An Interview with Kevin Planovsky and Kelsey Agnew of Vert

Every month we interview one of our fabulous clients to learn about the opportunities and challenges they face every day, to learn from them. This month we spoke to Kevin Planovsky, Co-Founder and Principal of Vert and Kelsey Agnew, Vert’s Director of Strategic Planning. Vert’s position as a mobile-first digital marketing agency gives them a unique perspective on the use of audience insights and consumer data, especially in terms of mobility and personalization.

SpotRight: Vert talks about specializing in brand experiences across a multitude of channels, including digital, social, mobile, and emerging media. What exactly does that mean?

Kevin Planovsky: What it means is we’re really pushing the edge here, right? We’re focused on new, exciting Kevinthings that people are figuring out on the fly. That’s where the social, and the emerging, and the mobile component comes in. There are not many agencies, if any, that can say: hey, we’ve been really focused on mobility and the mobile use case in terms of digital marketing for eight years or more. And that’s the story we have to tell. It’s about forward thinking, staying on that cutting edge, and finding ways to tell stories and interact with folks on behalf of brands in those arenas. Based on our practice and how it’s evolved, we’re sitting at the intersection of data and creativity. That’s why we work with you guys, because data, whether it’s real time, or it’s audience data, or it’s performance metrics, is really the source.

They’re like the constant 24/7 series of focus groups and surveys that are happening all the time with all of our campaigns. We just have to tap into those to help inform what we should do next.

SpotRight: So working in mobile, social and emerging channels, you probably work with a lot of influencers. Is that the case?

Kevin: I think the term influencer gets thrown around a lot, but we think of influencers as media. We don’t do outreach to bloggers, editorial type PR, or digital PR per se. When we think about influencers, we just think about them as content creators, branded content creators.

SpotRightThat makes sense, especially as I think that as kind of the way people consume media. How do you choose the right influencers to work with?

Kelsey Agnew: We start with two things when we go into a campaign. We start with the goals, the business goals.Kelsey We think about what the brand is trying to achieve, and why they’re looking to digital to achieve it. And then we look at the audience, who are they trying to engage with and reach with this campaign, and how do we map those goals to this audience in a way that makes sense for this audience.

So a lot of times when we work with influencers it’s because it seems like one of the best avenues for the brand to reach that audience, or those target audiences in an authentic way. It is that branded content creator approach that Kevin mentioned; we’re looking to work with people who are a really natural fit for our brands, and whose audiences are going to get excited about the partnership because the influencer is excited about the partnership.

We don’t choose people because they have a million followers, or because they necessarily create super original content. We choose to work with someone when we feel like our brand or product fits into their feed and what their audience already likes, so it feels natural and makes a lot of sense for the people who are seeing it.

Kevin: The client’s business goal is a huge determinant in that because we have a lot of brands that have physical brick and mortar locations or products, and not always as many that have an ecommerce or a direct response model. It’s also important to know what budget influencer marketing comes out of, often times it’s fueled by a paid media budget, and then know how that budget is being governed. We’re spending a lot of time these days consulting with our clients about direct response, or even just performance based engagement models of spending media, versus the actual kind of reach, frequency, and brand impact of just being impressed upon by a well-crafted message from an endorser, even if it’s a paid endorser.

So mapping that out to the product type, client expectations, and what the budgets are really there to do will determine whether or not we should leverage what people refer to as influencers.

SpotRight:  It makes a lot of sense to start with the business goals. Kevin, you’ve written quite a bit about the need to be mobile first. Why do you think that’s so important, and what do you mean by that?

Kevin: In the beginning we were a mobile focused only agency, but very quickly realized that mobile is just a paradigm of interaction for every other channel, and so we’ve shifted the way that we think about it, and continue to pivot with that. It just comes down to two or three things. Number one is the ubiquity of it, that smartphone penetration is finally in a place where it’s commonplace. The socioeconomic area doesn’t matter; there are smartphones everywhere and the capabilities that come with them are widespread, so we should take advantage of that.

Second is what mobile unlocks. It’s a little personal computer in everyone’s pocket, so that means the data is related to you, that individual user. You don’t have the conundrum of retargeting on a shared computer that a husband and wife or family might be using. And you can really truly start to have some one-to-one data capture, modeling, analysis, and engagement.

