"PPPPopular Opinions" - Four P's #145

I've been wary of the stock market lately, despite the long-term growth and positive gains in the latest bull market. I do think a correction is coming, though it won't be the collapse or crash that some are predicting. Yes, certain industries are in their own micro bubbles, while others continue to grow (green energy, electric cars), evolve (digital media, CTV, OTT video) and return (travel, retail). My philosophy has always been to invest a little bit at a time in companies I believe in, support, align with, and use every day... and then see what happens.

After several popular, high-profile personal trading/investment apps let down their consumers over the past few weeks, many have looked for new platforms. I'm proud to have consistently used three different apps, using three different strategies with each, that I wholeheartedly recommend:

  • Public: For larger, lump-sum investments, fewer stocks owned but with higher amounts. Public is a highly social platform, where you can see what others are doing, learn, and follow those whose approach aligns with yours.

  • Stash: With Stash, I automated recurring contributions and get to pick the companies or funds I want that $ to go to each week. This is where I’ve been picking companies that I personally believe in.

  • Acorns: Fully automated, this app lets you round-up purchases into blended funds that you’ll have very little visibility into. More like a savings account with a 20%+ interest rate (when times are good).

Like everything, diversification is key. Which is why I'm still riding Bitcoin, long-term retirement funds, and now, NFTs. But more on that further down.

If you’d like to hear me talk, you can WATCH or LISTEN to this week’s content…. or just scroll down to read some things personal, professional practical and political. In the meantime, make sure you’re subscribed to get this sent right to your inbox each week.

Something Practical: Sifting Through the Bullshit

My sister used to tell me that “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” As a kid, I had a proclivity for storytelling that often extended beyond the line of exaggeration. Looking back on it now, some of it may have been a driven by the need for attention or positive feedback, but I also think there was a playfulness to it, almost like seeing what I could get away with.

Growing older, I realized how important the truth is. Relationships are rooted in trust, whether between individuals or between individuals and organizations. And there is far more bullshit being fed to us: from the news, from our elected officials, at work, from our kids… Even if you’re aware that so much of the information to which we’re exposed stretches (or abandons) the truth, it can still be hard to know what to do about it. We all need to be alert to the dangers of bullshit.

  • Vaccines cause autism: Bullshit.

  • Trump won the election: Bullshit.

  • I didn’t eat the last of the pretzels: Bullshit!

Bullshit has been a problem since the beginning of civilization. Plato accused rival philosophers (yes, that was a thing) that they were only interested in winning arguments, not in what was actually true. Now we have hyper-partisan news networks, social media algorithms, and uniformed, everyday citizens who are more susceptible to manipulation (than you and I). We have people who are determined to impress or persuade others, people who care more about winning the argument than about whether they’re telling the truth. Whereas a lie can simply be something that isn’t true, what I’m talking about here is designed to look as much like the truth as possible without really caring about the evidence.  

One of my wife’s favorite scientific expressions when trying to battle the bullshit is that “Correlation does not imply causation.” Even though data or studies may show a correlation, it doesn’t tell us anything about why these two things are linked. Data can also be twisted or used to say anything you want it to, including the implication of “cause” and “effect,” meaning that people can spew bullshit with numbers even without resorting to lies.

In my line of work, the increased ease of data accessibility used to create “better” marketing strategies and advertising has become a cliché talking point at conferences and in presentations. But “Big Data,” statistics, and infographics can all be replete with bullshit. The other problem that technology, machine learning, algorithms and AI present us with is that research isn’t always built on sturdy foundations. A longtime mentor of mine used to talk about why she loved hiring former journalists. As a former journalist, myself, this made me feel validated. But journalists are trained to ask questions: Who is behind this information? How did they get it? And what agenda are they trying to push? They develop, hone, and trust your own Bullshit Radar. If something sounds or feels off, it probably is.

Calling people out for promulgating inaccurate information is important, but doing this effectively requires having accurate facts, data, figures, stats, and citations/links to share (from reputable sources). And if you make a mistake, admit it. Otherwise, you’ve just become another bullshitter, yourself.

Something Personal: Not Throwing Away My Top Shot

Within the last few months, a revolution in sports, technology, the collectibles market, and cryptocurrency has taken (a small part of the digital) world by storm. NBA TopShot is an online marketplace and blockchain-based platform that enables fans to own unique NBA highlights and players clips known as “moments.” A moment is a NBA highlight that has become a digital collectible and can be bought, sold, traded, gifted, or retained.

Sound interesting? It is. I’ve only been on the platform for about 6 weeks, but it comes up in conversations and even work-related calls almost as much as Clubhouse. NBA TopShot is built on an innovation called NFTs (Non-fungible tokens).  An NFT becomes a unique identifier that gives its owner authenticity and ownership over the asset. For NBA TopShot, these are player clips and highlights, created in limited releases, series and packs.

If you ever collected baseball cards, memorabilia, or autographs, this is worth looking into. The scarcity and providence of these individual digital assets creates their value, and each moment has its own clearly-defined set, series, tier, and serial number. If this sounds intimidating, nerdy, or too far along for you, you’d be wrong on all three counts. I’ve already collected and flipped moments that have increased in over 10x value (according to objective tool/websites). If you get involved now, you’ll still be a very early adopter and have the opportunity to buy and collect moments that will explode.

In addition to buying individual moments, the site also “drops” new packs on a regular basis, and this is where the value is derived. Last week, I was able to buy one of 45,000 packs (containing five “Series 2” moments each) for $14. Over 250,000 people tried to get a pack, and I’ve already sold three of the five moments for significantly more. And the two I’m holding could become cash cows.

