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StockX | Deena Bahri: Harnessing the Hype

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

This is the Authentic Avenue podcast episode featuring Dana Marineau, Chief Marketing Officer of Rakuten, with host Adam Conner.

This is a link you can use to find Authentic Avenue, a marketing podcast hosted by Adam Conner, on Apple Podcasts. Remember to subscribe, rate, and review!

Question of the day: how do you authentically market hype?

I mean seriously. We've seen NFTs, stocks, trading cards, sneakers (even sneakers that don't exist) swing wildly in value via hype. How you tell the authentic story of a platform that harnesses that hype for the "next-gen consumer"?

Well, today I have someone who knows the answer to that question: you'll meet Deena Bahri, Chief Marketing Officer of StockX. Via StockX's platform, you can get your hands on some of the latest products in categories known for "drop culture" -- limited-time, limited-quantity offerings. (You can also flip these products via the platform, too.)

Deena has been with the company since fall of 2019 -- far before the most recent hype train left the station. She teaches me all about what the "next-gen consumer" is, and has a neat three-part definition for authenticity which I think you'll appreciate.

Check out their platform while you listen: Maybe you'll find something you like!


FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW: (powered by AI; 100% accuracy not guaranteed; provided by Descript)

Adam Conner: [00:00:00] Here's a question I'd like you to consider through today's episode. How do you authentically and practically market hype? It's a question that I explore a little bit with our guests on this Authentic Avenue.

StockX, a platform through which you can buy and sell authentic pretty much anything I'm on today with their Chief Marketing Officer Deena Bahri. Now Deena has a rigorous three part definition for the word authenticity. And today we view it in the lens of the hyped up world. That is sneakers, streetwear, electronics, trading cards.

All sorts of things, which are now part of the next gen consumers mind, by the way, what does the next gen consumer, we go over that too. We chat a little bit about NFTs towards the end, but mostly we talk about how to harness the hype and turn it into conversations which match and are authentic to both the external facing world of StockX's newly minted. $4 billion business and their internal rapidly growing team of which Deena has been apart for roughly the last year and a half. It's a really interesting story, especially if you yourself have been interested in the world of these increasingly volatile and popular drop culture, products and categories, and I encourage you to listen to Deena's perspective because she has been at the center of it.

And was there really before that hype cycle began. So I'll step back and I'll let you listen in as I get real. With StockX and Deena Bahri. Hey Deena, how are you doing?

Deena Bahri: [00:01:38] Hi Adam. I'm great. Thank you. How are you?

Adam Conner: [00:01:41] I'm doing well. I'm really excited for this one today. I, I re I'm reluctant to say the word hyped up, but that is kind of where I want to go a little bit because.

I haven't, I don't think I've quite had a conversation with a business like yours. I've tiptoed around it. I've had plenty of conversations in like the footwear world and the electronics world, even some in the marketplace world, but none of which have quite applied. The structure of like, uh, can I say the stock market, basically two things as opposed to businesses.

Now, of course, anybody who reads the word and sees the new logo by the way. Nice job on that StockX will understand why. And if you go to any, anybody goes to your website, They'll see that too. But for those who aren't aware, and haven't done research prior to a podcast like me, could you please help me out by illuminating for the audience?

What the heck is StockX anyway?

Deena Bahri: [00:02:36] Yes, I would love to. So StockX is the leading global marketplace for current culture products. So we basically bring together buyers and sellers who want to participate in the exchange of. Products that are important and current culture, that means something, um, in today's environment.

And some, some of the examples that you might relate best to sneakers, obviously trading cards, electronics, and gaming, um, apparel. So these are all items that obviously have an intrinsic value, but they also have, um, you know, an emotional value that's ascribed by the people who participate in that, in those spaces.

