NOTE: This audio was recorded before social distancing regulations were implemented, and since the spread of COVID-19, your influencer marketing is probably looking a little different these days. We think you’ll still find Amy’s information valuable, and we look forward to seeing how you support your audience and your influencers and adjust your influencer marketing to stay safe during this crisis.
Ever wish you could be the person who taste tests new ice cream flavors? (Same.) For Amy Verhey, though, that’s not just an ice cream dream — it’s her reality. Along with being a member of Tillamook’s Supertasters, she also works as Tillamook’s senior marketing manager, where she applies her experience from Edelman, Starbucks, HP, Netflix, Ghirardelli and PayPal to make Tillamook one of the biggest household names in dairy through ingenious campaigns such as creating a national holiday.
So hunker down, whip up some Tillamook mac and cheese and hit play to make your quarantine a little more enjoyable.
- The food and beverage industry presents the unique challenge of standing out from many competitors where everyone is already a consumer. You have to get creative with your differentiation.
- When building an influencer network for your brand, you have to figure out the right way for an influencer to talk to a market depending on the relationship they have with your brand.
- Compare organic influencer content and boosted content to understand trends and maximize your campaign’s ROI.
Interview with Tillamook
Perlu: Hello, and welcome to Perlu’s influencer marketing podcast: Influencer Marketing Reimagined. Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Amy Verhey, senior Tillamook marketing manager. Amy oversees Tillamook’s partnerships and events channels. She and her stellar team build partnerships on behalf of Tillamook with influencers, brands, chefs and other experts who can help reach their target audience.
Amy has been at Tillamook for almost two years and is also a part of their sensory Supertasters task force, helping to evolve their flavor profiles in ice cream. Such a dream job. Outside of work, she volunteers with the Portland Culinary Alliance and is always looking to track down a good meal. Prior to joining Tillamook, Amy was at Edelman PR in the San Francisco office. She was a part of the US influencer team in supporting all inbound influencer programs in the San Francisco Bay area. Some of her biggest clients were HP, PayPal, Starbucks, Ghirardelli and Netflix. Amy was part of the team that built influencer marketing for Edelman, creating new processes across the company that helped clients exceed their goals.
I’m your host, Alexis Trammell. If you enjoy today’s episode, we hope you sign up for Perlu to learn more about how you can grow your influencer marketing career. Thank you so much for joining us today, Amy.
Amy Verhey: Happy to be here.
Why don’t you tell us more about yourself and your role at Tillamook today?
Amy Verhey: I am the senior marketing manager, and I oversee what we call the Partnership Channel. Tillamook is a five-category dairy brand. We’re based out in Oregon. I work in Portland, Oregon. We’re probably most well-known for our cheese and ice cream. But the Partnership Channel itself has a lot going on — a lot of fun things — but specifically, we oversee any influencer marketing, hence why this is a great conversation. We also apply that same thinking with influencer marketing to any partner that Tillamook would want to go into a marketing program with.
So that would include brands and publishers like Bon Appetit Magazine or Food and Wine. It also includes any of our chef partners. Tillamook cheese is the most menu-mentioned cheese in the country, oddly enough, which is very exciting for us. So there’s a lot of awesome chefs out there who are already using Tillamook and love using us in their restaurants or in their recipes for cookbooks and things like that. We deem them as part of our Partnership Channel. Separate from those categories, we also oversee any consumer PR as well as any events that would be consumer-facing.
What would you say was your biggest influencer marketing success with those brands?
Amy Verhey: Yeah, Edelman was very fun. I was on our brand-consumer team doing a lot of brand awareness for consumer-facing clients like those that you’ve mentioned. I also was part of the US influencer team. Probably in about 2017, Edelman wanted to formalize their process of how they work with influencers across the company. Edelman being the largest PR firm privately held, it was a really cool opportunity. So I sat in our San Francisco office and got to work on a ton of different clients, a lot of which you mentioned that were more part of the consumer brand team that I was part of, or just any influencer asks that came from a client, whether it was a new client, existing client, from health, FinTech, corporate, digital, you name it. We were a small but mighty team in San Francisco that really got to see every influencer project happening in that office. So the gamut of the kind of programs that we’ve run was pretty wide. It was really exciting to see what a client needed help with and then find the right partners to bring that to life.
Perlu: Yeah, for sure.
Is there any specific breed of campaign that we would recognize that you could speak to?