The only caveat to all of this is that the platform is still so new and glitchy. It crashed several times before the last pack drop. But the customer service, social community, and chat functionality is great, as is the payment system. The best advice is to read as much as possible, explore before buying anything, and check out the Discord chat network for NBA TopShot. Like any investment, don’t spend more than you’re willing to lose if this whole thing crashes to zero. In the meantime, have fun and keep shooting!

Something Political: The Light of John Lewis

In upholding my personal pledge to read only Black authors in the month of February, I finally picked up the late John Lewis’ book, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America over the weekend.

This is the last week of Black History Month, the first since Lewis’ passing, and while I was not intending to talk about the book in this space, I have been unable to think about much else in the past few days. Written way back in 2017, the book is both filled with hope and progress, but it also shows how much remains in the ongoing pursuit of lasting change in the past and present American civil rights movement to challenge injustice. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few decades, you likely know some of Lewis’ personal story. Born into a family of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South, Lewis is perhaps best known for peacefully leading activists across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama… and paying a price for it. He went on to serve the city of Atlanta in Congress for over 30 years.

Across the Bridge is both a literal and metaphorical telling of recent American history. Dozens of peaceful demonstrators were brutally beaten on that bridge in Selma (Lewis suffered a fractured skull and bore scars for the rest of his life), but there have been tens of thousands incidences of violence against Black Americans in the years since. Yet Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders never gave up, never abandoned their principles. That awful day set a precedent for meeting today’s challenges. 

I can only imagine what Lewis would have thought about the 2020 presidential election, with a record number of young, minority voters ushering Biden and Harris into office. Would he see it as a mass awakening, or just another step in Americans’ reengagement with their responsibility for the democratic process?  2020 was a dark year, but Lewis’ stories are a reminder that dark times are really just a starting point for something better.

I cannot, and will not, attempt to re-tell those stories here, but I will share a few key lessons that I took from the reading. The first is that a fervent, unshakeable faith in your convictions renders the opposition powerless. John Lewis’ faith wasn’t rooted in religion but something he believed to be true with every fiber of his being. His faith enabled him to stick to his convictions, never wavering in his belief in nonviolence or in his faith that we are one human family, regardless of race. As Lewis and his colleagues faced increased violence and hatred, their faith only grew stronger.

Another Lewis lesson: With activism, patience is a virtue. The struggle for voting rights in Selma (and beyond) demonstrates the power of patience as a powerful catalyst for change. The 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote, but state and local groups prevented that from becoming a reality for nearly 100 years. But the protests of the 1960s broke the dam of Southern resistance and led directly to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders have taught us that we still have a ways to go. We cannot simply disconnect from the world around us, ignore race and class divides, poverty, unemployment, access to food, homelessness, and the health care crisis. And we need to act, to organize, to inspire. And remain non-violent. John Lewis believed that peace and love are more powerful than any destructive weapon, a true“warrior for peace.” Our purpose in life, he believed, was to fully express our gifts so that others might see their own potential to shine. From the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, and Black Lives Matter, many of us are fighting the same battles fought during the Civil Rights Movement.  John Lewis knew that with inaction, the darkness only grows stronger. Let’s commit to positive actions and let the light grow a bit brighter every day.

Something Professional: The Socialization of Ecommerce

While I am fascinated with the many different ways that companies, journalists, and marketers each write out the word (e-commerce, eCommerce, ecommerce...?), I am even more enamored with the accelerated growth of the ecommerce market, overall. People think of ecommerce as an industry, but I like to think of it more as an ecosystem. That is, if we use the 8th grade life science definition: an ecosystem is the interaction between the environment and living organisms. It’s a community where the living and non-living components of the environment interact with each other.

Over the past year, ecommerce is at an all-time high. COVID Lockdowns, travel bans, and retail closures boosted online consumerism, and the data (no bullshit here!) are staggering. Ecommerce penetration rose from 15% to 25% in 2020. The average number of items per order increased by 60% during COVID-19. 44% of consumers tried new brands during the pandemic. 43% of shoppers now feel more positive about shopping online. Almost 40% of consumers report they’re more comfortable with digital technology than before lockdown.

With COVID vaccination deployment well underway, the light at the end of the needle is in sight. eMarketer now predicts that ecommerce growth may decelerate substantially worldwide this year, despite consumers’ newfound enthusiasm for digital shopping solutions. Also, many consumers were underwhelmed by disappointing ecommerce experiences, as not all companies had the infrastructure in place to deliver a world-class customer experience, and fulfillment issues prevented even further growth. DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands fared much better thanks to automated shipping and fulfillment, though retail giants and brands are also investing in richer, more personalized experiences. Either way, the ecommerce consumer market has increased, but digital media dollars have not followed proportionately. Acquisition costs are going up, so how will brands actually boost loyalty and retain consumers? The answer: Social.

Social media marketing, which is made up of different strategies and tactics, provides platforms for the humanization of brands AND utilizes the most sophisticated targeting technology in the history of advertising. And people increasingly trust the platforms for commerce: 40% of consumers have made a purchase via Facebook, 13% via Instagram and 12% via Pinterest.

Despite proclaimed discomfort and a lack of trust, online shoppers actually think that social media platforms benefit their purchasing decisions. Around 40% of retailers are using social media platforms to generate sales. Around 30% of interviewed participants (by eMarketer) said that if they like a product, they would order it through social media platforms. Online retailers that have at least one active social media account make 32% more sales than online retailers that don’t use social media platforms. And approximately 55% of Gen Z users said that their clothing purchases were influenced by posts they saw on social media platforms.

So here we are. For brands, the key to ecommerce success requires an understanding of, and adaptation to, the evolving customer base. The best solution is an investment in an omni-channel content and media comms strategy. In other words, optimize each platform to best serve its users and integrate all of your platforms into a single, seamless approach. What are you buying these days? And more importantly, how?

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