Adam Conner: [00:03:18] Well, that, that is what I think is most interesting to me right now. Just because I don't know what it is, but starting around December, maybe it was the whole GameStop thing and that just like accelerated hype broadly. I knew that this existed when like a new sneaker dropped sneaker heads, everywhere came out of the woodwork and lined up at the, at the well, the retailer pretty much, or they'd sign up for like the sneakers app or whatever, and they would try to go get it.

So I under, I understood it, but it has exploded to so much more than that. Hm. I mean, is this something that even you had predicted because you know, you, of course didn't start at StockX yesterday. You've been there for what a year and a half now, a little more than a year and a half. Right? I mean, how has it changed over time?

Because at least I, as the third party in the public did not see this hype in September of 19.

Deena Bahri: [00:04:08] Yeah. It's interesting. There are a lot of trends, macro trends, I think. Um, amplified the momentum behind hype culture, um, or current culture. Um, I think one of them is just what you see going on with the next gen consumer and the prominent role, the next gen consumer plays in sort of defining norms.

And, and that has just been kind of accelerating and accelerating. Every month, really, as we're watching kind of what's happening, whether it's in the social or political landscape, whether it's in the, um, you know, brands and, and consumption of brands, landscape, um, watching brands stand behind values that are important to this consumer.

Um, you know, it's just an, a really amazing phenomenon that has been kind of growing over the past few years, but I think has really Crested in the last 18 months because of, um, You know, I think maybe because of what's going on with the pandemic and all of our norms being flipped upside down. Um, and I think it's just sort of been a long time coming.

So that's one thing and really defined by the shift in consumer consciousness and the next gen driving that I think, um, Brands are also driving this with the adoption of drop culture. You know, it came from sneakers. Um, but it's been more widely adopted through different industries, whether that's makeup fast fashion, I mean, even furniture companies are doing drops, right?

So, um, this notion of, um, sort of seeding demand by releasing product on this cadence and sort of. Allowing expectations to build up and then telling a story through product and then having it sell out and then having people wait on the edge of their seat for the next drop. I think that's just something that's kind of become a way, um, with brands.

So those are two of the big driving factors, I think, um, you know, obviously what's happening in the world with the pandemic where a lot of the things that we used to engage with consume, um, from an entertainment point of view, or just like. You know, in daily life, a lot of that having been taken away, um, I think people are looking for a new way to engage in excitement and, and be stimulated.

And so, um, some of these phenomenons that we're talking about are helping to fill those voids.

Adam Conner: [00:06:32] Yeah. This whole thing has been, has been a phenomenon to me. I find it interesting that you explained it via the behaviors of the next gen consumer. Now, is that just a. A factor of them being like the newest generation of consumer in, do you find that this is mostly, uh, the, the product of, of younger folks in the market?

Like maybe just out of college or maybe in, in maybe in college that 18 to 25 demo or maybe 18 to 30 that are doing the majority of this. Where does that next gen consumer come from? That's very interesting to me. Yeah. This

Deena Bahri: [00:07:02] is a phrase. I don't think we coined it, but we do use it a lot. And it's the next gen consumer really is.

Um, the customer set that, that. We are obsessed about and that, um, we think is excited by what we have to offer it. It is, um, primarily. Defined by gen Z. So starting with the demographic definition as you mentioned, but I think it also translates into more of a psychographic mindset too. And I'll explain what I mean.

So, you know, I think gen Z has really driven the shift in, um, you know, kind of power dynamics, really the idea of sort of trends and cultural being driven from. The bottom up instead of the top down. Um, I think youth culture has always been something that brands watch, but it was kind of more of like edge cases and sort of emergent, emergent, emergent things.

You want to keep an eye on and that you may adopt and mainstream versus like, wow, watch these watch youth culture. And that's going to tell you exactly what you should be totally focused on. Um, so that's a shift that's happened over the past few years and I think. Beyond the demographic definition.

There's also the, the mindset of look, I want to participate in the writing of the rules. I want to express myself and in the way that feels correct for me, I don't want to be told how I should express myself. I want to, um, engage with brands that support my values. Um, these are all. Sort of psychographic, um, attitudes that I think have been adopted by other generations outside of gen Z, but it's really gen Z.

