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Highsnobiety: 2017 Was the Year of the Celebrity Sneaker Co-Sign

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Highsnobiety: 2017 Was the Year of the Celebrity Sneaker Co-Sign

My latest for Highsnobiety, talking one of the most insane trends to ever hit the sneaker industry. From Amber Rose to Gary Vee, 2017 was "the year of the co-sign." How long before celeb sneaker collabs become just another part of the merch table?

Read the full story at link here.

 

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My Year in (Biweekly) Books

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My Year in (Biweekly) Books

There’s a wonderful conceit to the phrase “I wish I had time to read.”

For one, it’s a little known fact that every chronically-busy person throughout human history wishes they had more leisure time. While their own willful actions and priorities deny them this pleasure, it is part of carrying oneself as chronically-busy to long for the contrary. Bonus points for sighing afterwards.

For two, it’s a widely known fact that every reasonably-thoughtful person throughout human history wishes to be regarded as someone who reads for pleasure. No matter one’s private hedonism, the knowledge that another merely perceives you as someone who retreats into the written word carries a contented-if-enabling buzz of monastic importance. After all, anyone can watch TV. But it is you - the ubermensch, the Atlas-who-shrugs – who chooses to spend their leisure time exerting effort (pages don’t scan themselves) in an apparently-productive activity that deserves praise. In this case, the bonus points are self-evident.

And last but not least, for three: it’s a blatant fact that no one throughout human history has ever uttered the phrase “I wish I had time to read” in private. Simply put, it would fall on deaf ears.

No, like Mother Theresa’s charities or an expired copyright, “IWIHTTR” exists exclusively for public benefit.

When thrown into the public sphere, wishing one had time to read accomplishes little more than a sanctioned ego-yank (see: wonderful conceit). What it certainly doesn’t do is create time to read. That’s why, when I was frustrated with how little I had read during my first semester at the Ross School of Business last fall (see: chronically-busy), I did something truly radical: I kept it to myself.

In January 2016, I quietly resolved to read whatever books I found interesting whenever time allowed. No weekly page goals, no “100 to Read” lists, just autopilot. On December 29, nearly one year later, I finished what will likely be my last book for the year. And, for the first time since January, I decided to check where autopilot had steered.

Instead of doing a full review for each of the 27 books I read in 2016, I (and my sleep schedule) thought it’d be more fun to do short summaries of each. Considering I averaged about 1 book every 2 weeks, 2 sentences seemed a proper fit.

Wishing you had time to read? Here’s 27 books, condensed for your schedule:

 

1. “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style” by W. David Marx

America’s bombing then postwar occupation of Japan created a culture vacuum that blue jeans, field jackets, and rock music filled. Give it 50 years, throw in a millennia-old tradition for Japanese craftsmenship, and baby, you got a stew going.

2. “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy

The original Mad Man explains the fundamental difference between excitement and results.

Also, good ideas are a function of research and sleepytime.

3. “The Heart and the First” by Eric Greitens

Courage is dependent on both compassion and action. As a Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, and lifelong humanitarian, Greitens has an authoritative perspective on improving the world with heart and fist.

4. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbury

Friendship transcends all divisions: class, status, even opinion on Tolstoy. Some of the world’s best people find comfort behind prickly defenses, when their elegance just needed the right chance to be vulnerable.

5. “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell

Don’t be poor. But, if you have to be poor, especially don’t be poor in Victorian England.

6. “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster” by Dana Thomas

Luxury brands are built by craftsmen who establish a reputation for devotion to product quality. Luxury brands are monetized by businessmen who arbitrage that reputation at the expense of product quality (see: Balmain).

7. “The Luxury Strategy” by Jean-Noël Kapferer & Vincent Bastien

The relationship between normal goods and premium goods is rational: for each additional dollar you spend, you receive proportional benefits (think Toyota -> Lexus). The relationship between premium goods and luxury goods is irrational: for each additional dollar you spend, you get that warm fuzzy feeling.

8. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe

One of the single greatest fiction stories ever published – the definition of a “must read.” Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

9. “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom

By enshrining the classical liberal ideal of “open-mindedness” in policy, well-meaning administrators sow the seeds of virulent groupthink. As the reliable means through which these policies are achieved, cultural relativism, then, enables the worse angels of our nature. 

10. “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss & Neil Howe

Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. If you read no other book this decade, make it “The Fourth Turning.”

11. “Sneaker Wars” by Barbara Smit

A blood feud between the Dassler brothers created the sneaker game, athlete marketing, and the corruption-riddled governing bodies of sports (FIFA, IOC, etc.) that we know today. Hmm… Adi Dassler… sounds familiar. 

12. “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight

The autobiography of Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Unlike other business memoirs, the story of the world’s most successful and competitive sports brand takes an unexpected turn: it is honest, candid, and humble.

13. “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” by Elizabeth Semmelheck

The definitive history of sneakers, told jointly through the lenses of fashion, function, and culture. Semmelheck’s work is as enlightening as it is thoroughly enjoyable to read.

