The creator economy: what it means for customer relationships

A recent study said there are now 50 million creators earning some or all of their living by making online content. Commentators predict the value of this creator economy could grow to  $104.2 billion in 2022. As the internet evolves towards the more immersive and less centralized Web 3.0, this number is likely to soar higher still.

Moreover, the content that people make, what they do with it, and how they monetize it is going to change completely. The implications and possibilities for brands and customer relationships are huge.

The creator economy explained

The creator economy is an ecosystem of platforms, tools and content creators, and it’s developing fast. It’s been described as part of the ‘passion economy’, a place where people can earn their living by following their passions or using their creativity to build an audience or community. 

Until now, content creators have tended to monetize their creativity through advertising or sponsorships, using platforms like YouTube and Instagram. However, that is changing. Platforms like OnlyFans, Substack, Patreon, Buy Me A Coffee and Twitch have highlighted the possibilities for direct monetization of content and relationships via subscriptions and/or tips. For example, Buy Me A Coffee now has more than 500,000 creators with millions of fans. 

 

Blockchain is game-changing for creators

Blockchain technology will add another dimension, allowing creators to authenticate, share and sell digital assets such as art, trading cards, badges and other collectibles, making them as rare or widely available as they wish. 

The importance of this development was highlighted in our recent webinar on the metaverse, with Boston Consulting Group and One Digital Nation: the ability of creators to manage scarcity makes it the exact opposite of Web 2.0 which was about ‘abundance’, where everything could be copied and where everything was available in an infinite number of versions.

Brands should take note

Like influencers, content creators build direct relationships with their fans, followers or communities  – relationships that can bypass (or complement) traditional marketing, advertising and brand-awareness routes. Typically, creators’ content is perceived as being more entertaining and more ‘authentic’ than traditional mediated advertising and marketing campaigns. To their followers and communities, they appear as ‘people like them’.

As Web 3.0, blockchain technology and the metaverse extend the creative and monetize possibilities open to them, their potential power will only grow. Already, even before we emerge into Web 3.0, the pandemic has provided a huge boost to their influence and reach.  Not only did people have more time to create content during the various lockdowns, but people had more time to engage with it. 

Opening doors to hard-to-reach customers

On the one hand, the growth of the creator economy is a risk for brands – your own content could look disconnected or inauthentic. On other hand, these new content creators could be your collaborator rather than your competitor. How can you make this happen?

Currently, the most common route is through social campaigns, with brands taking some of the same approaches they use with influencers:

  • using sponsored content or do brand takeovers
  • organizing live or virtual events or meetups with them
  • launching co-branded NFTs or merchandise with them
  • doing product placement.

These different options allow brands to reach communities that might otherwise be inaccessible. For example, Twitch, with an estimated 300,000 professional streamers, could be an entry point into the gaming community. Other creators on other channels could help open up conversations with Gen Z or Gen Alpha. 

It’s not just about numbers and reach. Content creators who have strong connection with their fans can help brands tell their stories better – in a way that resonates with the target audiences. It’s also been pointed out that influencers and content creators can generally produce content quickly, in a way that’s hard to achieve with traditional marketing shoot and production times; this allows creators (and their partner brands) to keep pace with the speed of change in culture and cultural moments.

More to come as the metaverse goes mainstream

These opportunities are exciting but they will become still more exciting as the decentralized and immersive Web 3.0 and metaverse evolve beyond the ‘attention economy’ of Web 2.0. 

Experts at our metaverse webinar pointed out that since the barrier to create experiences in the metaverse will likely be very low, it will be easier for creative brands and individuals to create meaningful or playful, gamified experiences. They’ll be able to draw consumers into an immersive ‘brand universe’ that is much more engaging than scrolling through a Web 2.0 website, meaning there are huge opportunities for differentiation. As our speaker Joël Hazan of Boston Consulting Group put it, the metaverse is ‘opening the door to magic’. This offers brands even more scope to partner with, or become, the creators of magical experiences in order to market better.

Using NFTS to personalize the relationship

Creating NFTs presents unprecedented opportunities for brands to personalize and extend their relationships with consumers. For example, they could partner with creators to:

  • sell limited-edition collectibles 
  • offer NFTs that unlock membership of a club or a community, giving consumers access to personalized or rarefied virtual or real-world experiences
  • develop interactive NFTs that could be added to or updated over time (by the brand or the fan) 

The connection created through NFTs (and other content) could be long-lived. After all, an experience, memory or brand preference created in people’s teenage years can create a connection that lasts for years or decades. A good example of this was an analysis of Spotify data that found that the songs people listen to during their teen years set their musical taste as adults, with men’s favorite songs on Spotify commonly being released when they were aged 13-16. 

Brands from Coca-Cola to Louis Vuitton are already using NFTs to strengthen customer or ‘fan’ relationships; this trend can only grow.

The importance of membership

Another powerful attraction of the creator economy for brands is the importance of memberships. According to a recent report, ‘creators have discovered the importance of building communities’. They’re not the first to do this, of course – fan clubs and communities for sports, musicians and others existed long before the internet – but clever creators and brands understand that people are ‘willing to spend money … because they feel part of the creator’s community.’ 

In the decentralized and immersive Web 3.0 and metaverse, the power of communities and membership will surely grow. 

Are you ready for change?

There’s a lot to learn and a lot more to come from the creator economy – new platforms, new partnerships, and new ways of doing things, including letting go of some of the control that brands were accustomed to in traditional marketing approaches. 

The possibilities for using the creator and influencer economy to raise customer awareness and build new and stronger customer relationships and experiences are truly exciting. They’re also daunting. But help is available – including on how to merge these new approaches and technologies with current customer relationship management. We’re here to support you.

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