Wed, 09 Nov 2022 18:00:00 GMT
In 2013, Vickie Segar was preparing to enter a new stage of her life: motherhood. For nearly a decade, she had been working as a creative, both agency-side for Crispin Porter and Bogusky and Wieden + Kennedy, and client-side for fitness brand Equinox and a direct-to-consumer (DTC) start-up called Aloha. Starting humbly from her kitchen table in Brooklyn, she took a leap of faith that would grant her the flexibility to suit her life as a mother, as well as the opportunity to prove doubters of influencer marketing wrong.
The result of this was Village Marketing, a social media agency that merges brand and performance marketing - leveraging bloggers and creators in a full-funnel capacity to build brands. Initially working with ex-colleagues from her previous jobs, Vickie describes how the first few years were particularly difficult, as the company made headway in the emerging - but practically non-existent - influencer marketing sector.
“Everyone said influencer marketing wasn’t real and wouldn’t last,” she says. “The influencer industry didn’t exist in the form it does now, nor did social. But I had started doing influencer marketing in one form or another (leveraging personal brands to build the consumer brands I worked for) three to four years before I started Village. It was really the merger of my creative agency background with my acquisition marketing experience that led me to create an agency that had a full-funnel approach to marketing.”
‘Building brands through people’ is the driving philosophy behind Village Marketing - an idea that spawned from Vickie’s observations of the public’s growing distrust of brands. “Consumers, who are incredibly smart, are looking for truth,” she says, explaining how insights and anecdotes from individuals appear more trustworthy and less biased than traditional messaging directly from a brand. Despite being paid to market products, Vickie says that influencers can act as ‘critical curators’, and often are selective about the brand partnerships they put in front of their audiences - allowing brands to reach a more targeted and applicable demographic, and allowing the influencer to speak more honestly about a product they truly use or believe in.
“At Village, we look at influencers as both talent and media,” she says. “It allows us to think about how a brand can best penetrate the social space where its consumer is spending 3.5 to 4.5 hours a day. It’s our job to make sure the right people are speaking about the brand at scale and moving the needle for our clients’ businesses.”
Vickie acknowledges that the influencer marketing space is still in its infancy, but also that it has matured greatly over the past decade. Brands now have 10 years of experience with leveraging influencers as representatives, and are now allocating more significant portions of ad spend to this sector. Soon, she says, “influencers are going to be commerce” - predicting that they will simply be an extension of the retail ecosystem, alongside traditional marketing.
The reason for influencer marketing’s success over other forms of social and digital marketing appears obvious when explained by Vickie, who believes it’s the superior method of reaching consumers online. According to her, the major alternatives - paid social ads and owned channels - aren’t sought out by consumers and are, “For the most part, noise.” She continues, “Influencer marketing puts brands within the content people are on social for. The content is less scripted, it’s personalised, it describes brands in the lives of consumers instead of the minds of consumers, and it is proven to be much more impactful and memorable.”
Now 200 people strong, Village came out of the pandemic with momentum, evolving alongside the growing industries that its clients are part of. As well as a host of loyal day-one clients, the agency has created work for a variety of 'brands that are built by good people who want to do great work’, and even two US presidents, presidents Biden and Obama.
“I will always be incredibly proud of running a presidential campaign across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram,” says Vickie. “Not only did we have to invent how influencer marketing should look for a political race, but we had to take risks on a grand scale and under the harsh scrutiny of the press. Ultimately, the work worked, and out of all campaigns we needed to succeed, that was the one.”
Unlike with DTC brands, tracking ROI can be more difficult for bigger brands investing in influencer marketing. Therefore, educating bigger brands on top and mid-funnel patterns, and how to use data and tracking, is all part of Vickie’s job. With increasingly more consumer time being spent on social channels, she says that it’s “very logical” for bigger brands to increase their influencer marketing budget proportionally - recommending upwards of 15-20% for a Fortune 500 company, and 50-70% for a DTC brand.
As with every emerging field, however, there exist doubters and naysayers of the sector. Vickie highlights the three common myths about influencer marketing that she has noticed most frequently: that if one influencer does something wrong, it’s representative of the entire industry; that influencers are disingenuous because they are paid, and that influencers shouldn’t get paid at all.
Rebutting these ideas, she says, “Influencers say ‘no’ more than they say ‘yes’ to brand partnerships. The good ones only take on brands they genuinely love. And influencers are paid because they are the creative director, producer, talent, location scout, editor, project manager, and the media channel. On top of running what is a full-service creative agency, they are also sitting in their DMs building relationships with audiences you want to get in front of. I can’t understand why anyone would debate whether creators should be paid.”
Continuing, she adds that relationships are everything in the influencer space. “If you don’t respect the creative (the influencer), their craft, their relationship with their audience – then you shouldn’t work in the space.”
After joining the Wunderman Thompson network earlier this year, Vickie is looking forward to extending the agency’s work into a more integrated marketing approach. Now, with the backing of one of the world’s largest agency networks, Village’s influencer work can combine with the broader commerce, data, and social verticals that Wunderman Thompson has experts and infrastructure in. “It’s been wonderful,” says Vickie. “Having more smart, creative minds in your business is never a bad thing.”
This talented and experienced team of leaders has allowed Village to continue in its pursuit of leveraging creators for influencer work and all other forms of paid media. But finding the right fit isn’t as simple as just hiring someone from the network. When adding to this dream team, Vickie has an ambitious criteria to ensure that the Village team is comprised of smart and positive people who are willing to contribute a new outlook or perspective. “I hire people who are excited by the unknown - by the opportunity to be the first at something,” she says. “I want people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to make something happen, even if the path is different. We hire as many non-influencer marketers as we do influencer marketers. We need people who are able to build a comms strategy or a data dashboard – a hard mix - and so we do a ton of training to develop talent that is right for us.”
With innovations constantly developing in the influencer marketing space, there is never a dull moment (and rarely a second to pause) for Vickie and her ‘Villagers’. So, as she looks ahead to the tail end of the year and towards 2023, there is plenty of excitement on the horizon, and many opportunities to continue the trajectory that all started from Vickie’s kitchen table. “The platforms are constantly shifting, and every shift is an opportunity for us to do something differently. We have some new and exciting brands that we are supporting, and we are continuing to expand how we use influencers to build brands.”
Finishing, she adds that she is quite certain of one thing, “There has certainly never been a more exciting time to be in our industry.”