The Creator Economy is Forcing Marketers to Publish or Go Extinct

by Mar 11, 2021

The Creator Economy is white-hot. With the creation of dedicated investment firms like Atelier Ventures supporting founders, and creators building multi-million dollar media platforms, the market has a renewed focus on what tactics produce the momentum behind the creator movement.

The short answer is publishing digital content.

The longer answer integrates macroeconomic factors like the decades-long misalignment of incentives for knowledge workers alongside the innovation happening for personal content creation tools. Add a renewed focus on privacy, legitimate public fear of the “big data” paid advertisers rely upon, and you can begin to see how digital content creators have more power than ever before.

Every marketer attempting to grow their audience or business faces three choices:

  • Invest in creators
  • Become content publishers
  • Go extinct

Removing extinction, the challenge becomes figuring out which of investing or creating makes more sense. In this post, we’ll give examples of each and provide you with the definition, case studies, and practical tactics necessary to make a compelling case for content creation as a primary growth tool.

Measuring The Impact of the Creator Economy

“Sizable, loyal audiences will be of the most coveted “products” over the next decade.” — Web Smith

If you’re not familiar, “creator” is a term Youtube accidentally coined in 2011 to describe the stars creating videos for their platform. Tech Reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote a detailed piece for the Atlantic recording how the term came to be.

The definition of the creator economy is relatively straightforward. Investor and Writer Li Jin defines it as “…anyone who has built up an audience on digital platforms.” This definition includes strict creation (e.g., TikTok Stars) as well as creator/educator hybrids (e.g., David Perell) or creator/community organizers (e.g., Web Smith). Before starting her investment fund, Jin’s work as an investor at the Sand Hill Road behemoth Andreessen Horowitz has become seminal to defining the creator economy.

The idea that those who create, educate, or organize audiences on the internet hold significant value isn’t exactly a breakthrough concept. Twenty years ago, Author Daniel Pink published “Free Agent Nation,” which provides an in-depth look at the independent internet workforce trend that was already beginning to earn significant attention.

What becomes more interesting are the business opportunities that arise when you dig a bit deeper. Creators are having a massive impact on both internet and analog businesses. The ubiquity of the internet has transformed what was once commonly a pipedream (creative entrepreneurship) into the most practical career-building solution for knowledge workers.

This environment attracts many talented creators who previously would have been employed by agencies or production companies to buck the status quo to create and distribute content directly for audiences. 

Altering the distribution model has massive implications for marketers.

On the one hand, the idea that a creator, entrepreneur, or student can create enough impact via content creation to build and sustain a career is a trend that every company needs to acknowledge. Creators are already proving to be significant market movers as a result of their production efforts. Stars like David Dobrik, Mr. Beast, Charlie D’Amelio, and Josh Richards are living case studies. Their audiences are fiercely loyal.

But, the disruption creators are causing doesn’t end with Youtube and TikTok performers. In the words of American Rocker Jim Morrison, “Whoever owns the media controls the mind.” In the past several years, we’ve seen entire industries that were formerly considered impregnable lose market share and relevance. Creators have upended major verticals like Sports (Barstool Sports), Business (Substack Publishers), and Entertainment (TikTok Creators).

The impact continues. We’ve seen disruptions across fast-casual diningcryptocurrencies, and (briefly) the stock market. I hate to break it to you, but your industry is not insulated or mature enough to protect from creator disruption.

Leveraging the Creator Economy: Two Case Studies

Despite the massive implications of the creator economy to businesses, there could still be an appeal to ignore or write off these facts as short-lived trends that only apply to specific industries. To mitigate this tendency, let’s break it down to more “normal” business types.

Here’s how two very different businesses have leveraged the tools and trends popularized by the Creator Economy.

Jocelyn K. Glei, Author and Educator

I enjoyed meeting and interviewing Jocelyn on my podcast several years ago and have appreciated following her career ever since. Creating in various formats has marked Jocelyn’s career. First in the form of books (Unsubscribe), then a podcast (Hurry Slowly), and most recently, a series of courses designed to help you refine your productivity (Reset is currently closed but worth checking out).

Jocelyn is the picture of what a professional creator looks like to me. She has leveraged her time and talent to share the knowledge she is uniquely an expert on and has created content that inspires, educates, and empowers her audience with practical solutions. She has chosen a path of independent creation and is reaping the rewards of a career worth building.

Her creations have provided her with career and economic independence.

