Welcome to the Creatorverse

Marketers and agencies need to figure out how to work with creators before it’s too late

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As the chief content officer of a publishing business, I’m often asked to predict the trends that will impact advertising in the year ahead.

Let me offer one here: While ChatGPT and ad measurement get most of the attention these days, one trend that’s altering the advertising world dramatically and irreversibly is the rise of creators. When you look at the soaring popularity of TikTok, Gen Z and Gen Alpha’s growing disinterest—and distrust—in traditional advertising, and the success of several big brand partnerships with creators, it’s undeniable that 2023 will be a breakthrough year for creator marketing.

Yet whenever I give talks and appear at Adweek events, people always seem to pose the same question: “How should brands begin to work with creators?” While some marketing organizations are committing small portions of their ad spend to creator campaigns, many others are waiting for the creator economy to mature and for KPIs and industry best practices to emerge. Many also still conflate the creator economy with influencer marketing.

The question of how to get started and scale a creator marketing program comes up so often that we at Adweek decided to make the theme of this year’s Social Media Week the “Creatorverse.” We wanted the program to focus on how marketers and ad agencies can collaborate with creators to drive next-level engagement. We felt both a responsibility and an urgency to use our platform to do the deepest dive yet into the democratization of creativity and what lies ahead. The benefits of getting this right are too great.

Take the case of Marriott International. I had the chance to talk with Brian Povinelli, Marriott’s senior vice president of brand, loyalty and portfolio marketing, at last year’s Brandweek. Povinelli told me that working with creators did two important things for the company. First, it gave Marriott the ability to be quicker to market with creative. Second, it allowed the hotel giant to become more relevant to its audiences in a more organic way. At the time of our interview, Marriott had produced about 700 pieces of content with creators in that year. With performance marketing, the company typically only does 50 pieces of content annually.

Reflecting on the power of creators, Povinelli added, “It’s us trying to think about who’s the most important demographic that we want to reach with the little funds we have.” 

Coming together as a community

To me, the emergence of the Creatorverse feels a bit like déjà vu. In the early 2000s, the marketing and advertising industry needed to come together to reckon with this thing called digital media—and define the future of advertising together. Whether people realize it or not, we’re at that same moment now. Creators are positioning themselves as next-gen creatives, and marketers and agencies need to figure out how to work with them effectively and make them a vital part of the marketing mix. Otherwise, they may be left behind.

To be sure, the creator economy is not the easiest thing to navigate—for either side. Based on my conversations with marketers, creators and agencies, the following challenges are ripe for discussion:

Understanding the creator economy. While billions are being spent on creator marketing, it’s still a relatively young industry: 72% of the respondents to a survey conducted recently by Later, a social media management platform, only started monetizing in the past two years. According to Monique Thomas, editorial content marketing manager at Later, this indicates that the industry is still in growth mode. 

Finding the right creators. Recruiting the right creators to boost brand images and induce purchases over social media takes time and requires resilience. In a recent survey by eMarketer, almost 60% of influencer marketers said they have difficulty identifying the right creator for their brand.

Ditching a transactional mindset. The most successful marketers treat partnerships with creators as worthwhile investments and relationships—not as last-minute, transactional campaign add-ons. One CMO told me recently that her team has engaged in conversations with creators for as long as eight months before beginning to discuss whether and how to work together. 

Getting measurement right. Measurement is the crucial component in helping still-skeptical marketers buy into the idea of the creator economy, especially at a time when ad budgets are under scrutiny. In the eMarketer study, 79% of marketers ranked measurement as a leading challenge, followed by ROI (76%).

Scaling smart. Why are so many marketers seemingly not “bought in” to the creator economy or behind their competitive peers? Often, they have trouble scaling. They might have had some success here and there, but they haven’t prepared themselves to manage the growth and learn new ways of operating and behaving. Those that have stand a much better chance of making it in the long term. 

Despite all these challenges, I believe that we’re finally on the cusp of a new era in the creator economy, one in which next-generation, enterprising creatives and brands work together seamlessly to create advertising that matters.

As creator David Suh put it to Adweek recently, the beauty of the creator economy is how it’s evolving. “A lot of creators are now treating their platforms like businesses,” he said.

Every time I’m asked to make predictions these days, I say that the most successful marketers and agencies of the next ten years will be those who seize this opportunity before their competitors do.