collects them one by one(I recommend you watch them as a build). A stand-alone argument against copy-write laws. (Even my wife and kids liked this one!)
Keep it simple,