Focus, Influencer Marketing, and the Road to Authenticity

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Danica Kombol, President of Everywhere Agency, talks about the impact of personal storytelling on brand-building and future purchase behaviors and highlights an opportunity many companies miss when they hire influencers to talk about the products/brands they love: that brands, trapped in a traditional “slick” advertising mindset, fail to repurpose the gorgeous, visually-rich, more authentic influencer-created content. Danica also discusses the importance of knowing the business you want to be in, staying in those lanes, and opting out of what you don’t want to do.

Danica can be reached on the Everywhere Agency website: https://everywhereagency.com/. or by email at: danica@everywhereagency.com.

Transcript:

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m excited to be joined today by Danica Kombol, president of Everywhere Agency, based in Atlanta. Welcome, Danica.

DANICA: Thanks. Boy, that’s a mouthful. Kischuk and Kombol.

ROB: [laughs] Yeah, we have a diverse podcast here.

DANICA: Two complicated ‘K’ names.

ROB: Danica, why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Everywhere Agency and what you’re great at?

DANICA: Awesome. Everywhere Agency . . . We’re an influencer marketing and social media agency, as you said, based here in Atlanta. We book with Fortune 500 brands. I would say our superpower is influencer marketing. That’s our jam. For us, we really love doing marketing campaigns where we give the power back to consumers to tell the stories of brands they love.

ROB: Influencer, I think that’s something that, when people think of Everywhere, that’s certainly part of your brand identity. You must, I think at a deep level, care about that. What draws you to influencer and to continue to do it well?

DANICA: It’s interesting; the phrase “influencer marketing” is a relatively new phrase, even though it’s being bandied about as this great growth industry. If you think about it, Rob, you and I have been in this space for a number of years—that phrase didn’t exist 5 or 6 years ago, right? It was more blogger relations or word-of-mouth.

I think, for me, what I love about influencer marketing is it’s good old-fashioned storytelling at its best. If you’re doing influencer marketing well, you’re connecting a brand with an influencer who is a customer of yours, and you’re allowing them the freedom to talk about your product and brand in natural, organic ways.

I’m a storyteller by nature. I love storytelling. I love word-of-mouth. I’ve always loved the viral nature of storytelling—another new word—but seeing stories propagate out there in positive ways always excited me. I have been working in influencer marketing for a long time before it was ever even branded influencer marketing.

ROB: There have been these bursts in influencer marketing. I think there have been moments of big budgets, big interest, and there has been a consistent growth underpinning that. How have you navigated the temptation to perhaps seize on some of those large budgets when people are perhaps going outside the principles of good, effective, sustainable influencer marketing?

DANICA: I was going to laugh and say what big budgets? Tell me where they are! [laughs] All the statistics show that it’s going to be an $80 billion industry by the year 2022 or something, and definitely the spend is up. We definitely have seen an increase in spend in influencer marketing.

I think, when you talk about the big dollars, you’re really talking more about celebrity influencers. We have always firmly stayed in the camp of micro-influencers, which essentially are defined as individuals with an impressive social media following who have a sway over their audience.

What I find exciting is that there’s an increase in spend in micro-influencers. That thrills me because I think, at the end of the day, people make decisions based on what a friend or family member tells them, not necessarily a celebrity. Of course we look up to celebrities, and in today’s selfie-selfie culture, we all aspire to look like one of those celebrities. But, at the end of the day, we’re informed by our community around us, and our community around us today is on Instagram, it’s on Facebook, it’s on the social media platforms that we follow.

So a micro-influencer might be a fashionista who we appreciate and we see those shoes and we want to buy them, or a parent influencer who has a unique take on dealing with diaper rash. We might choose a diaper rash cream based on what they recommend. I mention that just to point out the random nature of it all.

Before social media, we took to the telephone to get advice. “Should I buy this or this?” Or we met in person. Today, we’re gathering information on products or brands or experiences through our thumbs. We’re scrolling along with our thumbs and we’re doing that thumb reading. I love the fact that what I do is insert rich stories into the thumb-reading people do every day.

