Yoann Pavy, head of Digital Marketing for Depop tells us how the all-conquering peer-to-peer fashion network is leveraging social media to engage with an increasingly fragmented Generation Z audience.

The return of direct-to-consumer (DTC) as a viable model and marketing buzzword has been hogging the column inches recently, but beneath the surface, peer-to-peer, another model as old as time has been quietly making its comeback. 

If there is one brand that symbolizes this, it’s Depop. Originally a readers’ network for fashion magazine PIG, since 2011, the London-based fashion app has conquered the world without anyone really noticing. With over 16 million users in 147 countries and plans to extend further into Europe and Asia, curiously Depop is largely unknown to those over 30. That’s because, alongside its position as being one of the largest fashion-led communities on the planet, the brand’s audience is also among the youngest. The bulk of the company’s users are between 15 and 24.

The community is at the heart of Depop’s success. The app is probably best described as a hybrid between Instagram and eBay, where sellers and customers alike can come together, share images, sell and buy items of clothing. Hailed as an antidote to wasteful fast-fashion, the company has revitalized the market for secondhand clothing, attracting a vibrant, socially conscious audience in the process. Showing the power of this remarkable blend of purpose and fan passion, many marketers predictions apps like Depop are on course to eclipse fast fashion brands within the next ten years.

Unsurprisingly for such a youth-focussed brand, social media has been the bedrock for Depop’s remarkable growth, and Yoann Pavy has been the person most responsible for pushing the brand’s digital marketing further. With a background in engineering and performance marketing, he has combined a data-led approach with an intuitive sense of creativity. Since taking over in 2018, Pavy has been busy navigating the fashion company through increasingly choppy waters as its audience fragments and migrates across an ever-widening galaxy of platforms. The solution, as he told a packed room at the Festival of Marketing a few weeks ago, is content focussed around a deceptively simple guiding principle. “We just repost cool shit from our community. That’s the core of our whole strategy.”

I quizzed Pavy on the ins and outs of Depop’s social strategy and found out the challenges and opportunities that face marketers looking to work with Generation Z. 

Can you start off by telling us how is Depop’s social team telling your brand’s story?

I see it as our job to always represent Depop’s community. We work on the principle that if they succeed, we succeed. Over time, we’ve learned to superimpose that idea onto our social media strategy, and I think we’ve now honed in on the best combination. People tend to trust other people, especially the younger generation, so we try and use our content to place our audience right up there, on the main stage.

How have you gone about bringing those principles to life? What’s the big-picture overview of Depop’s social strategy?

To start with, we’ve set up the team so that we can make sure all our disciplines work very closely together. It’s crucial that everyone here is in sync. It doesn’t matter if you’re on paid media or our organic team, everyone needs to have a clear idea of where engagement comes from and share what’s working and what’s not.

Another huge aspect of our strategy is freedom. We probably have the loosest brief in the company, and that means we can be very flexible when it comes to the type and the subject matter of the content we publish. These platforms can move very quickly, and it’s essential for everyone who works on social to be able to be on the pulse and be able to follow the zeitgeist as it happens. Having that level of internal freedom means that we can bold and opinionated enough to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.

Many brands prefer to take a more planned approach to social content, whereas Depop tends to emphasize spontaneity and reactiveness. In your opinion, where does the balance lie?

I’m not sure if you can balance the two. Sure, we plan content, but you can’t plan to be reactive, I mean, how can you prepare a response to something that hasn’t even happened yet. It comes back to that idea of freedom; we don’t operate with rigid publishing schedules or anything like that. We have content pillars for our business as usual output, but we try not to be overly structured, as the best results come when you’ve allowed some space for movement.

“My personal rule of thumb is that if any decision has to pass by more than three people, then there are too many people involved in social marketing.”

In a way, it comes back to the setup. I’ve seen it many times; some companies are desperate to be able to tap into the zeitgeist but are utterly blocked by the way their teams are structured. It just takes too long for the social manager to get sign off, so that the moment is already gone when they try to post. For Depop, we’ve attempted to create an environment where our creators can make decisions very, very quickly. My personal rule of thumb is that if any decision has to pass by more than three people, then there are too many people involved in social marketing.

That’s true, but there’s a lot of old school brand managers and traditional marketers who aren’t willing to give social teams that much leeway. How should social marketers be fighting their corner?

Yeah, you see it all the time. A business might want to do social but doesn’t understand the input or the output and respond by putting structures and restrictions in place that limit what you can and can’t do. The problem with that is that it creates this vicious cycle. It kills any sense of adaptability and responsiveness that you might have, making the whole point of doing social pointless and reinforcing this idea that it isn’t that effective. 

I think it’s really important that brands trust their social teams, but also social marketers are good at communicating what they do. I’ll be honest, it’s something that we’re still working on, but in my opinion, being able to show engagement is the most vital thing. I mean, we also look at business KPIs, like app installs and sales, but I really feel that these are secondary metrics engagement is the thing that matters. It’s only here that social media can make a real difference to brands.

More and more brands are bringing their social marketing more in line with their other activities. Are you making the argument that CMOs should actually be putting a bit of a wall between social and their other teams?

I wouldn’t go as far as that. We take a very holistic view of digital at Depop, and we’re continually trying to find the balance between presenting collective message while giving each team the right amount of leeway to operate. That doesn’t mean that we’re all in our siloes either.  It’s just acknowledging that our team moves as fast as the content is moving on our platforms.

Depop does talk to a unique Generation Z audience, how is this holistic approach helping you to reach to this community?

The main thing is grabbing their attention where they spend their attention. You need to be looking for ways to build your engagement on Instagram, Snapchat and increasingly TikTok, as these are the platforms that are most active in terms of Gen Z. 

I also think companies need to change their approach when they’re talking to younger people. Appealing to Generation Z is more about baking value into your social media comms; you should be aspiring to give your audience a voice through your content rather than just selling, selling, selling. You need to have a point to exist on each platform. You should always be asking yourself; what’s the story I’m telling and what value are you bringing to the community.

You say this, but many marketers are still coming up with very robotic approaches to social media. Are too many marketers scared of social?

Absolutely. Right now, we’re living in an age of remarkable innovation in marketing, with a level of granularity you could only dream about a few years ago, but all these moving parts freak a lot of people out. Things are moving so fast that people have retreated into a bit of a bunker-type mentality—-they’re building whole social strategies based on what they’ve read or what they’ve been told by friends.

It’s funny, actually. A couple of weeks ago someone was saying how Instagram wouldn’t work for their brand as their message is mostly towards a B2B audience and everything that they were hearing was that B2B doesn’t work on Instagram. I was like, “Have you tried it?” In my experience, there’s an audience for pretty much everything on every type of social platform. I just don’t buy the argument that this platform works best for this or this platform works best for that?

The social media sector only ever seems to get more complicated. How should marketers get to grips with social?

Just concentrate on getting the basics right; a big part of that is by being hands-on. Look, we’re in between generations both in terms of technology and how digital marketing is evolving, so, for me, marketers must understand how these platforms work. You should be experiencing and experimenting with the platform for yourself and not just relying on what your daughter tells you.

I’d urge all marketers, whether they work on the digital side or not, to get into the habit of trying things out. Whether it works or not isn’t really the point; it’ll help you to understand the intricacies and complexities of social because truth be told, it really isn’t all that simple. A lot of people tend to forget that marketers are practitioners and that sometimes means having to practice every now and again.