14. “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant

The world’s successful innovators are cautious, analytical, and quietly decisive.

Remember this the next time a “world-changing” startup makes headlines.

(P.S. For any Michigan readers, Adam Grant is coming to speak in Ann Arbor on January 11. More information here.)

15. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

Habits are formed and reformed according to a 3-part cycle: a “cue” is identified (ex. my teeth feel dirty), a “routine” is established (ex. two minutes of brushy-brushy), then once completed, a “reward” is earned (ex. a minty tingling sensation). If you want to form a positive habit, start by focusing on the cue.

16. “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young

Idea generation is a simple process willfully ignored by many because it takes work. In this age of process automation and machine learning, ideas are the differentiator – therefore, “Technique” (first published in 1940) is as applicable as ever.

17. “Business Adventures” by John Brooks

While technology may change, expressions of human nature – hype-fueled heartbreak, insider trading scandals, market bubbles - remain constant. Brooks’ stories (collected over his career with the New Yorker and first published in 1969) aren’t just relevant and engaging – they’re uncanny.

18. “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing

The true story of the 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Reading this book will make you feel like a weeny for ever complaining about the cold.

19. “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari

Thanks to advanced communications tech, an entire generation has confused the nuance of human relationships with the instant gratification of digital media. Long story short: maximization behavior only works in Excel.

(P.S. Read my full review of the book here.)

20. “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo

TED talks are engaging because they are emotional, novel, and memorable. In other words: because they’re entertainment.  

21. “The Small BIG” by Noah J. Goldstein and Steven J. Martin

Details matter. This collection of 50 “back of the envelope” persuasion tactics won’t save your shitty PowerPoint from catastrophe, but if you’ve already put up table stakes, each can make the difference.

22. “Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business” by Jon Steel

The single most applicable book I have ever read. If you want to live a happy and successful life, read this and “Ogilvy on Advertising” – the rest will work itself out.

23. “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is to science fiction what Jay-Z is to rap: iconic, influential, and as prolific as ever. His latest – a 700-page tome packed with drama, humanity, and the end of the world – is both insightful and wickedly entertaining.

24. “The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever” by Teri Agins

By selling vintage-inspired products “outside” trend cycles, companies like Ralph Lauren have identified a reliable, high-margin segment at the expense of the costly product innovation that once drove the fashion industry forward. The upshot: in fashion, “minimalist” and “retro” are code words for “making money hand over fist.”

25. "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson

Virtual reality, language as a virus, and shadowy main character named "Hiro Protagonist": Stephenson's cyberpunk novel isn't just thoughtful and prophetic - it's also one of the most masterfully-worded books I've ever read. This was my third re-read, and I'm already planning #4.

26. “The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy” by Christopher Hayes

The true division in American society isn’t between genders, races, or even classes – instead, it is between those with enough power/money to self-serve and those without. For an insightful and oddly comforting understanding of current events, read this immediately after “The Fourth Turning.”

27. “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble” by Daniel Lyons

A writer for HBO’s Silicon Valley pens “The Jungle” of this second tech bubble. My book of the year.

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Thanks for reading about... well, reading. Funny how that works. Anyways - have you read any of the above? Better yet, any recommendations for what I should read in 2017? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page to start the conversation.

 

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Retail Theater

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Retail Theater

Shopping is America’s last great spectator sport.

It has all the hallmarks of traditional sports: competition ("excuse me, that was mine"), drama ("yes, and it's the last in its size"), and perhaps most quizically, emotion ("GIVE IT TO ME!"). Even as e-commerce erodes the traditional role of retailers as market interpreters, city streets swell with stores. Unlike their commoditized cousins (Sears, Kmart, etc.), this new breed of merchant sells not just goods, but immersions: a swirling eddy of sensation, where the product is as much the product as it is a souvenir of the experience.

Of course, providing the intangible has always been a part of retail. Before the 20th century, Marshall Field had made both art and science out of selling goods by not selling the product: his world-famous Chicago department store featured full-service restaurants, day-cares, and tea salons well before “shoppertainment” was coined. That’s not discounting the role that rote “customer service” plays in the tangible-intangible equation, either: multi-billion dollar brands like Nordstrom were built by codified commitments to simply treating customers nicely.

However, today’s merchants have amplified past promises into nothing short of spectacle. The ultimate goal remains the same: you leave your money, you take their product, everyone’s happy. Thanks to digital technology, manufacturing advances, and good ‘ol competition, that goal can now pursued with dizzying effect.

Sure, you could watch the game at home. Sure, you could wait ‘til the play becomes a movie. But when it comes to America’s last great spectator sport, the only true experience comes from being there. On a recent trip to New York, I went to SoHo (the city’s Retail Theater District) to visit 3 of the stores making waves in culture, fashion, and music.

 

KITH

Footwear legend Ronnie Fieg’s Bleecker St emporium is more than just a store – it’s a destination. White lights, soaring ceilings, and plaster sneakers designed by architecture firm Snarkitecture lend KITH a sacrosanct aura, and that’s before you even get to the clothes.