Amy Verhey: Absolutely. For Starbucks, we worked with them on large scale initiatives. Edelman has a great relationship with the Starbucks business. Early 2018, they launched a credit card. They teamed up with Chase, and they did a co-branded credit card and then also a prepaid card. And that campaign sticks out to me because I think the financial space allows you to get a little bit more creative with who you work with. Finances, honestly —similar to cheese and ice cream — is something that everyone deals with, and everyone has their own personal approach to it. So from an influencer marketing perspective, I feel like it was so exciting to be able to team up with such a wide array of influencers and give them the platform to tell their own story. So we worked with a woman down in Southern California who had four children and was dealing with the woes of grocery shopping and soccer practice and birthday parties and how a credit card could be there for her.
We also worked with a woman who was on the East coast and a lot of her followers, oddly enough, were up-and-coming artists but in a younger space, so a lot of high school or college kids. They’re learning how to have their first credit card or balance a checkbook to make sure they don’t have debt, or whatnot. So we were able to tap into so many different influencers and then tell a holistic story. And the Starbucks credit card, it’s great. It was low entry; if you already were a Starbucks customer, it worked really well for you. So we could have them all craft their own story but we didn’t have to get into the weeds of what it’s like to really manage a budget and things like that, which you would see with another financial client of ours. So that was definitely a very fun, very creative campaign. I personally love when we can find ways to tell different stories. Each influencer out there is so unique, and so I think that was really successful in that sense.
Perlu: Oh, I love that so much.
Perlu: Amy, this is so cool. I love how creative these campaigns have been for you.
What would you say has been the most creative influencer marketing campaign you’ve done with Tillamook so far?
Amy Verhey: Tillamook is very different from a lot of the clients I worked on at Edelman. At Edelman, I was working with huge, big names that a lot of people know. Starbucks, Ghirardelli, HP. Tillamook is growing, which is one of the things I was really excited about when I joined. So in 2018, Tillamook decided to go national. We were very well known on the West coast, but there were some cool opportunities that the leadership team decided to take advantage of and we decided to go national. And so, for my job with the influencer marketing space, we are dealing with two different components. We have some consumers out there who have grown up with us, who have loved us. They wouldn’t dare put another cheese in their fridge if it weren’t Tillamook. And then there are other influencers who honestly struggle to say our name and they’re like, “Who are you? What’s going on?”
That creates a really cool challenge with influencer marketing because we know there’s so much data out there that tells us influencer marketing helps build trust. It helps build a lot of brand awareness. We get to figure out what’s the right way to talk to a market depending on the relationship they may have with Tillamook.
One of our most recent campaigns that we just wrapped up is called National Cheddar Day. We created this day on Tillamook’s birthday, which is February 13th, as a way to really celebrate and introduce Tillamook. So on the West coast with people who know us really well, it’s such a fun way for them to get a little bit creative and fun with how they enjoy Tillamook. We had one influencer, Carlene Flores, who did a cheese poll competition between macaroni and cheese, a quesadilla and grilled cheese. She lives in Oregon. She knows the brand really well, and we work with her all the time, so she had so much celebrating cheddar.
On the other side of things, we did a lot of awesome programming in what we like to call the frontier, which is our expansion area. Think Atlanta down to Florida, and then make your way up the East coast. For those markets, we teamed up with some awesome chefs who know us really well for a variety of reasons. There’s a brother and sister in Atlanta, Howard and Anita Hsu, who have a barbecue shop called Sweet Auburn Barbecue. They’re very well known for these pimento cheese wontons that are made with Tillamook and they’re amazing if you’re ever in Atlanta. On National Cheddar Day they actually made us a whole new menu item.
They made this sizzling, cheesy brisket fried rice, and then we were able to demo it at the Bon Appetit test kitchens with Brad Leone. They will also have it on their menu in Atlanta for about a month. So we really got to do a whole different host of things. At the end of the day, we were just trying to build the brand awareness of Tillamook in a very fun way, so we can do it in a variety of ways in a market like Atlanta where they maybe know us a little bit, they’ve seen us in their grocery store, but they definitely don’t know us as well as someone who lives in Portland, Oregon, who can find almost every single product at their grocery store.
Perlu: That is so cool. You invented your own holiday. It’s actually really well-known from what I’ve been hearing. I’m really excited that you guys were able to do that.
Besides the huge awareness now of National Cheddar Day, how do you measure return on investment from these influencer campaigns?
Amy Verhey: Totally. Something we talk about all the time is the influencer work that’s happening in Tillamook because our national expansion is very top-of-the-funnel. We’re very focused on brand awareness. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to test more opportunities to try and get a little bit further down the funnel, especially toward consideration and things like that. We work with an agency that allows us to do some really strategic performance marketing tactics on the influencer content. Typically, we’ll leverage the influence or content on Tillamook marketing channels. But instead, one thing that we try to do is really boost content on the influencers’ channel. They’re the ones whose voices and creative resonate best with those followers. By applying some of those paid media tactics, whether it’s dark boosting or using it as ad units, we can make sure that the content we work so hard to create is actually reaching the right audience.
