What’s trending in the creator economy?

With 4.9 billion social media users globally and the global spend on influencer marketing increasing by 17 percent in the past year, it’s clear the creator economy is becoming a juggernaut. How can brands take advantage of this emerging force in the marketing world?

Trend 1: It’s time to be real

Having grown up with the internet, Gen Zers are considered digital natives, unfamiliar with a world before the world wide web. Since they were born into this environment, they know social media typically involves the sharing of the highest highs but never the lowest lows. 

After years of being exposed to picture-perfect Instagram feeds, Gen Z is flipping the switch and using social media as a place in which to be their most authentic. BeReal took off in 2023, and as its name suggests, is all about being real. More than 20 million users get a random notification from the app every day, prompting them to take a picture in the following two minutes of themselves ‘being real’. 

“As Gen Z, we have such a small attention span that if we sniff anything that’s inauthentic, we’re like, ‘Nah’,” says TikTok content creator Hannah Koumakis. With 160,000 followers at the time of writing, Koumakis has paid partnerships with several brands who hire her to promote their message.

“When brands approach influencers or content creators, [they need to] make sure it’s reciprocal because otherwise, the audience knows,” she says. 

Group CEO of creative company Thompson Spencer, Melanie Spencer, says this trend is being dubbed as ‘lo-fi’ across the landscape.

“Authenticity has doubled down and creators are upping the ante with even more raw/real content that tends to be lo-fi, but what’s imperative here is the content has to really connect with their audience.”

As a content creator known for her financial advice, Koumakis says her audience will know her relationship with a brand is inauthentic if it’s a brand that’s “super out of the blue” and doesn’t align with her own. That’ll see them swipe away faster than usual. 

“I’m kind of more known for my typical Hannah style – sit down and talk to the camera in my office or bedroom – so if I do a brand deal, it’s like that because it’s familiar for my audience and they can go, ‘We know what this is and we know what to expect’. It’s important to know that as content creators, we do say no. We don’t just take everything for the money. We really, truly admire our audience, and we want to make sure we’re showing people authentic stuff.”

Companies need to be taking advantage of this trend and being more selective when it comes to influencer campaigns, says Spencer.

“Gone are the days of ‘spray and pray’ Wild West influencer campaigns. [This year] will be far more strategic. We’re going to see a move away from transactional brand-creator partnerships, and creators having more control.”

On a global level, the annual spend on influencer marketing has increased by 17 percent, proving that these creators are deepening their influence as they tap into more authentic and human content. 

CEO of brand marketing agency The Attention Seeker, Stanley Henry, says companies need to be embracing the influencer market now more than ever, before these content creators steal brands.

“It’s either get on board or lose your business.” 

Spencer agrees, asserting that 2024 is expected to be the year that influencers white-label products and sell directly to their community. It’s happening internationally, with popular influencers taking products they’re associated with for themselves.

An example of this is one of the most popular creators on the lifestyle scene, American Emma Chamberlain. Heavily associated with coffee, she saw an opportunity to tackle the market and create her very own Chamberlain Coffee, which is already making a splash globally. What she has that many of her competitors don’t is influence, and for a creator like her, marketing is cheap. 

If brands miss opportunities to partner up with creators, they might just steal their business and ultimately
become their biggest rivals. 

Trend 2: Short or long, tick all the boxes

Moving on from the years of 10- to 30-minute videos, platforms such as TikTok are champions of short-
form content, with audiences quickly jumping from one 30-second video to the next. The likes of TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are disrupting the video industry, says Spencer. 

Trends are cyclical, though, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a renaissance of the short-form video; six-second video platform Vine took the world by storm in 2014. We may be in an age of short-form video, but it could only be a matter of time before long-form content reprises its role as a major form of content. 

Digital Content Manager at creative video agency ODV, Jaime Turner, says that rather than jumping on trends, now’s the time to be repurposing content to ensure all your boxes are ticked. 

“You shouldn’t necessarily just be banking on short videos really working for you if A, you don’t have much evidence to prove that, and B, you never know who’s going to be watching your content. Sometimes you might have somebody who’d actually much rather see an informational, longer-form video that can still be really engaging, and then at other times, you have somebody who needs to see six seconds and is done, and the message has got through. For brands and creators, having your bases covered and going the extra mile is always a good idea.” 

ODV’s Marketing Director, Esther Dawson, adds that the most effective video-marketing campaigns are
often the ones that offer a variety of forms of content, whether integrated YouTube ads or 15-second Instagram stories.