KITH is made up of three distinct sections: Footwear, Clothing, and a special KITH x Nike brand experience room that includes both KITH Treats (a cereal bar) and an apparel design studio featuring printed-while-you-wait custom shirts. While there’s a breadth of store to process, KITH’s unifying trait is Fieg’s finger-on-the-pulse sense of downtown cool. ACRONYM jackets share rack space with vintage-inspired Columbia fleece hats; Timberland’s iconic “6” Premium” sits opposite Aime Leon Deor’s pastel luxury sneakers.

While other downtown boutiques lean on presentation alone, KITH integrates many aspects of retail theater to present a tightly-focused experience where looks are table stakes, not the only card in the hand. Bergdorf might market OFF-WHITE to luxury-aware “cool kids” with marble columns and white glove service, but what’s comfortable to Russian plutocrats may just be stifling to the musician looking to spend their first advance. Instead, there’s KITH: luxury products, luxury environment, but dominated by taste rather than pure material wealth.

In a world of department store trattorias, be a cereal bar.  

 

Arc’teryx Veilance

Launched in 2009, Arc’teryx Veilance is proof that fortune favors the bold. The offshoot of Vancouver-based Arc’teryx (of the world’s foremost outdoors innovators), Veilance began with a radical idea: bring alpine-ready construction to menswear. The results are understated, yet every bit as bold as Veilance’s DNA. Iconic pieces include waterproof blazers, goose down field jackets, and the Patrol IS, a 3-in-1 GORE-TEX fishtail parka lined with Thermatek, a synthetic insulator designed for prolonged exposure to the wet and cold.

Arc’teryx Veilance follows a deceptively-simple ethos: take conventional shapes, add cutting-edge materials, achieve unconventional success.

Repeat.

Now, just months after Arc’teryx opened its New York City flagship, Veilance has again sought fortune with a bold step of its own. Nestled between luxury boutiques on SoHo’s Spring St, the door to the first-ever Arc’teryx Veilance store is as unassuming as one of the brand’s high-tech jackets. Once you step inside, however, the environment opens in front of you, and – just like a Veilance piece – the beauty of the transition is as awesome as the beauty in front of your eyes.

The interior is stark; the racks, sterile; the space, magnificent.

The Veilance collection is separated into 3 distinct sections by environmental use: black letters on stark white walls segment garments designed for “Cold”, “Rain”, and “Wind” from one another.

Behind the racks, rocky dividers direct traffic through the space, both unnaturally monolithic and a reference to the brand’s outdoor roots. The inside of each 8’ divider is lined with black glass mirrors, equal parts helpful and menacing.

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On the side of the dividers opposite the rack, some of the brand’s flagship pieces are suspended on eye-height mannequins, their matte black silhouettes juxtaposed with the store’s snow white walls.

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An innovative, outdoors-inspired brand in a futuristic, spaceship-meets-tundra setting. Bold fonts, beautiful product, and a design aesthetic that aligns with purpose rather than price tag.

Simply put, it is gorgeous.

Unlike KITH, there’s no gastronomic or otherwise interactive brand extension to be had. Instead, there is world-class product in a brand-congruent setting somewhere between SoHo gallery and “Westworld” test lab.

If you have eyes, you must go.  

 

Sonos

You’ve probably seen the commercials. You might’ve even heard the speakers. But for electronics maker Sonos, its first-ever retail outlet wasn’t really about the product. Instead, the Sonos store would be about what its product ultimately provides: the music.

Walking in, you’re immediately greeted by a staff member and ushered to one of four soundproof booths. Each is laid out as a miniaturized home, complete with room-specific décor (ours, for example, had a stack of artist biographies on a bookshelf to denote the “Living Room”). More importantly, each “room” within your booth also features a proportional Sonos product – subwoofer for the home theater, Play:1 (their smallest speaker) for the kitchen, etc. Every speaker is synced to an iPad mounted in the center of the booth, right by a couch big enough for you and a party of three. I went with my parents (hi, Mom!)

After a brief introduction by your staff member, the door closes, silence falls… and the music begins. Now, the theater may start. From this soundproof booth, armed with some of the world’s best speakers and the full Apple Music library, music isn’t heard – it is felt.

I’ll skip the play-by-play and instead leave you with this: two days later, I get chills thinking of the sax soars in Bon Iver’s “22 Over S ∞∞N.”

This – a song I’ve listened to hundreds of time since it first leaked last summer – came alive to me in an entirely new way. I thought I had burnt it out; I thought I was done. Now, it has visceral new life. When it came time to leave, and for a moment the three of us in the booth imagined what it would be like to have that system with that power in the home, possibility took over. Long story short, we bought speakers.

That is the power of experience. That is retail theater.      

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A special thanks to Miguel at Sonos and Owen at Arc’teryx Veilance for their time and attention.

What are your thoughts on the trend towards experiential retailing? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page to start the conversation. 

 

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AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.