Cariuma, which describes itself as a “conscious footwear brand,” was launched in 2018 by cofounders David Python and Fernando Porto. They connected because they shared similar values about sustainable product development while placing a priority on employee wellness.
Cariuma is a certified B Corporation that plants two trees in the Brazilian rainforest for every pair of its classic evergreen styles sold.
When Cariuma partnered with strategic consulting and digital media firm January Digital three years ago, it began with the simple remit of helping the brand scale and improving media performance. By all accounts, both companies were successful, showing consecutive years of double-digit growth and performance improvement. In one example of their success, January Digital’s strategic shifts within Facebook led to an 18 percent increase in customer conversion and a 67 percent uptick in the click-through rate.
But something else happened: The companies developed a collaborative method that transcends the typical brand-agency relationship. Here, Vic Drabicky, chief executive officer and founder of January Digital, and Felipe Araujo, Cariuma’s chief digital officer, discuss their partnership, the cultural synergies that make it succeed, and strategies to consider in a market saturated with messages and social channels.
WWD: How would you describe the value proposition of an agency and the collaboration process?
Vic Drabicky: As an agency, one of the big benefits is you get to work with different people, different businesses, and different clients. It’s always interesting to see how everybody runs their business. I think the downside of being an agency is a lot of times clients treat it like you’re outsourced HR. And I think that diminishes what agencies can bring to the table. And I think what we’ve always found with Felipe in particular as a person, but also with Cariuma, is that it’s never felt that way.
It has legitimately felt like we are all at the same company, running at the exact same thing. And because we started with that feeling, we’ve been able to build our partnership in a way that’s totally different.
Felipe Araujo: I think that with agencies, there’s always kind of an “us versus them” mindset. And I don’t understand why you then partner with an agency if you want to have that type of conversation. And you’re always thinking you want to keep the agency on their toes and you’re not giving them all the information or trying to test them. That’s not how it should be.
We should give them all information that we have, welcome them in, show them how we measure success and align our goals together — versus just telling them, “This is the goal. Get there.”
I think it’s just a different perspective. It should be the same way when you hire someone to work on your team — as you should “hire” an agency.
But it’s not always roses, and not always amazing. We do have discussions, and back and forth. But it comes from a place where we both want success and understand what success is. And it comes from a place of transparency.
V.D.: We also want to be proud of the work we do. We don’t want to just do the same things that everyone has already done. We’ve got to challenge ourselves to do something differently, let the organization do it differently, let the agency do it differently. And so that sort of challenge is something that, from an agency-owner side, you love because you know the people that are going to work on that account are going to grow.
WWD: How has the partnership between your agency and Cariuma changed?
V.D.: If you look over our relationship for the past several years, Cariuma has done unbelievable and incredible things. It’s gone from being a shoe company with a good idea to a brand having multiple medal winners at the last Olympics and Helen Mirren wearing your shoes on the red carpet. So, we’re grateful to play a small role in a brand that has exploded and succeeded in the right way.
WWD: Can you go deeper into the idea of creating a new standard for the collaboration between agency and brand? How do you measure success the same way?
V.D.: It goes back to what we said earlier. It’s not like the agency tells the brand to test a campaign and then say, “well, let’s see if they’re right.” It is Cariuma and January Digital both pushing and pulling on this before moving forward to test it. And we are going to collectively win together and lose together. Now there’s a ton of accountability in there, but that’s how we bring great ideas to them. So that’s a core piece of it. It is also easy because the product is really good, the communications are really good and their press is really good.
F.A.: We want accountability, and don’t want just “yes men.” With January Digital, we have a relationship that is open to pushback and receptive to pushback. That is what helps us move forward.
WWD: With campaigns, how do you manage your brand across multiple social channels? What’s required to maintain your brand attributes?
F.A.: It’s really tough. It’s not an easy feat. I think, especially today, everybody’s falling and trying to go after the next big thing. Everybody seems to have seen a decline in efficiency and a lot of the more traditional digital marketing channels got crowded. Everyone is trying new things, and seeing if there is an opportunity on TikTok, Pinterest or Snapchat.
Instead, we ask if we should test. And yes, we’re agnostic to the platform, but I think ultimately, we need to feel really good about the audience that we’re going to reach and the creative that we’re going to reach that audience with, while also understanding where it fits into the customer journey, right? Because we don’t want it to just be, “OK, we’re going to re-target this one person across all eight platforms.” That becomes annoying and ineffective.
While you want to circle the user, you want to circle the user in a thoughtful way. You have to have an understanding of what each platform’s strengths and weaknesses are, and what role each platform plays in the customer journey. And what we should really think about is the creative that we want to show in that part of the journey.
There are platforms that we haven’t jumped onto just yet, because we haven’t felt confident in the audience that is there, and in the creative that platform requires. And I think that’s primarily the most important thing. The brand should not do anything that they don’t feel confident and comfortable about just because they’re trying to chase performance or they’re trying to chase the next big thing.
V.D.: I’m a firm believer that whenever one thing happens, there’s an unexpected reaction somewhere. One of the greatest unexpected reactions of iOS changes is that it forced agencies and brands alike to think about things like creative and messaging, much more than previously being like, “Ah, throw it on Facebook. The old algorithm will take care of it.”
Well, you can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to be much more intentional about what your messaging and creative should look and feel like. And it’s a little bit of a return to the glory days of agencies and brands that have some real creative thought around, “Let’s not just throw it on the platform. Let’s use this creative for this audience and for this portion of the journey.”
So, I think brands like Cariuma that have caught onto that are just so far ahead of everyone else who’s still just trying to react and be like, “Where’s my performance? Forget the rest of it.” For us, it’s really rewarding. And I think this approach is a strength of ours. When you find brands that see it that same way, it’s super fun. You get to do some cool things together. And while everyone else is complaining about iOS changes, we’re talking about growth.