And what we call the next gen that has helped us all, um, align towards some of these principles.

Adam Conner: [00:08:50] And I've seen this personally reflected in some of the content that I consume. I will admit I do a fair bit of swiping through tech talk for instance, and maybe it's the algorithm, but a lot of the stuff that I am currently getting is chatter about like the latest.

The either the latest shoe or like I'll frankly, a lot of it has been in, in the collectible. So like the trading cards, and I've seen some things about watches and things like that, which I know that you all play in a lot this year, Jen consumer does want to support those does want to be a part of those committed drops.

I think that that drop culture is also very interesting. It makes for great content. A lot of people like to watch that I'm sure that you all have benefited from that too, but it makes me wonder about the products and categories, which are. Uh, set for more permanent change as a result. Let me give you an example.

So of course, with trading cards, for, for instance, there is a defined value at the moment of release. And then over time as the contents of that box, get more or less valuable, that box gets more or less valuable. And even companies like tops now are going through a spec to go public. And then there were other not drop or timed items.

Like your X-Box is, or your , which for a long time, we're competing with each other contributing to downward price pressure. I mean, a lot of it was, you know, we, we are the affordable option where the, you know, we have high quality items. You're not going to break the bank, but my God nowadays, a PS4 is going for 800 bucks.

I mean, that's the next gen consumer is like pushing prices one way or the other. Do you find that certain categories will begin to change the way they go to market based? Solely off of the, the motivations and the spending patterns of the next gen is as a consumer, as opposed to, I don't even know what to old gen me, I guess.

Yeah. I don't know.

Deena Bahri: [00:10:37] What do you see there? So I, so a couple of thoughts. Um, first I want to talk about your X-Box comment. You know, if you think about it, the idea of generations of gaming platforms, that two is built on a drop cadence, it's just a much more prolonged cadence, right? So these products have a life cycle like, like phones.

Um, they have a life cycle. The new product comes to market. It creates downward pricing pressure for the older models and depending on volume and scarcity, it could create upwards pricing pressure for the new gen. And that's exactly what's happening, um, with the current PlayStation and Xbox. And I think because it's been maybe one of the longer periods, I think this last lifecycle.

Yup. Yup. More pent up demand. I think that sort of coincided with. The rise of gaming accentuated by the pandemic and the fact that people need stuff to do while they're stuck at home. Um, so I think those all contributed to the hype of these. Um, of these latest generation gaming platforms and that is not dissimilar from what you see with sneakers, right.

It has to do with the story behind it. It has to do with, um, the quantity of the product being brought to the market and what it's competing with in terms of like how it's positioned in the heart and mind of the consumer. So I don't think it's very different. It's just kind of a longer cycle. Um, I do think brands are paying attention across categories to this dynamic and adjusting their strategies.

And I'll just go back to a few of the examples I mentioned earlier, like in fast fashion. Where companies are now. Now fast fashion is a whole nother topic we could debate for awhile. Um, because next gen has very mixed views about fast fashion and the impact on the environment and sustainability, but for better, or for worse, a lot of these companies have adapted to this cyclical.

You know, it's a six week. Drop cycle. Um, the plan is to sell out and to sell out quickly or looking at cosmetics. You know, Mac, for example, has started doing drops where they release product in limited edition with the intent of driving hype, selling out and then leaving people in suspense for the next.

And I do think, um, the, you know, what has come from some of these more current culture categories is influencing what, um, non-current culture type of products and brands are

Adam Conner: [00:13:05] doing. Yeah, that's a good point. And perhaps then I should consider myself fortunate to have been able to, you know, Per purchase these items, uh, you know, back in 2013, for instance, when next box was released, the most recent one, you know, at a, at a price that wasn't reflective of these, because man, I gotta imagine like people gotta be super committed to these products and brands now because like the value is just so much higher now.

