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AVM Consulting · The Mettā View - Looking Forward 042 - Banking On Values

Banking on values

Two years ago in January, having spent a good year pondering and possibly annoying the investment specialists I'd been talking to, I finally chose to invest in the stock market.

I'd never been particularly interested in it, but I equally wasn't averse to it. It just felt murky, as a world. I don't like to make a move when things are murky. So not getting involved felt like a sound choice.

Despite some of my close friends pushing me back in my London days, I had also refused to commit to any form of real estate. The property ladder isn’t something people get onto where I come from. I just couldn't understand it. Perhaps it was also foresight. After all, I left the UK and I always said to my property buying friends that the day I buy, it would be a holiday home,with a swimming pool. For more on that story, read this previous article.

But, future thinker that I am, at some point, it dawned on me that I had to face the music and sit my ass down to consider how I wanted to live and work and plan my future.

That’s how investing came back to the table as something to consider.

During the first couple of meetings, I felt like I wanted to disappear into the ground. “I am smart,” I thought to myself. “How am I not getting this?” The guys talking to me sounded like they were speaking Chinese (which sadly, I don't speak) Everything that I heard felt impossible to grasp.

So I did what I do when I need help. I looked for resources and I read a book or two on the subject. Not sufficiently to become proficient, but I became more at ease. I started to feel like I was gaining understanding. It felt like a secret superpower, but because it was new it felt both like a strength and somehow a little slippery.

I had another couple of meetings with investment advisors from different banks (as you do in Switzerland). They were kind guys, but I had a feeling they were a little bit confused about why it was taking me so long, why I needed so much information. Are other people quick to move? I don’t know. I asked more questions.

This is who I am. I needed to gather the facts. Digest them. And after that, I make a decision. FYI my second strongest style on the Kolbe Index is Fact Finder (this is me proving I’m more than just a Quick Start).

So anyway, I did the deed. Put my money in places I’d never considered before. And guess what? A mere five or six weeks later, the global pandemic was bringing the whole world to a halt. Markets tanked. Ooops.

GROUNDING DOWN

Now you'd think I would have freaked out, but surprisingly (to me too), I didn't.
I forgot to tell you something. While one of the books I read was called Unshakable - I was getting myself ready for this grounded stance - I'd also made a big choice with these first investments.

And that choice was to only put my money into those funds that were working towards things that matched my personal values. I’m not the only one asking to bank on a future that is more than making money for the sake of it. That’s why there has been a strong rise in what is commonly referred to as ESG funds.

Not long after, I also decided to make moves on single companies whose services I keenly rely on (I did it a bit late, but yes, Zoom is among them).

But that was only half of the unshakable equation. The second thing I did was trust this advice, which I’d heard from many sources. Diversify!

I didn’t put all my eggs in one shiny Zoom-like basket.

So when that first 'market correction', as they say, happened in March 2020, it felt icky. I watched the numbers online for a day or two and then stopped. What could I do about it anyway?

My mindfulness practice of course was of help: I chose not to worry about this particular thing that was out of my control, like so much else is, and just be with the uncertainty.

And indeed things got better.

Then again, this year, the stock market has looked like a blood bath (there was a gif shared by some on Twitter to illustrate it). I'm more preoccupied this time around, I'm not going to lie to you. But I think it’s mainly due to the unsettling thought of what could still come our way (aka a war).

The constant thought I’ve had throughout which really made me feel grounded is this: at least, I put my money where my values are. I don't have any regrets. I am in integrity with myself, so if it all goes tits up, so be it, I’ll be fine.

Also, maybe it won't ALL go tits up. After all, I diversified. Let's wait and go do good work in the meantime.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

I learned about the importance of diversifying back in the decade when I was in charge of wholesale development for Christian Louboutin for the UK and Scandinavia, roughly between 2002 to 2013.

I was great at selling and brand-building, but I was also quite green in other ways, and I recall being taught this important lesson by my boss, our COO at the time.

The brand’s red soled creations were the hottest thing around back then. Kate Moss was trotting around in the 12-inch black Pigalles everywhere she went. This was pre-studs and platforms - for those of you who remember the trend - and the patent stiletto (whether in black or nude) had become the shoe of choice of every woman, everywhere. And ours were simply the best.

So as a result, the percentage of our sales in some of our smaller accounts (and one of our biggest) had become so high (between 50% and 70% of their total seasonal revenue in the shoes/accessories category) that we had to sit down and have a conversation.

We couldn’t respond to the demand (it was impossible on the production planning side) so we basically encouraged them to diversify.

“Buy more of someone else’s shoes? Really, it’s for your own good.”

In asking them to change their merchandising attribution and buy deeper into other brands, even if they had a lower sell-through at full price, we were helping them make their business more stable, resilient. What if something had happened to our production, collections, or even worse, our designer? It would have been truly catastrophic for some of them.

Of course, most were mad during the meeting. For years to come, the seasonal conversations around budget allocation were tense negotiations. But our clients understood (or so I'd like to believe) that it was in everyone’s best interest.

COMMUNICATION STREAMS

For most of the fashion and design brands around me, there is a deep attachment to a single form of communication, namely, socially, via the Meta properties of Instagram or Facebook.

And if you think 'ugh, Facebook, that's so ... 2009', remember that the Meta-owned company runs IG ads on their shared platform. Until such time the company is broken into pieces (I wish, for Instagram's sake), they are very much a combo deal.

So my fashion and luxury clients are worried, most days. They watch the metrics of the platforms the way I chose not to look at the stock market. They count their likes and engagement, planning new tactics. Sometimes despairing.

Advertise, people tell them, invest in digital marketing!

And I say… don’t! (Unless you are a mass-market brand, and still, don’t do just that).

I say: diversify!

The greatest problem most of us have is when we come to rely on only one big successful source of traffic, of connection and engagement with our clients - or income. When we’ve put all our eggs in one shiny digital platform/basket.

It so happens that we, consumers, now know, we’ve been told in great detail (and shown in the Social Network) that the shiny platforms are not good for us. We need to slow down our consumption. Don’t look directly at the shiny feed full of ads, it will entrap you.

So brands spend more money engaging with consumers on a platform that consumers know is not good for them, and they try really hard to impose healthy boundaries on themselves.

Then the algorithm makes sure to keep the brand's content as far from the audience's eyes as possible, until or unless the brand spends money on the platform. If that sounds like a dysfunctional relationship, you are right on the money.

I heard someone talking recently about influencers and how they too are in trouble, tying in their whole businesses to one platform. And the commentator, a famous YouTuber of the first generation, offered this advice: become platform agnostic.

This may sound annoying when it’s been proven that, if you spend money in that one place, you’ll keep on making money, at least for a while.

Sure, what I suggest also means that you will have to tweak and reformat your content to tell the story appropriately on each platform you approach.

That means more work. But I’m not just suggesting more work, you see, you can borrow my tactic!

Do the fact finding first then choose to focus on what resonates with you and your values the most.

And banking on your values is helpful too in case things don’t work out well, at least you did something you believed in.

What is certain though is that change will keep on coming. Social media will keep on morphing, our engagement and participation in life, work and culture will evolve, digitally and in IRL.

And if you do not work on diversifying and adapting your communication streams you are leaving yourself exposed.

I will leave you with this thought.

Communication is not just imparting information but exchanging it. So perhaps ask your audience where and how they would like to find you. And take it from there.

Until next week.

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