And for brands expanding so much, it’s helpful for us when we want to go a little bit heavier in, say, Atlanta and celebrate those pimento cheese wontons, or the new brisket recipe or a special that may be happening at a local grocery store. We are still looking at things like clicks, engagement rate and impressions that a lot of brands are looking at, but we can compare and contrast an organic piece of content and all the results on that with a piece of content that we boosted against a Tillamook target audience in a key market of ours.
And that allows us to have a little bit more control of the influencer content and really understand the ROI. We see tons of trends that way as well. Certain influencers for certain stories or approaches work really well for us during different times a year. So outside of things like National Cheddar Day, we have an always-on campaign that will kind of bring a lot of those learnings back to and be able to get really strategic and pinpointed so we can help get more people learning about Tillamook.
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Perlu: That’s awesome. So, now I’m curious, you’ve come from an agency background and now you’re doing Tillamook marketing in-house.
What would you say are the big differences between working at a brand and working at an agency whenever it comes to working with influencers? Do the relationships look different from either side?
Amy Verhey: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think it’s definitely something you get to know once you go through the experience. Agency side, I have worked with some amazing clients over a long period of time, and from a relationship standpoint I was lucky to build some really cool relationships with our partners. But I think you only can go so far at the agency side. So now being in-house at Tillamook, it’s an amazing opportunity where I can foster really awesome relationships with our partners. Whether those be traditional influencers, chefs or some other super-fan consumer out there who loves Tillamook, because I am on the brand side that there’s more at my fingertips. I have more control of what our annual plan looks like, and I can see the opportunities a little bit better than I could’ve seen on the client’s side. So relationships have been amazing. I think that there’s so much more that we can do once we are holding the budget in-house and we see the full landscape of the year and we understand what different partners can bring to the table.
And I may hear a hallway conversation about some piece of business that maybe needs a little bit of extra help, and I can go create a cool partnership right off the bat because of the relationships we have. I never would have been able to do that at Edelman. But then, it’s different. Edelman has some of the biggest clients in the country. And so it was amazing to be able to work and learn there. You do the Starbucks campaign and everyone knows who Starbucks is. You don’t have that introductory phase, so you can really dive deep into a cool, creative campaign. Same with Ghirardelli or HP. You have these household names that people know so well. So, they both totally have their benefits. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything, and I am a huge fan of cheese and ice cream.
Perlu: For sure. You mentioned you are in charge of your annual plan.
Are there any really cool programs going on right now or coming up soon that you can share with us?*
*The response Amy provides to the above question has since shifted due to COVID-19. Tillamook is now looking to team up with their partners to A) provide real support to them during this time of need and B) help collaborate around content that meets the needs of consumers now, during social distancing, etc.
Amy Verhey: Totally. So right now we are super focused on summer. As you can imagine, summer is a great opportunity for both cheese and ice cream, and it honestly has its own challenges. Everyone loves cheese and ice cream. So how do you actually break through the noise? We definitely take that more hyper-local approach that I was mentioning earlier. We have an awesome mix of markets everywhere from the New York suburbs to Atlanta. And we are crafting a very authentic approach to each of these markets, but how can we do it in a templatized way for the entire US? We can build these awesome relationships with influencers in each of these hyper-local markets, but perhaps the creative approach they’re going to take will become part of a larger national campaign.
And that way, from a Tillamook brand perspective, we can make sure that we’re doing right by our products in a way that makes sense for these markets we’re in. But at the same time, we can help those influencers not only strengthen their awareness on a local level with their local community, but also up-level that to a national campaign because we’re always looking for that national brand awareness. So, we are in the thick of planning. I don’t have a final plan yet, even though summer is about a tic tock away, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be tons of cheesy ice cream activities, a little bit of offline, a little bit online. We like to strike a balance between the two and influencers will definitely be a huge component of it.
Perlu: Awesome. Cool. So excited to see what comes up. Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing your insights. We really enjoyed hearing from you today.
Amy Verhey: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Perlu: All right, everyone, thank you so much for listening to Amy Verhey, of the Tillamook marketing department. If you like our show and are interested in what it takes to succeed in influencer marketing, check out our blog at blog.perlu.com for more podcasts and blog posts and sign up for Perlu at perlu.com to meet, mingle, connect, collaborate and grow your career. We hope you join us for our next installation of the Perlu Podcast: Influencer Marketing Reimagined.