That's, it's, it's interesting to note that that value tends to fluctuate also. And it makes me wonder, as I often pursue this, a word of authenticity. What that means for StockX. Now I'm guessing, and I'd like you to elaborate that there are maybe two primary definitions of the word. Obviously the first one relating to the product itself.

You need to make sure that everything is real. And that is something which the eBays and Amazons of the world have a long combated. And then potentially the second is like, how do you keep it real with your people, with your audiences, whether that be your surely either internally your employee base, which I'm guessing has grown immensely since.

You joined in September, 2019 are now sitting at the feet of a $4 billion business most recently valued or externally to the consumers who might hope to maybe sure. Get a product and have ownership of a product from StockX, but maybe try to flip it to how, how, how do you look at that word in its totality?

Deena Bahri: [00:14:28] Authenticity. So you nailed it, Adam. I think, you know, the two, the two definitions that have to do with, um, how we engage with consumers. And then I would say there's a third definition that it has more to do with the culture of the company and how we engage internally, but I'll elaborate. So, you know, the word authenticity is a, is a core part of our value proposition, um, in that authenticating, every item that is traded on our platform is.

Table stakes for us. Right? We do never, never want to allow an inauthentic or a fake item or compromise in any way item to trade hands on our platform. And so we've built incredible amount of. Um, scaffolding and infrastructure to ensure that every product is authenticated and verified, um, and that the buyer is getting the thing they think they've purchased on our platform.

So that is kind of daily lexicon. It's something we obsess about and it's a big part of our value proposition. Uh, the second piece is like, you mentioned more on the cultural side and, you know, kind of engaging authentically as a company that is standing for current culture. We want to. Engage authentically in that space and make sure that we are doing partnerships, campaigns, content, you name it.

That is, um, that is real. And that is from a place that is authentically connected to what the consumer cares about because this next gen consumer can tell the difference between a brand that is just trying to buy its way into cultural relevance versus a brand that really cares and is really.

Connecting with the community and telling stories that matter to this consumer. So that is on the marketing team. Something that we obsessed about and something that we spend a lot of time doing, um, you know, making sure that every effort has an authentic connection to the consumer and to the culture.

Um, the third piece of it is really about the team and, and the culture of the company. You know, we've spent a lot of time. Defining what matters to our team, um, and articulating our values and being authentically grounded in those values. Um, because we believe that as a company, you know, to win with the customer and in the competitive marketplace, you have to.

When with your team members and, and keep people motivated and passion to engaged with the mission. A

Adam Conner: [00:17:03] lot of people say that like the best way to have a nice, authentic outward message is to first build that internal, authentic advocacy. So I'm liking where you're going with this third lane, but, but go on.

Deena Bahri: [00:17:12] Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, it's just about the inside and the outside lining up. Right. And then one example. That is, I think, easy to relate to as diversity and inclusion, lots of companies are talking about their stance on diversity and inclusion, but, you know, the, the way to really tell how committed they are is to look at what they're doing on the inside.

Right. And, and, um, are they. Living up to the statements and sort of putting where their money, where their mouth is so to speak. And so that's a place where we focus more internally than we have out externally, you know, um, making sure that we're making the requisite changes and putting the right processes in place to provide a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment workplace.

Um, and then also making sure that translates on the outside, but we can't say make big claims on the outside if we're not doing the work on the inside. Um, And then I think another slice of that is allowing our people to show up authentically. So really, um, embracing the whole self, you know, and allowing people to be themselves, their true selves when they come to work.

Um, which I think is kind of the punctuation mark on that whole lane of being authentic. Um, as a culture,

Adam Conner: [00:18:27] I agree, uh, that is something which I have personally focused a little bit of my recent time on, and I'm glad that you hold that belief as well. The internal and the external need to match up. That's the slice of the, a word that I like to focus on.