ROB: And it’s less jarring, I imagine. It’s native to the way people are looking at things versus this overwhelming, take-over ad that you might see on a media site.

DANICA: Oh, so true. Trust in advertising is at an all-time low, but the trust in what I hear from a friend or family is at an all-time high. We’ve had a trust issue in this country for many, many years, and certainly there’s a direct correlation between the rise in social media—which happened when our banks failed us—and a lack of trust. We don’t trust our institutions, we don’t trust our politicians, we certainly don’t trust advertising.

So we flock to social media and we curate who we follow, and that becomes the community that we can trust. At the core of influencer marketing are really these self-curated platforms that every individual has created. I just love finding those everyday micro-influencers who are excited to talk about products and brands in natural ways.

ROB: It seems to me that, with micro-influencers, you’re making less of a singular bet on a particular person than you might with a celebrity endorsement. It would seem to me—and you probably can speak to this very well—that it actually can make your brand message a little bit more resilient. We all have our moments and failures, and celebrities do, too, and it gets a lot of attention that could potentially hurt a brand campaign. Is that more resilient with micro-influencers and more sustainable in that way as well?

DANICA: Absolutely. Remember, with a celebrity influencer, you’re intrigued by the celebrity. I’m always worried if an influencer is bigger than the brand. Celebrities are bigger than the brand. That’s the shiny object. When we work with micro-influencers, the story of the brand can really shine through.

I’m not dismissing the power that a Kardashian has in selling flat tummy tea. There’s certainly a power there. But our core competency and the brands we work with really are America’s wholesome brands. My client base are Macy’s, Carter’s and OshKosh, Auto Trader, Mattress Firm, brands like that. Everyday brands. Why not have everyday people talking about their experiences with those everyday brands?

ROB: Danica, you actually have a very interesting backstory. What led you into this journey of starting Everywhere? How did you come through your career to start Everywhere?

DANICA: [laughs] Oh, my goodness. That’s an interesting tale. I think when you look at many entrepreneurs, their fits and starts—I started my career in media. I was a producer in television. I worked at shows like Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street, and I was really passionate about that.

But it came to a point where I was producing babies, and I realized I couldn’t really produce TV and produce babies and be the kind of parent I wanted to be. Meanwhile, my husband was gallivanting around the globe as an investigative journalist for CNN, so somebody had to stay home and be at the home.

But I do think that underpinning working in media and essentially doing visual storytelling allowed me to stay on the storytelling track no matter where I was in my career.

I launched Everywhere Agency in 2009, in the height of the financial crisis. Was I foolish? Was I crazy? The truth is, I couldn’t get a job. Nobody was going to hire me at my level in the height of the financial crisis. I was working for a big PR firm; I got laid off, and I literally was like, “What am I going to do? I have to make a living. I have a family to feed.”

So the true story in how I launched Everywhere goes back to: “Necessity is the motherhood of invention.” I had to do something to earn an income. I had gotten a glimpse of this social media thing, and everybody was acting like, “Oh my gosh, it’s technology, and I don’t get technology.” Particularly people in my age group were like, “Oh, that social media thing you do.” [laughs] It’s not like I’m a coder.

Once I got into social media, I saw, “Oh wait, this is just storytelling. It’s just that the platform is different.” When I worked at SNL I made short films, little 30-second films. That was my job. Twitter? You make little stories in 140 characters or less. Facebook was this platform that was a clever status update, and then it turned into, “How can you get visual with that status update?” Now, of course, Facebook’s all about the video.

It’s just understanding the platforms and figuring out how you want to tell stories there. At my core, I think I’ve always been a little anti-advertising. I kind of hate slogans. But I’ve always been pro-story, and influencer marketing allows me to really embrace the storytelling.

ROB: It seems like the social media world is actually slowly playing into your hands. It started, to your point, about written stories, and now you’re right back into video. Did you expect that to come, or when did you expect that to come around?

