Fear of losing control: how brands can thrive in the creator economy
Conscious Minds CEO and ECD Cam DeArmond explains why businesses shouldn't be afraid to collaborate with content creators in this 'era of influence', where authentic partnerships can be formed to achieve maximum impact.
Brands have long looked beyond the scope of their influence to borrow someone else’s shine - from celebrity endorsers and brand spokespeople to infomercials, influencers, and #sponsored posts.
It’s an approach as old as advertising, hoping to drive increased awareness, favourability, or trial. But the catch-22 of borrowing influence has always been brands wrestling with the fear of losing control of the narrative.
In recent years, influencer marketing has shapeshifted into what brands and industry pundits call the “creator economy” - a rebrand even Don Draper would be proud of. As the current dominance of TikTok moves us from the social media age into a post-social era, brands are scrambling for innovative ways to authentically connect with their increasingly fragmented audiences. How can brands who fear sacrificing creative control navigate the creator economy?
Brands wanted to control the narrative and used influencers for their reach rather than their taste or talent.
With the rise of the social media influencer over the past decade-plus, brands tested the limits of said influence and learned valuable lessons along the way. The social media age and an influx of brand-sponsored content brought with it new cultural norms and even FCC regulations (#ad), but also put influencer authenticity under a magnifying glass. Brands wanted to control the narrative and used influencers for their reach rather than their taste or talent. An increasingly discerning social audience called BS on the contrived sponsored posts, and influencer fatigue ran rampant as brands struggled to nail the authenticity their audiences desired.
The creator economy of today has ushered in the evolution of the influencer. Creators in this current era are incredibly skilled marketers. They know their audience. They're nuanced platform experts. They understand how to authentically integrate brands and products into their content. They have proven to be savvy navigators of the previously binary construct of brand control, and have shown that control lives more on a spectrum. It no longer has to be one or the other (brand control vs. creator control).
Creators in this current era are incredibly skilled marketers.
Successful collaboration in today's landscape is co-creation; establishing genuine partnerships and relationships between companies and creators that are mutually beneficial, with businesses open to inviting talent in and building something together. It's not just passing the mic and crossing your fingers.
Striking a balance between control and authenticity is at the heart of this modern co-creator economy. As company control increases (stick to the brand script), authenticity in creator content decreases. And vice versa — as creators do their own thing, their way, in their authentic voice, the brand surrenders control of the narrative, becoming the nightmare du jour for many a brand manager across the industry.
It's a new consideration in the equation of a content partner: Control and authenticity are seemingly at odds with one another; inversely proportional.
This is a nuanced paradigm that will pay dividends when brands commit to putting in the work to get it right. Below are three principles brands should adhere to with partners in this new era of influence to maximize authenticity and impact without surrendering complete control:
- The Brand Leads: The Brand should be the loudest voice of the key message; then partners and creators support and supplement the same brand message with their own authentic voices to organically reach their audience where they are. Therefore, brands must derive messages and journeys with the breadth of creative diversity that will allow them to curate engaging content and provide a dynamic brief for creators to add value, inspiring creators to extend the brand’s executions and storylines authentically to their audiences.
- Know and Serve the Audience’s Desire: Authenticity > Reach or other vanity metrics. An alignment between the audience’s desired content and the most authentic voice to create that story produces the most significant results and business impact. The truth is, a lot of players in talent and media are still operating off of a flawed, reach-based model, which is actually a conflict of interest; these models are to drive reach, not necessarily to drive authenticity. To serve the audience, we need true partnerships with talent and creator agencies in the finding and selecting of these creator voices, not solely optimizing for views or reach. We can and must achieve both.
- Invest in the Relationship: It’s critical to invite partners in to truly co-create; it’s about more than just passing a mic; it’s inviting creators into a genuinely cooperative, collaborative, co-creation relationship.
The truth is, a lot of players in talent and media are still operating off of a flawed, reach-based model, which is actually a conflict of interest.
While much is yet to be written on this latest chapter of influencer marketing, one thing is certain: in a content landscape dominated by interest-based algorithms and “for you” pages, brands must democratize the channels and partners telling their stories. For brands to go it alone out of fear of losing control significantly limits their potential cultural impact and audience.
For brands to go it alone out of fear of losing control significantly limits their potential cultural impact and audience.
At Conscious Minds, we call this approach Distributed by Design - identifying the best collaborators with whom to co-create authentic brand stories and increase the channels delivering those stories. Brand messages integrated into trusted voices.
Highly integrated, highly intentional.
And authenticity over everything.