“The beauty of that is people see them across different channels, but [they all] see a different part of the campaign and it all works together beautifully.” 

Rather than focusing solely on trending platforms like TikTok, Dawson says you should put your eggs in different baskets, or in this case, channels. 

Brands need to be utilising the tools in front of them, seeing TikTok as a discovery platform and pushing brand awareness via short-form content, then later evolving into platforms such as YouTube to create longer videos to nurture and maintain audiences. 

The discussion of whether our attention spans are shrinking is misconstrued, says Turner. In an age
in which billions of videos and photos are uploaded onto the internet every day, audiences are being more selective about the content they consume. 

Given audiences are now able to count down and skip ads at their discretion, ads are no longer content people need to sit through. Brands should therefore be creating engaging videos that will attract their desired consumers’ attention. 

“From a brand perspective, you can have longer-form content if it’s engaging, because people will watch,” says Dawson. “If you edited a 60- second video in a really engaging style, it’d feel like short-form to someone, so you have to be clever about the way you approach video. Brand videos need to be no more than 60 seconds, but once you get into that retargeting phase of people who are brand aware, that’s when you can branch out.” 

With regards to fighting for the audience’s attention when an ad comes up on social media, Dawson and Turner say videos need to be “unexpected, and surprise and delight the viewer”, to leave consumers with an intriguing brand experience. 

Long-form or short-form, whether you’re a small or a large business, the best approach to video is emotional marketing that builds on deeper connections with audiences. 

“There’s going to be a lot more marketing that plays into people’s psyche when it comes to empathy and putting themselves and the brand in the consumer’s shoes and really playing with their pain points,” says Turner.

Trend 3: The regular café customer theory

Cafés don’t make a lot of spontaneous money. A lot of their revenue comes down to regular customers who come in daily and order the same thing. 

Henry relates this theory to the regular audience – consumers who are engaging with content on their phones every day. This is the audience that’s vital to unlocking the best of marketing within the creator economy. 

In general, social media platforms and their algorithms champion consistency, because it’s human nature that if someone loves something, they’ll come back to it, even if that might not be daily. 

“People love coming back to the same thing and knowing they’re part of something,” says Henry. “They don’t have to come back every day, but they know when you’re there.” 

This isn’t a new concept. Daily audiences are easy to capture on mediums like radio and TV. The 6pm news is a form of content audiences around the world congregate to consume. Local radio personalities like ZM’s Carl Fletcher, Vaughan Smith and Hayley Sproull are able to develop a daily audience by driving people to come back to their show every day at 6am and building a community with their listeners. 

With the advent of social media, there’s a new way to capture a regular audience, and brands do well to pump out their own consistent and consumable content to encourage people to come back. Smart influencers have already been able to capitalise on this and build brands off the back of these audiences. Coffee was a key element of Chamberlain’s online content, so in creating her own brand, she’s been able to switch her daily audience into daily customers. 

Koumakis says that whether it’s a TikTok vlog or an Instagram story, posting consistently has built her audience not only in number but also engagement. “Just show up genuinely every single day and you’ll find you’ll start growing an audience that truly loves your brand,” she says.

“If you’re a brand, take people back and show them the factory, show them all these things. People love transparency, and that’s why people love my budgeting videos, because there’s no one who’s transparent these days.” 

Many businesses are already focusing on posting every day. Auckland-based bakery The Sugar Dealer invites its audience to join them behind the scenes of making their products, while The Attention Seeker lets its audience in on life in the office. 

With regards to producing consistent material, Turner and Dawson say the days of copycat content are disappearing. Now, the focus is on innovative ideas.

“[Brands] like Ryanair and Duolingo have really established this space with brand voice, something that’s fresh and relatable to all generations, and that’s really personable,” says Dawson.

“But a lot of companies are almost just copying that voice and tone, and it gives their customers the ick, because they’re not being true to the industry, or true to who they are or what their customers are looking for. You can’t just copy a brand voice that’s worked for someone else and assume it’s going to work for you.”

In an era in which trends come and go at the speed of light, imitating trending videos puts brands at risk of appearing inauthentic and not what the company stands for. Instead, it’s all about staying true to brand values while also throwing a little unexpectedness into the mix – perhaps something wacky to catch people’s attention, a bit of humour to lighten the mood or storytelling to retain interest. 

“I think we undervalue the customer too much [and] assume they’re a passive consumer who might be swayed this way and that, but they’re intelligent beings who aren’t just going to love your brand because you did one funny thing one time,” says Dawson. 

This was first published in our March/April 2024 issue.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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