DANICA: I’ve been predicting IT for a while. I think Mark Zuckerberg really has a plan for world domination, and in world domination, his Russia is YouTube. He’s really got to take down YouTube. So it’s only natural that he’s going to become more visual.

I also just think, going back to the way we read today—I call it thumb reading, which is scrolling—and this is coming from a person who loves to read books and print on the page. I get up every day and I still read The New York Times. It’s delivered to my front doorstep, and I read print on a page. I do love print on a page. But I think today’s consumer wants to have that visual story to go with it. So I think we’re going to see fewer words and more and more visual.

ROB: With you seeing that inevitability of video, are there other things even further down the road that seem inevitable to you—that you think we should be thinking about as we think about the future of marketing in general?

DANICA: I think, Rob, you’re in the same boat that I am with our immediate concerns: what’s going to happen now with Facebook and data? I’d be curious—we could do a whole podcast just listening to you and how this is going to affect your future and your career. Any thoughts on that?

ROB: Oh, you’re turning the interview around on me. I think you’re in a very good mode on this because with any medium, authenticity is really the thing that is durable. I think what we’re seeing with Facebook is a shrinking back from inauthentic ways of gathering data and collecting data and trying to talk to people.

Thankfully, as I think you know, we’ve moved much more into the measurement world than we were once upon a time. In a lot of cases we kind of get to be the reporter from the war front on what’s going on and what’s changing.

But I think the story for Facebook is going to be, from a financial perspective, do people stick around or not? Do people realize—when they switch to Instagram—that they’re still on Facebook? And how much can they keep charging for their ads? Are people getting the results that they want? I think that’s my quick take.

DANICA: It’s so funny, because Facebook’s been all in the news and people are like, “I’m walking off the Facebook! They’ve got all my data!” Instagram has not been mentioned. They’re just kind of cowering over there in the corner. I find it ironic.

Unfortunately, it had to be these evildoers in Cambridge Analytica that brought this to the forefront, but I’m sad that consumers do not realize how much of their data is accessible. It’s not just Facebook. It’s our phones, it’s our credit cards, it’s our spending habits. People could really draw a pretty accurate picture of me based on all the data that’s out there about me, and it’s not just limited to Facebook. There are so many other platforms that have been collecting my data.

So, it’ll be interesting to see if we’re going to see a shift now where people are trying to get back to privacy. I don’t know. It seems like Gen Z really doesn’t care. Gen Z complains that they’re concerned about how much time is spent on devices, yet they’re spending on average an hour and a half more per day than millennials.

ROB: In the campaigns that you’re planning and involved in pitching business for, how are you advising clients to think about Facebook and which channels they focus their campaign efforts on?

DANICA: Facebook’s not going to go away. Honestly, it doesn’t affect my clients as much as it might me—because, like you, Rob, we’re in the storytelling business, but at the end of the day we’re in the analytics business. We have to provide the data that shores up the fact that, “Hey, all these great stories we just told about you, these 40 stories we put out there, this was the impact on those stories.” Being able to cull that data from Facebook, from Instagram, from all the other platforms is critically important to us.

So I guess if I have a little worry, it’s, “Is that door going to be shut?” We’ll see. Or is this going to be something that was part of the 36-hour news cycle—poof—gone, nobody talks about it anymore?

ROB: And we march back on to having 3 billion people on Facebook instead of 2 billion.

DANICA: Right.

ROB: What are some things you’ve learned as you’ve built Everywhere that you would consider doing differently the next time around?

DANICA: Oh, my goodness. Just everything. Absolutely everything—no, that’s not true. The truth is, a lot of the learnings I’ve had—I would say the key learning I’ve had—is to focus. Find one area of the business and really excel at it.

I think when I started out, we tried to be generalists. We tried to do a little of this and a little of that and we were semi-good at a lot of things, but didn’t excel at any one thing. I really forced myself to say, “This is what my agency does. These are the lanes in which we play. SEO? No, that’s not our thing. Go to somebody else.” I’m sure you get calls all the time, Rob, where people say, “You work in social media; can you help me with my SEO?” and you’re like, “Well, that’s not really social media, but okay, fine.” I just used that as an example. We were a little bit too much of a generalist.