We're not here to talk about me. We're here to talk about you and the StockX story. So what I like to ask folks from time to time is that. Given that there are so many different avenues to accomplish that authentic message. That's why the show is called Authentic Avenue. I would love to know which are a couple of those manifestations that you have seen at the business where you think that you have been.

Or it has been its most authentic self and I'm not talking so much about like the verified guesses as a real product site. I'm talking more about that, that inside, outside lining up or maybe just something that you're doing internally or maybe, maybe externally, but genuinely I'm just trying to figure out like, what are your avenues to authenticity then?

Deena Bahri: [00:19:27] Yeah. So I'll give you two specific examples. Um, one is establishing a really strong voice of customer. Practice so that we have our ear to the ground and are listening to what matters to the customer, right? Like it's important. It's, it's impossible to have an authentic connection to your consumer and to culture, if you don't understand what they want.

Uh, and so it's essential to have a great way to glean those insights and hear what. What matters to them. So we've built over the last year, um, a whole new customer insights team whose remit is to make sure that we always have our ear to the ground and, you know, using various qualitative and quantitative, um, types of research that we are just asking questions and listening and, and really, um, understanding the drivers, the motivators, the attitudes.

The needs of the customer, uh, and then working really hard to translate all of that back to the various teams inside the organization, whether it's the marketing team on the supply chain team, the product team, um, and, and helping all of those cross functional folks understand what they can do in their day to day to be more aligned with the customer's, um, needs and asks.

So that's one thing that I think any company who wants to be authentically connected to their customer base needs to do. Um, and then almost the replica of that on the inside. Right? So listening to team members, um, and not only listening, but creating forums where they can talk about what matters to them.

So, um, we've got, you know, this amazing people and culture team, um, that has created a number of, of avenues for our team to just talk, ask questions, whether that's like asking questions of. Our leadership team, just open, like ask me anything type of questions, which happens on a weekly basis, um, or having specific candid conversations, we call them, um, about some of the more emergent issues that our teams have dealt with over the last, um, you know, 16 months while we've all been sort of, you know, dealing with the pandemic.

So it's a lot of the social justice issues. Um, you know, whether it's, um, Black lives matter or, you know, Asian American, um, hate or, you know, international women's month. We've just curated a lot of the, a lot of conversations around these topics because they are impacting our team members on a daily basis.

And we want them to feel like they can bring their authentic whole selves to work. And that means we have to understand how they're impacted by these issues.

Adam Conner: [00:22:10] I totally agreed. And you know, that is no more. Poignant that it is this very day, this week. And listen, you'll hear this a couple of weeks after we have this conversation, but those issues are front and center right now, super hot plate issues.

And it's good that you are having those candid conversations with each other. Um, I'm a personal champion of that too. So I want to ask about that a word one more time from you from an advice perspective, but I'm going to do that after my penultimate question, which has to do with. What's next. I certainly don't want to give any secret sauce out, but I was just recently talking to a woman named Rachel Weber, who is the chief brand strategy officer over at Playboy or POB wide group.

And they just got into NFTs, which you've probably been asked about this world because I mean, my God, the hype around NFTs are, is just as much, if not more than that or hype that we've experienced for the last couple of years. And now you can probably equate it to other things like the trading cards and things like that.

Uh, is that somewhere where you all might want to go at some point? I mean, I'm curious because you got, you guys have to notice that too. Right?

Deena Bahri: [00:23:17] Of course, of course we are watching very carefully the interest and hype in this, um, NFT space. We are, um, taking a very close look at what this means for our marketplace and, and the current culture space and what is the best way that we can better empower our buyers and sellers to participate in the excitement around NFTs.

Um, you know, the funny thing about current culture is it's a little bit of a moving bullseye, right? Like. It's not a static definition. And so it means that we have to continually be looking ahead and looking at what is coming on, the horizon that people are going to care about. Um, and how do we then help enable them to participate in those spaces?

So, NFTs definitely are on our radar.

