Let’s start with some gratitude. Thank you for reading, subscribing to, and/or even considering the Four P's. I truly welcome and appreciate any and all feedback to make this newsletter and community better for everyone.
Perhaps I’m just a bit sentimental after this weekend, which impacted me more than I thought... seeing the photos you’ve all shared across social media platforms of your Mother’s Day family gatherings. For so many, it was the first time they had been together in months, or even more than a year. Personally, I'd only seen my sister once since this all began - a socially-distant, outdoor drive-by last summer. So to have her at our house for the holiday, along with my parents and in-laws initially felt unsettling, and then totally normal again. Speaking of normal, here are your Four P’s:
Searching Beyond Google & Facebook
Something Personal: Allergic Reactions
Our allergies are getting worse. Not just mine. Not just yours. All of ours, like as a collective people. As a planet.
Growing up, I had seasonal allergies. Pollen, ragweed and more, usually spanning from early spring through late fall. I remember a few others having issues, too, but either it wasn't as widely discussed… or it just wasn't as debilitating. Nowadays, it seems like everyone has some degree of allergic symptoms - coughing, sneezing, drip, runny noses, headaches, sore throats. It's almost impossible to have a conversation without the topic of allergies coming up. And with the increased pervasiveness and severity of symptoms, the question is… did a year indoors make us more sensitive to allergies?
According to the scientists, the trend is real: Allergy risk is getting worse over time. The length and intensity of pollen seasons are growing, largely due to climate change. And as the planet continues to warm, more misery is in store. The pollen count is increasing year over year, resulting in a greater burden on health and the economy. The cost of treating nasal allergies already tops $3.4 billion per year in the U.S., alone.
Humans are changing pollen production because of increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. When CO2 levels go up, plants tend to grow larger. Then the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes the planet to heat up. This leads to warmer winters and earlier springs, giving plants a head start on pollen production. More pollen production and over a longer period of time.
Some estimates show that pollen counts of all varieties will double by 2040 in some parts of the country. I feel for our kids, as it's getting worse, generationally, as well. Children need some exposure to allergens for their immune systems to learn how to fight them. Since many kids have had limited exposure to outdoor allergens for a year, they may have stronger allergic reactions than they had in the past. (Our Mother’s Day gathering actually ended with my son getting a terrible allergy-related nosebleed)
For now, there's not much we can do. It's a matter of balance and treatment. There is no specific prevention, except to continue focus on improving the ways we treat our environment and planet.
Something Professional: Searching Beyond Google and Facebook
Rand Fishkin is one of those people in my industry whose knowledge and insights are must-read. When I've seen him speak live at conferences, I immediately go and download the presentation as soon as possible, and end up incorporating many of his talking points into my own material. Last week, Rand's highly shareable content actually came from a presentation that he WAS NOT able to share at an event (once organizer's got wind of his theme). Their loss is our gain.
His main thesis: While the vast majority of digital marketing dollars are spent on Google and Facebook, success requires expanding beyond the duopoly. Fishkin posited, quite overtly, that the platforms are “not marketers' best friend.” Other channels offer greater competitive advantages now, and thinking beyond Google and Facebook actually pushes Google and Facebook to be, and do, better. Going deeper, Google and Facebook are built to create user addiction to their platforms. He believes that there are no consequences when they mislead and deceive users. They benefit from the hard work and creativity of others while also spreading the misinformation of others.
The thing is, people get more information from Google, Facebook, Amazon than any other platform. Especially consumers. he way people shop is profoundly changing, with traditional, linear experiences being replaced by search and discovery of product, decision-making and purchase decisions made across digital platforms. Yes, brands should be looking beyond these “Big Three.” Consumers and platforms are changing at an accelerated rate, often in response to each other. Neither consumer expectations, nor their behaviors, fit into neat siloes. The boundaries have blurred between brand-building and commerce as consumers can now engage with, and buy directly from, the platforms and channels that were previously just focused for brand-building.
Can brands be everywhere? Do they focus where they can get the most bang for their buck? Marketers are faced with the challenge of creating the right content formats that meet consumers where they are, and constantly optimize. Otherwise their message will be lost and revenue opportunities will dissipate. The idea of creating/ adapting content for ANY platform/ language/ stage of the purchase journey sounds like it would involve hundreds of millions of dollars. The challenge retailers face is in doing this within a budget, efficiently, and having the tools and systems in place to create, distribute, amplify and measure the ROI of the content, then adjust accordingly based on that feedback loop.
An evolving digital landscape requires new plans, strategies, and tactics. Brands and marketers need to re-think the ways they are measuring, planning and creating content, staffing internally, and partnering externally. New skillsets are required to provide marketers with a plan that simplifies the digital landscape and prioritizes how they can most efficiently reach their customers across platforms. This needs to be based on an understanding of how consumers interact with each platform differently. Plus, it needs to include an understanding of each platform’s algorithms, to be able to optimize performance on each.