Now, that said, would I do it differently? No, because by being a generalist for the few years I was, I got to touch on every aspect of the business. I got to realize what I was good at, and I also realized what I loved. At the end of the day, by playing in all these little spaces, I came to terms with the two areas where my agency excels, and they also happen to be the two areas I’m incredibly passionate about: influencer marketing and social media strategy.

ROB: In some cases, entrepreneurs, and particularly, in this conversation, agency owners, will have this appetite for “Let’s grow this very large, let’s get acquired by somebody.” Particularly with the brands that you know and you work with and you talk to, there have to be adjacent opportunities that could facilitate almost unlimited growth. How do you temper adjacent opportunity with your own goals for the business?

DANICA: I’m sure with some of the other conversations you’ve had with entrepreneurs, we all crave growth and we all fear growth. I really made a decision to try to grow wisely and to try to grow in my areas of expertise.

Learning how to say, “No. No, that’s not the right opportunity . . .” —I think is a big, big step. A lot of other agency owners that I talk to have talked about that moment where they were—particularly when you launch your business—you’re chasing after every single loose tail feather.

But really being clear on, “These are my core competencies, this is my ideal client, and this is my ideal working relationship”—I can honestly say to you, Rob, I truly, madly, deeply love every single one of my clients. Was that true 4 years ago? Mm-mm. Now? Are they easy? No. Are they demanding? Absolutely. But I absolutely feel aligned with every single one of my clients. What that means is, I come into work every day and I truly love my job. I’ve got a team of folks who really, really love their jobs.

You didn’t ask this question, but I’m going to veer into it: Three years ago in building my agency, I decided I was going to truly focus on culture. I did a tremendous amount of navel-gazing and really tried to define the culture of my agency—what I wanted the culture to be. This was hard because I could not come up with any case study to prove this was going to help my bottom line.

All I can tell you is that the time that I devoted—to really defining the culture, defining the ideal client, defining the ideal employee—really has created explosive growth for my agency and really made me fall in love with what I do all over again.

ROB: How has that affected the team? I sensed that some of your team, when I talked to them, feel tremendously grateful and loyal.

DANICA: Oh, gosh, I’m grateful to them. They’re so smart. It’s a podcast, so you can’t tell my age, but I’ll put it to you this way: I’m hiring people the age of my kids. Everybody right now in my age group bellyaches about this millennial workforce and how entitled they are. I feel exactly the opposite. I think it’s the most exciting workforce ever.

The complaint about millennials is they come in and they want to be CEO. I look at them and I say, “How amazing that you care that much about my business that you want to be CEO of it. Let me empower you. Let me make you a CEO of your fiefdom. That’s your area, and I will provide you support and you’ve got a team around you, but you own it.”

They’re amazing. I just feel really, really fortunate to have the best team. But I wouldn’t have this great team if I hadn’t forced myself to sit down and say, “This is what I want the culture of my agency to look like,” and then also ask them, “Where do you want to work? What kind of place do you want to work?”

I grew up in a different industry. All the learnings I had from the industry I grew up in were wrong. So I had to do a lot of unlearning to be a better manager, and I’m still learning. I am far from perfect. You want to turn this into a comedy show? Bring the team in and have them tell stories. [laughs]

ROB: That may be the follow-up. Maybe we should do video sessions where we sit with the podcast guests and the team and listen to the episode, to have kind of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary. That’s a good idea. I like it.

DANICA: And maybe the team members can be in the background with signs that say “I call B.S. on this one” or “That’s true!” [laughs]

ROB: It could be like the commercial studies where you have a little dial that you can turn based on whether you’re interested or not interested or agree or not. You know what I’m talking about? Like when they’re studying if a commercial is effective. We could do that. It would be interesting. Agree, disagree, the baloney meter. I don’t know what we want to call it.

DANICA: The baloney meter, yeah.

ROB: Danica, what’s coming up? You talked a lot about the future already, but what in particular is coming up for Everywhere or marketing in general that you’re excited about?

