As it turns out, audiences are smarter than they’re often given credit for. They can sense when an influencer’s recommendation is more about the paycheck than the product.
Authenticity has become the cornerstone of consumer trust. As audiences increasingly crave genuine connections and transparent recommendations, the old tactics of influencer marketing just don’t cut it anymore.
No longer are viewers willing to be passive consumers of content that jars with an influencer’s established persona or niche. When a health guru suddenly promotes fast food or a travel vlogger breaks stride to sell insurance, the incongruity doesn’t just induce eye rolls; it incites skepticism.
The evolved, more authentic cousin of influencer marketing is creator marketing. This paradigm shift is not just about changing titles or rebranding; it’s about transforming how brands engage with personalities online. But what sets it apart? And why should businesses pay attention?
The Problem with Creative Control
As more companies dove into influencer marketing, audiences increasingly felt put off by veiled attempts to replicate natural recommendations. This is because audiences can tell when ad placements are inauthentic, regardless of how familiar they are with an influencer and their content. These paid ads are obvious because they feel clunky and scripted while also lacking the personal touch that established the influencer’s platform in the first place.
A significant contributing factor to the downfall of influencer marketing is the brand’s excessive control over the creative aspect of the content. With brand managers dictating the messaging, tone, and even aesthetic, posts often stuck out like a sore thumb against the influencer’s usual content. It was advertising masquerading as an authentic endorsement, and audiences, increasingly attuned to such tactics, were not buying it—literally and figuratively.
What is Creator Marketing?
Creator marketing is about developing a collaborative environment where the influencer—now more appropriately termed “creator”—actively contributes to the narrative and presentation of the brand message.
Why is this approach so revolutionary?
Because it aligns perfectly with what modern audiences crave: authenticity. In creator marketing, brand messages don’t feel like intrusions; they feel like natural extensions of the creator’s own content.
Take, for instance, our campaign for the mobile app Cooking Fever, where we worked with a YouTube creator. The result? A staggering 20 million views and pennies on the dollar for customer acquisition costs.
In our Cooking Fever digital campaign, we partnered with high-profile personalities like Khloé Kardashian and Rachel Levin, both of whom have massive, loyal followings. Instead of being just another restaurant-themed mobile game, it became the game that featured Khloé Kardashian and Rachel Levin.
The How Matters More Than The Who
While some argue that “creators” are those exclusively dedicated to creating content, we contest that it’s more about how a brand engages with an individual rather than their professional designation. A creator can be a chef, a fashion blogger, or even a physicist—what matters is the synergy between the creator’s authentic voice and the brand’s message.
Practical Steps for Transitioning to Creator Marketing
Adding creator marketing to your strategy begins by understanding what creators can bring to your brand’s table, leveraging each other’s strengths and filling in any gaps where necessary. Are you trying to access a specific market? Is a single viral hit more important than a stable cadence of content distribution? What is the influencer hoping to achieve through this partnership?
To achieve your B2B marketing goals, you need to identify what makes the influencer connect with their audience and find ways to tap into those skills while also remaining flexible and open to their ideas.
Assess Your Current Strategy
How do we transition from influencer to creator marketing effectively? The first step is introspection. Audit your existing influencer relationships and campaigns. Are they delivering the ROI you expected? Are audiences engaging in a meaningful way? If the answers lean towards ‘no,’ you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Pivot, Don’t Overhaul
Don’t think of this transition as a complete overhaul but rather as a pivot. You’ve already built relationships with influencers; now it’s time to deepen those relationships by empowering them as creators. Provide them with the creative freedom to integrate your brand in a way that feels authentic to their audience. This doesn’t mean you need to give up complete control. You still want to ensure your brand’s message and goals are at the center of the campaign, so set some ground rules before you begin.
Let creators know what you like about their content and ask them to use their creative liberty to highlight those elements. As you work through the campaign, encourage frequent communication, establish guidelines, allow space for revisions, and work together to achieve a final product you’re both happy to share. Remember, the best brand stories are co-authored, not dictated.
Metrics that Matter
Moving to a creator-centric model doesn’t mean throwing your KPIs out the window. It means recalibrating them to better align with the new objectives. Are you looking for engagement? Focus on metrics like shares, comments, and qualitative audience feedback. Is your aim to lower customer acquisition costs? Then, closely monitor the efficacy of your creator collaborations in bringing in new consumers at a lower price point.
Like any emerging trend, creator marketing comes with its share of risks. The increased creative freedom for creators could potentially lead to brand messages that miss the mark. But the potential rewards—higher engagement rates, lower CAC, and, most importantly, greater trust between brands and audiences—far outweigh the risks.
Whether you’re a start-up aiming to make a splash or an established enterprise looking to refresh your engagement strategy, the principles apply across the board. Welcome creators as extensions of your team with their own unique skill sets rather than brushing them off as third-party contributors. This will unlock their full potential and help you deliver an organic partnership that resonates with both audiences to authentically fit each other’s content, build brand trust and awareness, and enhance your brand goals.