Content IS experience, and acts as the trigger that compels consumer action so retailers need to adapt their content, efficiently, and at scale, for each platform’s consumer expectations and algorithms, in any given geographical market. By taking more active control of how they engage with consumers across platforms (where the consumers are), brands can reclaim their relationship with customers.
Something Political: Melting ICE
One of the many horrors of the Trump administration was its deployment of ICE as a social and political weapon. As the goon squad for a racist, xenophobic executive branch, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency became a symbol for a failure of our leadership on human rights concerns.
However since the Biden administration changed course earlier this year, the number of deportations carried out by ICE has dropped, and last month fell to the lowest monthly level on record. ICE deported 2,962 immigrants in April, the first time the monthly figure has dipped below 3,000. This is down from about 6,000 during the final months of Trump’s presidency and an average of over 10,000 per month before the pandemic.
Biden and the Department of Homeland Security team issued new rules to rein in ICE officers, and are working to reform the agency and restore its reputation by focusing on criminals who pose public-safety or national security threats. Republican governors of several states are suing the Biden administration to force a reversal of his ICE directives.
This should not be conflated with the issues we have at the border, where floods of illegal immigrants are still attempting entry into the United States. Mitigation and removal are two very different issues, requiring different strategies and tactics. However one thing that does unite both is the need for humanitarian, fact-based approaches and solutions that put the well-being of individuals back at the fore.
Something Practical: The Blockchain Gang
Twice in the past three days, I heard someone say that they are "afraid" of cryptocurrency. But as I dug in deeper, it was more of a fear of the unknown. Bitcoin and Ethereum are now the two most widely-known types of crypto.
(I wonder if people would be less intimidated if rather than the currencies themselves, we focus on the technology that powers them: blockchain.)
Digital currency and blockchain technology, believe it or not, goes back to the 1980s - with the rise of the cypherpunk movement, which came about to protect and safeguard privacy in an increasingly digital world. With encrypted communication, people could make anonymous transactions online. In the late 1990's, the Cypherpunks Distributed Remailer (or CDR, for short), became an anonymous, decentralized email system. Not long afterward, came the first version of a cryptocurrency, called "b-money," which worked similarly to how bitcoin works today: all users of the currency held a copy of the transaction log, so that each payment was posted for all to see and potentially approve or dispute. Back then, there was no decentralized way to maintain the accounts, however.
Ten years later, Bitcoin emerged and became the world’s first decentralized digital currency. Because it doesn’t operate on any central registry, all transactions are made directly between the users harnessing the power of the blockchain. Blockchain is a secure and shared database that contains transactions. It's not just about Bitcoin, however. The database is called a blockchain because the data is stored in sections known as blocks, and these blocks are organized in a precise way that basically creates a chain of data. In an increasingly decentralized framework, every transaction on the blockchain requires a digital signature that uses cryptography to authenticate transactions and ensure that past transactions aren’t tampered with.
There is a cost, unfortunately. And that cost is energy. Blockchain transactions operate through a “consensus protocol,” which ensures that the blockchain always accurately represents every transaction made. All of the individual computers in the network align on one “true” version of the blockchain. And maintaining the crypto blockchains requires an enormous amount of energy. Blockchains aren’t just a database for digital currency, though. They can also be used to create a binding contract between multiple parties.
Through the use of smart contracts, blockchains make it possible for decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) to operate. A DAO is essentially a company built out of computer code and managed by blockchain. It functions through a series of smart contracts that interact with each other in order to perform certain functions. Bitcoin and Ethereum are just two examples of this kind of model.
20+ years later, blockchains and cryptocurrency are not fads. They are proliferating at a staggering rate now, and are beginning to revolutionize commerce and finance. Every transaction requires a sender address and a receiver address, which can be pseudonyms. The fastest-growing cryptocurrency technology over the past 3-4 years has been Ethereum, which provides an alternative to Bitcoin's limited capabilities. It is focused exclusively on money, whereas Ethereum is a general-purpose blockchain, which makes it much more versatile. In addition to cryptocurrencies, Ethereum enables you to build such things as land-title registries, rating systems, identity, virtual art and multimedia (NFTs) and more. Ethereum is highly accessible and increasingly foundational for many new platforms... and with its adaptable blockchain, it is already becoming a preferred digital-payment method. It took some time, but Ethereum’s developers have finally made in-roads for corporate and commercial use.
With decentralization comes questions about governance and risk/threat control. Yes, blockchains can be used for illegal activities, which could result in some governments imposing heavy regulations or even outlawing blockchain technology. But the fact remains that blockchains have the potential to change our world just as profoundly as the internet did. And as it stands now, Ethereum could be the blockchain of the future, since it is by far the most advanced we’ve seen to date.
Speaking of the future, see you next week.