The “content creator” role is a relatively new but powerful part of today’s marketing mix. It’s now got an imaginative term: influencer marketing.
Content creators (or influencers) will tell you that though they may be changing the way things work in some industries, many of these shifts aren’t disruptive to bringing in revenue or branding efforts. Instead, it’s the opposite, as some of today’s biggest brands are aligning with creators to bring in even bigger audiences, tapping into the personal fan base of these influencers to increase viewers and revenue.
Recently, Paul Kelly and Dr James Piecowye, hosts of the popular “Know Your Audience” podcast, explored this topic. This article is written using content from the broadcast.
The role of influencer marketing today
“Many in traditional marketing consider content creators and influencer marketing disruptive,” host Paul Kelly remarks. That’s because content creators are doing something different than what’s been seen in old-school marketing. The content creator owns their audience–not the agency or brand. They’re not obligated to a single platform. The content creator’s audience is multichannel.
Influencers are especially attuned to their audience: how they think and behave. Because of this, content creators are better equipped to control audience outcomes. This is true regarding views or even more tangible commercial outcomes.
A good content creator knows how to diversify their content while still having the ability to own their audience—even being able to take audiences with them to other platforms. Paul Kelly points to content creator Mr. Beast, as one example of this. (When this article was written, Mr Beast boasted 96 million followers on YouTube.) Another example is in some of McDonald’s work with content creators. Those following these trends think some influencers are starting to control parts of the world’s economy.
Time to change how we think about creators and their effect on marketing
During the podcast, Dr James Piecowye revealed he thinks the time has come for business and marketing to rethink content creation. “This requires a mental shift. We’re seeing the creation of a new marketing category or tactic directly affecting how we sell our products, one that didn’t exist five years ago.” Paul Kelly agrees with this. “It’s not people on Instagram making content driving this revolution. There’s a tectonic change around the way we build audiences today. Big brands we interact with daily are also joining this shift.”
Some big-time entertainers now profit from old content in new ways.
Many small but significant financial deals are happening because content creators drive strong profit from understanding their audience. But to drive home how creatives or “artists” profit in a new way by knowing (and owning) audiences, Paul and James pivot to the world of big-ticket entertainment to look at how one “creator” everyone knows is also using the rules of influencer marketing.
Bob Dylan an example of an “established” influencer profiting from a new creator economy
Paul Kelly cites a recent example, the blockbuster sale of Bob Dylan’s music catalogue to a fund. He notes that many of Dylan’s lyrics from his biggest hits were “anti-establishment, encapsulating a mood and time.” Dylan’s audience knows via powerful, social issue-themed hits, like “Hurricane,” his civil rights work, and more.
Also, like today’s younger influencers, Dylan knows his audience; his work evokes strong feelings in many of his fans, including a belief that people should be put ahead of profit and corporations. Yet, as Paul Kelly notes, he (surprisingly) just sold his entire back catalogue to Universal Music for $300 million. “His rights, he sold everything.” And he’s not the only well-known musician who’s done this recently.
A new way to make money for musicians, potentially other creatives
Both Paul and Dr Piecowye see this move’s dichotomy and the economic sense. It’s a new way for classic artists, like Dylan, to realize more of the value of their back catalogues and music rights, as their older, better-known hits are bought by funds who will profit from the song’s future royalties. These deals create new licensing opportunities that previous management structures didn’t allow. Once the rights are sold, they can license an artist’s music for anything, even a KFC commercial in Japan.
Though deals like these may seem unexpected—even uncharacteristic—of the artist and the industry, they are real revenue makers, driven by the power of the creator’s audience. And now, conglomerates understand they can make money from these deals.
Other ways creators/influencers are disrupting the music industry
Paul Kelly noted during the podcast that it’s not the first time the industry has been disrupted by modern technology or marketing strategies. You only have to look back to the disruption of the music industry with the arrival of the first iPod and, later, iTunes. The industry changed from a reliance on physical products, like records and CDs, to digital. Though the loss of physical products to sell was at first confusing to some, soon, there was a realization that the industry had access to more people and that new music discovery would improve.
Spotify and other platforms also changed things.
Next came platforms like Spotify and another tech. They tailored an audience’s experience to the music but didn’t generate as much revenue for creators as physical CDs and albums did. So now, artists’ compensation is largely driven by other activities, like touring. That’s why you suddenly had these giant international tours filled with spectacle, featuring bigger musical artists. Suddenly, touring became a huge revenue stream. And artists, more than ever, began to realize the need to maximize the value of their biggest hits.
Netflix and Headspace: an example of how content is made now
There are other examples of new revenue streams arising from content creators. For example, look no further than the new partnership between Netflix and Headspace. Headspace is an app for mental health that has become more popular during the pandemic. The app had been around for a while, but it became especially relevant recently, as people became aware of the need for meditation and other physical and mental health tools. Now Netflix is co-creating content with the now popular app. This new content’s viewers will likely share many of the app’s audience members, people familiar not only with Headspace but also its founder Andy, who is the app’s voice.
As Paul Kelly notes, Headspace is an example of what’s happening in the influencer space, a type of cross-pollination that happens when different platforms join each other. The creator says, “I can deliver my people”, while the platform says, “I can deliver your brand.” The two meet in the middle by working together. This is another notable example of how influencers/creation creators generate more business in music, video streaming, and other forms of content.
A few last words about changes to content sharing
It’s not just Netflix and Spotify. We see Warner Brothers moving all their content to their other business unit, HBO Max. Now, all new Warner Brothers release arrive on their HBO Max platform on the same date as in theatres, a big change for the industry. Meanwhile, Disney Plus exceeded all its revenue projections.
Returning to the Dylan example, the sale of his music catalogue brings a different dimension to the value of his music. Of course, it’s probably a great move for his descendants, his benefactors. But it also opened a new avenue to selling his music, opening the door to audiences perhaps never reached by Dylan in the past. When brands understand their audiences, they can unlock many components that form a domino. Profit becomes easier to acquire because marketers spend less to reach that audience as a brand.
That’s what’s driving all of these deals: built-in audiences. McDonald’s is one large brand that may be frequently involved in these collaborations. Other examples of creator-driven marketing happening for a while can be found in clothing, footwear, and other markets. But with new content creators or influencers, the “disruption” or change happens in many different sectors in unique ways. It’s a little different in that the creator’s audience size is driving deals, as well. So now, brands are seeing this disruption and its economic advantages happen on a bigger scale than ever before.
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