With podcasts being creative endeavors in their own right, it was only fitting that the inaugural episode of Merchantry kicked off with a deep dive into the creator economy. Our guest for the night, Kevin William David, co-founder of CreatorStack helped us do just that by peeling back the curtains into this fast-changing space.
As a ‘Top Hunter’ on Product Hunt and the former Director of Community at AngelList, Kevin’s newest venture focuses on helping creators find a direct connection with their audience, turning them into ‘super-fans’ and monetizing the content that they work so hard for. He couldn’t have picked a better time to do this, for the past year has been nothing short of revolutionary for the creator economy.
What has changed?
While the shift has been on the horizon for some time now, the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have sped up the timeline for the industry. According to Kevin, the opportunities and tools for individuals to become creators have grown exponentially over the last two or three years. With avenues such as Instagram and TikTok providing an expressway to consumers, creators of today are poised to captivate their audience in a way that simply was not possible a decade ago.
This has brought in new ways to monetize one’s content with platforms like Patreon, GumRoad, and more, popping up. Creators no longer have to rely on ad revenue on third-party platforms but instead could get paid directly from their audience with the help of things like subscriptions. This diversified income stream means more security and as a result, more people are choosing to become creators than ever before.
This trend witnessed a breaking point over the past year with the lockdowns. With people confined to their houses, not only did they start consuming more digital content, they now had the time and the tools to be a creator themselves. With a more realistic and approachable monetization strategy in place, more people are taking the leap of faith and this has resulted in the number of small to midsize creators growing exponentially and with it, the creator economy as a whole.
The lockdown created a perfect storm of events for this explosion. With movie and TV production shut down for months on end, people increasingly turned towards their favorite creators for entertainment, further cementing their role in pop culture.
Creators vs Influencers
While at first glance, these words might look interchangeable, there is a stark difference between a ‘creator’ and an ‘influencer’. According to Kevin, a creator is someone who ‘creates an asset for consumption while creating value for both the consumer and the creator’. “Engagement is the key here” he says. While influencers can create hype or interest in a product by posting about it, the connection that a creator has with their audience is more deep-rooted and substantial.
Kevin likens creators of today to D2C brands with real-time feedback from their audience. Without the constraints of months-long production cycles tying them up, creators are able to connect with their audience almost instantaneously and more importantly, directly.
The Rise of Gen-Z
The creator economy presents a new frontier for brands to fight over. With Generation Z’s growing spending power, brands are clamoring to consolidate their position online to appease a quickly shifting audience. This younger generation of audience has grown up with the internet being an inseparable part of their lives and as a result, look up to YouTubers and Twitch streamers the same way that their parents looked up to their favorite actor on their favorite TV show.
Brands need to recognize this fact and change their tactics to survive. Creator tie-ups and product drops have taken the place of TV and magazine ads. Kevin cites David Doberik’s promotional campaign with fast-food chain Chipotle as a prime example of this trend. The ‘lid flip’ challenge he created went viral, racking up hundreds of millions of views across social media platforms and made Chiptole one of the most followed brands on TikTok.
So no wonder that brands are increasingly tapping into the creator economy. Gone are the lengthy production cycles with storyboards and the need for a camera crew or a studio house. Creators provide a direct path for brands to connect directly with their target audience.
Playbook For Brands
But as a brand, how do you play your cards right? What separates a viral campaign from one that fizzles out into obscurity?
While there is no sure-fire way to success, there is a framework to follow. First, brands need to understand that collaboration means actually collaborating with the creator. After all, the creators know their audience better than anyone else and can tap into them in a way that brands just can’t. This means giving creators the creative freedom to run the campaign in an organic manner that doesn’t scream ‘PRODUCT PLACEMENT’.
The other piece of the puzzle is engagement. Having millions of followers doesn’t automatically make a creator the ideal choice for a brand to work with. They need to take a deeper look at the level of engagement the creator has built with their audience. The number of followers doesn’t matter nearly as much as the level of engagement that the creator can harvest from his/her following.
As a result, a mid-size creator with 100K engaged subscribers can provide a better bang for your buck than one with a million-plus ‘empty’ followers. It is equally important to pick a creator in a niche that organically aligns with your brand than forcing things with a collaboration based purely on the number of followers.
According to Kevin, the playbook for brands should be
- picking a creator that makes sense for your brand
- ensuring that they have an engaged audience of ‘super-fans’
- giving them the creative control to run the campaign in an organic manner that resonates with their fans
- capitalizing on the engagement
While this might not lead every brand to the promised land, following this playbook can put them in a position to succeed, which in this case means going viral like the guy skateboarding to work listening to Fleetwood Mac and drinking cranberry juice. Now, that’s a sentence that might have sounded quite odd a few years ago.
Listen to the full conversation with Kevin William David for more insights into the ever-changing dynamic between creators and brands. Tune into Merchantry on all major streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anchor, and more.