Santosh Sankar, Investor

Santosh, Founding Partner at Dynamo VC, is an active investor who leads the allocation and oversight of Dynamo’s various early-stage investments. Santosh is a different type of creator. His days are filled with scouting companies, drafting memos on potential investments, and supporting the Founders in whom Dynamo chooses to invest. Content creation should be an afterthought for someone like him.

Yet, Santosh realized the rising importance of independent content creation and has prioritized it as a part of his practice in building Dynamo as a Venture Capital firm. His publications: Dynamo DispatchHis Personal Twitter, and The Future of Supply Chain Podcast (full disclosure: Heard produces this show), are content machines that provide in-depth thought leadership and perspective to industry participants.

He’s leveraged tools the creator economy provides to build and maintain the leading Supply Chain investment fund. Doing so has allowed him to operate where he prefers. Dynamo has no office in Silicon Valley, New York City, or Miami. Instead, Santosh and his co-founders have nestled their HQ comfortably in Chattanooga, TN, where they choose to live and work. 

Creating has provided the fund with operational and economic independence.

Create, Invest, or Go Extinct

Entrepreneurs and business leaders can no longer afford to ignore the benefits of the Creator Economy. The platforms and toolset now available are arguably more impactful for these existing leaders. Now marketers have the option of arming themselves with owned media that can self-sustain audience acquisition and engagement. Doing so creates a defensible competitive moat.

The individuals and companies who choose to leverage the creator economy to better their businesses will win in the short and long term. Building owned media assets that provide operators with a direct communication line to their 100 true fans simultaneously benefits the company and the customers they exist to serve.

Invest

Most marketers will choose to invest in other creators rather than create themselves. That is a logical choice and probably the best outcome for most businesses. There is no shortage of agencies and platforms enabling wise investment, but here are a few to get you started:

  • General Platform: Upfluence
    All-In-One Influencer Marketing program matching creators with companies across social platforms and business verticals
  • Sales Funnel Enablement: #Paid
    Connects companies with specific creators who are best suited to the audience + the given part of the sales funnel the company is attempting to enhance
  • Agency: VaynerTalent
    Full disclosure: I worked for VaynerMedia before founding Heard and am admittedly biased. But the combination of high-level creators and understanding of how to deploy them for business purposes makes VT the top Influencer Agency in my opinion.

A myriad of other agencies and platforms exist to serve nearly every internet vertical possible. Finding a guide who can help you manage your relationship with creators and best leverage their abilities will ensure you receive a return for your efforts.

Create

Far fewer companies will choose to get their hands dirty and become creators themselves. While this choice bears more inherent risk, the upside is clear. Owning a direct channel to your audience and customer base entirely independent of anyone or any platform could be priceless for a business.

More factors are threatening a business’s ability to communicate via the internet today than ever. Privacy concerns, price gouging from paid media platforms, and lack of control over a creator who may make anti-brand decisions are just a few of the risks associated with relying on anyone else to build your audience pipeline.

For those who wish to enter the ring, here’s how to begin.

First, start with what you know. Your business has a core set of skills or competencies that are interesting enough for your customers to give you their hard-earned money willingly. Dive into the strategy, history, and practical applications of your existing business. One way to form identity is to follow David Perell’s idea of building a Personal (or, in this case, Corporate) Monopoly. Understanding your audience and pillars of expertise is key to becoming a successful creator.

Once you’ve set your strategy, begin cultivating the 100 true fans who are the most natural fits to receive value from your content. These individuals or entities are the most likely to support your vision and become advocates for the brand. Not to mention the fact that having their support can quickly turn what was formerly a cost center (marketing) into a revenue stream reasonably fast.

Then, hit the gas.

The playbook for creators is clear, though difficult. Pairing breathtaking volume with a high quality of content native to the platform of distribution is not an easy game to win. Not to mention the increased competition thanks to the literal pot of gold that awaits those who figure out this media alchemy.

Creators, and the economy built around them, are here to stay. We’re merely in the introductory chapters of what the creator-led media landscape will look like in the years to come. Major media companies and entire industries are already experiencing the impact and adjusting their playbook as a result.

For most marketers, finding a way to invest in creators will be the fastest way to get in the game. For others, building an audience from scratch and regularly publishing content for them will find appeal. The smartest will find some way to do both.

Either way, every marketer and the companies they seek to grow will face choosing to invest in creation, create themselves, or go extinct.

Choose wisely.

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