Adam Conner: [00:24:06] Can't wait to see what might happen there. Broadly speaking, uh, because my God, again, I'm going to go back to that H word, the hype. It's just unreal, but I'll return to this, a word and a final other, a word, which is advice, which is how I like to round out these conversations.

People come in to this podcast with me and tell a whole bunch of stuff about their business and their personal stories and their backgrounds all focused on how ultimately they carved their own personal, authentic story forward. In those who listened to this show include a lot of marketing leaders like yourself, but also others who are either building their own businesses, maybe looking to move and shake, but ultimately who are seeking to emulate the journeys of those who appear.

So given. Not just the last, roughly 18 months with StockX, not just this wave of hype, but also your journey to get to this point prior to that, too, I'd like to close by asking what advice you might give to others as to how to build their own, either personal or professional avenues to authenticity.

It's a big one, but I got to

Deena Bahri: [00:25:04] ask. Hmm, that is a juicy question, Adam. I think for me, it comes down to, um, tuning into the human side of all of. Our relationships and decisions. I mean, on the, on the personal front, certainly, um, You know, making that effort to listen to your colleagues, your teammates and, and yourself.

Um, for me, that's been a really critical way that I've honed in on what matters to me, what I'm good at, what I'm not good at, um, where I need to focus on growing and developing, um, or where I can leverage my strengths to help the people around me. Um, so I would say. You know, on the personal front, just leaning into that, the human part of your experience, um, and, and not being afraid of being vulnerable.

Um, and also not being afraid of using your strengths to help yourself and others. Um, on the professional side, you know, I think it comes back to, um, the customer and being focused on the customer. And again, I would say the human element of the experience. Uh, the magic happens when brands and consumers can connect on something that's more than functional.

And, and I think the only way to really find that magical opportunity is again, to listen and lean into what is the consumer saying they need and want and how can, how are you as a brand uniquely positioned to serve that? So I think, um, really focusing on those clues and the signals that come from the voice of the customer,

Adam Conner: [00:26:41] Well, that's something that I think we can all focus on, whether we are pushing a large consumer brand or not.

How do we tap in to that? Which connects us on a human level, aside from what connects us on a functional level. And those two together should, you know, again, that meeting of external and internal should produce something great, but it's worth it for anybody to think about. I've got, I'm glad that. You've been through that process that you're thinking about it now that you are harnessing the lightening here, which has grown StockX just to insurmountable, not actually not insurmountable because you've done it Heights over the last year and a half.

And I hope that you continue to harness the hype. As all of these products continue to be consumed by that next gen consumer, but for now, for telling me this story, for sharing your thoughts with me and for giving me that three-part description of authenticity, I really liked that it was very well organized.

Uh, Deena, thank you so much for this time. It was a pleasure to talk with you.

Deena Bahri: [00:27:36] Thank you, Adam. And thank you for being so focused on authenticity because I think it is so important in every aspect of our lives. So thank you.

Adam Conner: [00:27:45] If you haven't checked out StockX genuinely go look at it. I was amazed when I first looked at it, cause I was like, is this a trading platform?

Or is this a consumption platform? It's kind of both. And the way that StockX has been able to take advantage of both is really interesting. Thank you Deena, by the way, for that wonderful description of authenticity and your lens into this story and this world, of course, thank you to the listener as well for consuming that story.

Here's where else you can listen to more stories like it. I'm on LinkedIn, Adam Conner and Authentic Avenue. You can go to any podcast directory and you'll find Authentic Avenue for all of my episodes all the way leading up to today. And you can email me too. I have particular expertise with regard to telling authentic stories, meeting the external and the internal.

I can be helpful there. And I'd also just like to know what you think of the show. Regardless. I'm going to come back to you real soon with how another person is carving their own avenues to authenticity and how you can do so personally and professionally until then. I'm Adam Conner saying until I get real again with you.

Thanks for taking a walk with me down Authentic Avenue.


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