Explainer: What is the Creator Economy

The Creator Economy puts individuals in the driver’s seat to create an authentic connection with fans, so where do brands fit into this new creative puzzle?

If influencer marketing was the buzz of the last decade, then the creator economy is its successor, supercharged by growing ability for consumers to use social and digital platforms to directly connect with their own communities and audiences. But with such tools to now cut out the middleman, be it media company or advertiser, how do brands fit into this new creative puzzle?  

The creator economy is a mix of artists, musicians, writers, designers and creatives who leverage technology to create an audience and therefore their own influential brand, explained Cheetah Digital VP go to market APAC, Billy Loizou.  

“It’s anyone whose success from online channels allows them to earn income through that influence,” he told CMO. Loizou likened it to the direct-to-consumer movement, where creators want a one-to-one relationship with their audience, freeing them from being at the mercy of social media algorithms.  

He positioned the creative movement as the new generation of social media “because these new spaces have been designed to support content producers in new ways”. “Instead of companies selling ads, creators can get paid by their individual viewers, who might buy subscriptions or crowdfund new projects,” Loizou added.  

The ranks of the creator economy continue to swell, with the pandemic driving people to move side-hustles to the next level. This is making it more challenging for individual creatives to get noticed.  

“As today’s creators move beyond simply being ‘digital billboards’ to fully-fledged direct-to-consumer businesses in their own right, brands will need to rethink how they work with creators beyond simply promoting a product, and how to take advantage of the many social platforms users have access to,” Linktree head of growth, Jessica Box, said.  

It’s also creating both new challenges and opportunities for brands. Of the challenges, brand and marketers will need to deal with fragmented audiences, rising expectations on the standard and style of content and the opaque nature of platform algorithms. Yet Box believed creators also present a huge opportunity for brands and marketers to find new ways to connect meaningfully with audiences through diverse mediums, particularly those with loyal and highly engaged followings rather than the top end expecting the big dollars.   

“From TikTok, Clubhouse to Pinterest, there are now more touchpoints for people to engage with brands,” she said.  

Read more: Why the COVID-19 crisis has elevated influencer marketing

Fostering creative connection  

An example of how brands can get into the act is ASUS, which is set to launch the Creator Xchange Hub. This open source digital community is designed to bring together creatives of all levels to collaborate, level up their craft and give back to the industry.  

Those who join the platform will benefit from sessions with mentors/KOLs/experts detailing tips and tricks to aid development in the industry. It’s also designed as a destination to source files and share creations as well as an NFT gallery to help to protect artists, make their work attractive to collectors and remunerate them accordingly.  

To encourage creators themselves, Instagram has launched NEXT, the platform’s first local festival for the creator and industry community providing exclusive workshops and panels.  

While creators may not appear to have direct impacts on brand value, they are often hidden influencers and power users of specific brands, products and services, and often have a good sense of how to improve and present them in interesting and engaging ways. According to SimpleMarketing.AI cofounder and CMO, Craig Thomler, this ‘currency’ of influence also often means they have a deep understanding of how to adapt a solution to new market needs.  

While some brands are resistant to having creators take their IP and extend it further – whether this be through storytelling or actively modifying products – Thomler said creators often are motivated by a love for the brand and its potential. He is of the view that companies should try to bring creators ‘into the fold’, providing tools to allow creators to contribute positively to the development of the brand and the products and services under it.  

While it may lead to ‘ugly’ outcomes when creators are unhappy with aspects of a brand, these are actually a growth opportunity, he argued. First, to have a conversation to understand the concerns and then to take appropriate steps to explain the brand’s rationale or to ask the community to help improve it.  

“A good example is when a US car company released a tool allowing people to create their own car ads. People used it to point out how energy inefficient the cars were, which provided an opening for the brand to have a conversation with creators on how to improve their vehicles’ sustainability,” Thomler said.  

 “Other outcomes will be positive and may lead to new line extensions, markets or product concepts that can both help expand the brand’s sales and solidify its relationship with fans who will promote it.”  

Thomler also advised brands to spend more time thinking about the potential upsides of encouraging creators to extend their IP, while putting legal considerations around potential misuse into perspective.  

“Brands that get too caught up with a legal pursuit of their biggest fans will inevitably damage their brand value, even if they win a court case,” he said. “This is rarely appropriate except where rogue creators are using a brand’s IP in ways that are seen by the brand’s fans as unethical or inappropriate. In these cases, legal action helps reinforce the common values of the brand and may strengthen its appeal.”  

Creating connection through authenticity  

While the creator economy isn’t new, it lacked the distribution capability the Internet has enabled. Thomler pointed to the ability for creators to raise their profile and their revenue capability, even turning personal creative ability into commercial careers and companies.  

“With the metaverse and digital currencies, we’re seeing an incremental increase in the capability for creators to produce and profit from their content; however, it’s nowhere near as big a leap as the arrival of the Internet itself,” he continued.  

For VMG group head of marketing, Samantha Summers, the creator economy marks a shift from attention to engagement. She believed marketers can also seize the opportunities this presents.  

“That anyone, from anywhere, with real talent or something genuinely interesting to say can use low-cost technology and tools available to them to create a business is changing the way the world views traditional brands and businesses,” she said. “It’s changing the way consumers spend their money, and for the most part, easily accessible content that is of real interest to people drives this. Suddenly, authenticity becomes a very powerful proposition.  

“It’s about engagement over attention. Old methods of talking ‘at’ consumers just because you have their attention gets lost very quickly in a sea of inspiring ideas, concepts and art.”  

With audiences engaged by ideas, stories and genuine content and more cynical of advertising than ever, Summers said brands are missing a trick by not looking at how they can embrace both the creators as well as creative principles they represent.  

"It would be wise to pivot and look at the way we market our brands as a whole, tapping into the creativity of our own businesses and people to create something genuine and then aligning with creators who share the same values,” she said. “There’s not much room for brands being something to ‘all people’, you have to choose your people, as it were.”  

Summers said tribes that form around content creators suggested people still crave the human element of connection, perhaps more than ever.  

“We are seeing more and more communities and membership clubs forming, leaning into authenticity and real connections, not away from it. So whatever happens, there will be more fragmentation, but a genuine place for every brand to reach a fully engaged audience, if harnessed in the right way,” she said.  

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