Third is just that it’s always there and people look at their phone because it’s just quicker and easier. The entire internet is there, it’s just packaged in a different way. And so when we talk about mobile first, it’s the idea that you don’t have a mobile department, it’s not a standalone tactic, it’s not a separate line item in your budget. It’s literally in everything we think about or do, we need to keep in mind a smaller, personal, private screen. Little things like do people have or want the sound on or off when they experience this thing we’re going to create, down to what’s the geographic context based on the time of the day that we’re targeting this type of person? We have the ability to leverage all this, so we should take advantage of that more and realize that it is very much the first screen.

SpotRight:  Thank you. Kelsey, I read in a blog that you recently published a comment that marketing can’t be a one size fits all approach. What sparked that comment, and what did you mean by that?

Kelsey: What I mean by that goes back to the audiences part of how we launch a campaign, or plan a campaign. Every consumer does not have the same lifestyle,  behavior, demographics, location, or whatever we might be looking for. Every consumer doesn’t match all of those criteria perfectly, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to engage with them. We try to think about all of those factors when we put together a strategy, and how that creates different types of audiences.

We tend to start with lifestyle, then demographics, and then geography always layers in there, especially for location based clients, like our restaurant clients. But really it’s the idea that we can’t say the same thing to every person we want to talk to and expect it to resonate in the same way. So we customize those messages and the creative, and the platform for the different audiences, and their lifestyles and behaviors that we can identify in that initial step.

SpotRightDo you find that most marketers actually personalize their messaging, or do you think that it tends not to happen as much as it should?

Kelsey: I think that people are starting to personalize more, agencies in particular. I think that at Vert we have the advantage being mobile first and younger, so we’re not going through rough, transitional growing pains like some older, bigger, more traditional agencies are, where they are used to one big creative idea that’s just going to kill it. We have grown up thinking of all the different ways and different places that we can convey a message, and so from the beginning we’ve been creating slightly different messages for slightly different applications and for different people.

The people part has become a lot more important over the past 18 to 24 months. I think that data has become a little less chaotic, and tools like SpotRight are making it easier for us to build those target audience profiles, learning about the people we’re talking to. I think that more agencies and brands are customizing their messages, but it’s been a little slow moving for bigger, traditional agencies, I think. Many large agencies that work with bigger brands are still leading with television a lot of the time. So they’re coming up with the core concept for TV, and then their digital concepts are iterations on that core TV concept. Instead we start with digital first, we’re not coming up with one huge message that is meant to say it all in a few words. We’re coming up with more variations from the beginning.

SpotRightThat makes a lot of sense. If I may, can I ask why you chose to partner with SpotRight?

Kelsey: I think it comes back to really wanting to understand our audiences and not just at a demographic and/or geographic level, we want to understand their interests, their behaviors, their lifestyles, so that we can figure out how our brands best fit into those lifestyles. Just looking at someone’s age, race, gender, and location doesn’t give us the information that we need. We’d still have to make a lot of assumptions in that case; unless we have lived that lifestyle we can’t really know how we best fit into it.

Instead once we have more of that contextual information, we can really start to see: okay, this is why these people follow our brand, our purchase our brand. And here’s how we can grow that relationship, or here’s how we might be able to tap into a new audience that doesn’t currently know about us but it seems like they would be excited about us, based on how this other audience has engaged with us in the past.

Kevin: I would also add to that, the reasons we partner with SpotRight are twofold. One is a for discovery, finding little insights, partnerships, TV shows, other things they follow or say, or are influenced by that would almost be little blind spots, right? The other reason is for validation. When we bring together data from multiple sources and compare it with some of the data that SpotRight has, we start to build a more complete and validated profile. Then the things that resonate in each of the different arenas that we’re ingesting data from, the ones that overlap and are going to show up multiple times, those really rise to the top. We understand there’s something special there. So sometimes it’s discovery and blind spot coverage, sometimes it’s validation, but really it’s to get and leverage a broad perspective about the consumer. I would say it all goes back to data. I think there’s a major renaissance in digital marketing that’s rooted in data, and lookalikes, and things of that nature.

What’s more, we can’t just rely on data to fuel things like custom audiences for ads; we need to be able to allow it to the fuel the idea and the messaging we come up with to begin with. And that’s where tools like SpotRight and others come in for us, in that planning process.

SpotRight:  Thank you. I’m glad to hear that. It means that we are doing our job right, because that’s something we were hoping to help people with! Many thanks to you both for your time!