Yesterday we ran our New Patronage LinkedIn Live – the third event in our three-part Future of Influence series (check out the first part here, and the second part here). In this follow up blog, our US VP of Influencer Marketing, Gigi Ouf, discusses how brands can compete with multiple niche creator-led brands and co-branded products.
Influencer Marketing has evolved over the last 10-15 years, moving from the early days of long-form blogs, through the rise of visual formats to the rise of fully fledged social media celebrities. In this time, Creators have always had major cultural clout. Their large dedicated communities are totally invested, having helped shape their careers and make them who they are.
However, Creators know they’ve built their kingdoms on rented land and are at the mercy of the algorithms. Social platforms are being seen less of an enabler and more of a crafty middleman, with some brands looking to creators primarily for distribution purposes..
Even the biggest of creators are small fish compared to the platforms. In a saturated IM market – one dogged by demonetisation – there’s a recognition to rethink revenue streams and find a healthier way to turn a profit on their terms.
Today, Creators are redefining the terms of patronage for themselves to get their rightful piece of the pie. There’s been an evolution from watching their content to really buying into their brand– whether that’s pledging to support their social cause, or buying their merchandise and products. Having built a fandom from scratch as well as learning a variety of desirable skills along the way and having an entrepreneurial spirit, they’re taking creative control and launching their own creator brands.
Whether it’s Logan Paul and KSI’s Prime energy drink defining influencer popularity in 2023, or Kat and Latisha Clark – TikTok’s top Creators of 2022 – launching a successful podcast Basically Besties, taking it on a live tour complete with sold-out merch, or the the rise creator-owned management companies and consultancies springing up (we’ve talked in detail about Collective Influence earlier in the blog series). This year alone we have seen the formation of the D’Amelio talent management company and Alex Cooper of “Call Her Daddy” launching Trending, a Gen Z media venture that is “committed to elevating today’s voices and crafting tomorrow’s stories for an independent, resourceful and inclusive generation”. Interestingly, two months after announcing Trending, Cooper launched The Unwell Network, inking development deals with influencers Alix Earle and Madeline Argy.
Why this is a game-changer for brands
The implications for brands are far reaching and how brands will engage with Influencers and Creators will need to be reconsidered, approaches refined and processes adapted.
1) Brands will be competing with multiple niche creator-led brands or co-branded products.
Creators who would once have been hired as a mouthpiece for a market-leading brand are now setting up their own competitor companies, and taking their trusting, loyal audience of followers with them. They will also be more agile when it comes to growing and diversifying their product line so bigger brands will have to learn to think and act more nimbly too. Creator-led brands will be the ultimate challenger brand (and there will be lots of them!).
2. Creators will become more expensive to work with and more selective.
As creators diversify their revenue streams, some of the largest will become less reliant on brands for patronage, meaning their communities will be more valuable and harder to access. Traditionally creators and influencers were an easy way for brands to access hard to reach audiences but with influencers now earning money fronting their own brands, they will be in a position to significantly hike their fees – particularly those creators with the biggest following and strongest relationships with their audiences as well as only working with brands that do not complete or complement their broader brand values.
This means brands will need to work harder to work out how they can reach audiences authentically themselves, or consider working with smaller, more up and coming influencers.
3. Influencers have created a short cut route to innovation and product development
As mentioned earlier, Influencers have access to a strong and very specific audience which they can – and increasingly do – use to test product ideas. They ultimately understand their audiences’ preferences, pain points, and desires, allowing them to create offerings that resonate deeply. In turn they can receive direct feedback (on tap) and tweak or develop products in response. This is a level of insight that brands rarely have on such a scale, and can disrupt traditional industries by introducing unique solutions and experiences.
Such is the growth in creator-led products that we’re seeing a lot of smaller agencies – such as Warren James – being set up to help creators take products to market, helping with everything from product development and fulfilment to design and branding.
4. Loss of authenticity means loss of a competitive edge
Authenticity has always been hugely important in marketing, but with influencer-created brands it takes on even greater significance. Without creators working with them, traditional brands may need to work harder to demonstrate their authenticity and connect with consumers on a personal level.
Influencers have offered brands a shortcut to authenticity, but they will now need to build up their own credibility. This might involve going back to using celebrity ambassadors or being more reliant on product reviews and community building.
5. Personalisation is more difficult for brands
Followers of influencers often perceived a certain closeness to them (parasocial relationships), with many feeling as if a purchase was akin to a one-to-one experience. Brands will now need to work harder to maintain that personal touch, going above and beyond traditional mass market advertising campaigns to drive a personalised experience. But without the creator speaking for them that will be significantly harder to achieve.
Opportunity For Brands: Embracing co-creation
And while there will be a shift in how brands will engage in influencer marketing, now more than ever, brands have the opportunity to engage in co-creation with influencers.
This shift – if embraced in good faith – should see creativity flourish in Influencer Marketing as we move to more socially-first campaigns developed by digital and social natives who implicitly understand how to create content that cuts through the crap. With skin in the game, Influencers and Creators will want to flex and showcase their creative chops.
Brands can collaborate with influencers to design and develop products that genuinely address their audience’s needs. Co-creation not only fosters a sense of ownership and pride for both the influencer and their followers but also results in unique offers that stand out in the market. By launching joint ventures and embracing these diverse approaches, brands can tap into the full spectrum of creative control models and reach a wider range of audiences.
Forward thinking brands have already noticed the shift and have started thinking about how they can facilitate and create communities themselves – either around a specific product, brand or cultural space. Community-building has become a buzzword within marketing in 2023. Creating a self-sustaining community is easier said than done. It will require a different type of skill set, a more nuanced understanding of what a community is and what it does (and can do) and will require brands to play the long game. Should brands get this right the gamble will pay off.
What we know now is the rise of influencer-created brands is reshaping the marketing landscape and challenging traditional brands to adapt their strategies to meet evolving consumer preferences. The key lies in understanding the unique dynamics of influencer-created brands and finding ways to collaborate, innovate, and remain relevant in this rapidly changing environment.