DANICA: If we want to talk about influencer marketing, I think we’re going to continue to be able to fine-tune the analytics around that. Our agency is definitely exploring how we can be even better at tracking the impact of storytelling on future purchase behaviors. Definitely love speaking out about that.

We just recently completed a survey—we surveyed 400 micro-influencers because we were really, really curious to find out—With this increase in spend in the industry overall, are influencers seeing more dollars in their pocketbooks? The answer was yes, influencers are seeing an increase in spend. The cost per price, the cost per post has increased for them. So that was definitely an interesting insight.

Hopefully, brands are going to realize that influencers are not just this marching brand—taking my advertising message and pushing it out there—but influencers are creating really amazing content that brands can repurpose. You’ve hired the influencer; you’ve asked them to talk about your product or brand. They’ve created gorgeous, visually rich content. What are you doing with that content?

In the survey we just completed, we asked influencers: “How many of the brands are repurposing your content?” The answer was disappointing. Only 13% of brands are repurposing content. Mind you, these aren’t the brands we work with. Our brands are amazing at repurposing content.

But brands in general are just not repurposing that content, and I think it’s because so many brands are still caught in that advertising mindset where, “I have to do this perfectly curated image, and I have to hire models, and I have to have it be in a visually pristine set”—as opposed to using content that the people who love their products are creating.

So I’m very excited to start seeing influencers being called content creators, not just marketers. Does that make sense?

ROB: Yeah. I think you’re highlighting a huge lost opportunity in content that would shine in its authenticity. I think perhaps you’re helping educate the market a good bit, even, in understanding that value and transcending that celebrity mindset. All the celebrity content is going to be perfectly produced as well, right?

DANICA: Yes.

ROB: When someone wants to get in touch with you and with Everywhere, how can they find you?

DANICA: Oh, my goodness, we’re “everywhere.”

ROB: [laughs] Yeah, on LinkedIn it says you have 400 employees.

DANICA: Oh, my gosh, that is the problem with an agency name like Everywhere. A lot of people location check in “everywhere” on Facebook. [laughs] You definitely get some strange people when your agency name is Everywhere.

Good old-fashioned email still works, I think. Landlines, not so much. Do you have a landline, Rob?

ROB: Regrettably, yes. I wish I did not. But not for the business.

DANICA: So your business does not have a landline?

ROB: That is correct.

DANICA: We still have a landline, and I have to confess when it rings, we kind of look at this device and we go, “That’s odd. Who’d be calling here?” Of course, it’s always a salesperson.

But, yeah. We’re everywhereagency.com. I definitely have a complicated name, but I can spell it out if you need. My name is Danica, just like Danica Patrick. So danica@everywhereagency.com.

ROB: That’s fantastic.

DANICA: Or call Rob.

ROB: Call me? On my landline at home?

DANICA: Call Rob on his landline at home.

ROB: I’ll put you in touch with Danica.

DANICA: Rob is like my road dog. We’ve done South by Southwest together every year for like 3 years running, and last year you abandoned me.

ROB: I did. I missed it this year. Sounds like you had to just fill in and do it right in my stead.

DANICA: It was awful. I would show up to parties and Rob wasn’t there. I could always see Rob at parties at South by Southwest because he’s so tall. Even though I’m an extrovert, when I get to a party I’m like, “I don’t know anybody!” I’d look around, “There’s Rob!” You always were so friendly, and you’d take me under your wing and introduce me around and make me feel less lonely, so I appreciate you for that, Rob.

ROB: I don’t know how anybody could not be friendly with you, Danica. You’re wonderful.

DANICA: Thank you. So are you.

ROB: Thank you for coming on. Thank you for sharing. We’ll get this available to everyone, and I think they can learn a lot about focus, which you highlighted, and knowing the business that you want to be in and how to stay in those lanes and how to choose what you don’t want to do, sometimes by experience as well. That’s great. Thank you, Danica.

DANICA: Thank you.

ROB: Have a great one.

DANICA: Okay, awesome.

ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.

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