Winning hearts and minds: the unstoppable power of creator-led marketing in the attention economy


Copywriter & Strategist

April 3, 2023

Over the years, promoting a brand involved going through a handful of tightly controlled media channels. These "gatekeepers" – TV networks, radio stations, and news outlets – dominated our attention, so brands had to spend a lot of money to showcase their products to a wide audience.

But those times are gone.

It’s now less effective and more expensive than ever to buy attention on traditional platforms, or, in other words, you can no longer “throw money at the problem”.

Today’s most successful brands use social media channels and create campaigns that reach a global audience at just a fraction of the cost. This open market, teeming with millions of businesses vying for customer attention, has given rise to a fiercely competitive landscape known as "the attention economy."

In this article, we’re exploring its best-kept secret, diving into creator-led branding and how the best brands cater to increasing demand for authenticity and realism in the creator economy.

Attention is “the new oil”

Forbes found that on average, people are exposed to between “6,000 and 10,000 advertisements a day”. In fact, attracting your attention has become so valuable, that many have coined it as “the new oil”, with the most powerful brands in the world using attention to shape behaviours, entertain and persuade.

The added challenge for brands is that algorithms to one side, users now control their own intake, following the brands and personalities that we deem entertaining or aligned with our personal goals and beliefs on social media platforms.

This means it’s more challenging to succeed on excellence alone. So instead, they’re looking to new ways of engaging with customers, methods that emphasise storytelling, community and connection.

How Content and Commerce are Beginning to Merge

This has led to the rapid convergence of commerce and entertainment, as brands focus on increasing your time spent with them, in the knowledge that attention will turn into sales down the line.

We’ve seen behemoths like Amazon scheduling sports events and TV shows to be released around Black Friday, in order to drive people to be on the platform at peak times. Whilst media organisations like TikTok recently introduced sales and commerce directly onto their social feeds.

Then there are those coming at this equation from the opposite side, the social media influencers who have pioneered this new age of “authentic” and “relational” content. Often shot on phones and consumer cameras, with an output many would deem “unprofessional”, but who are building audiences into the tens of millions.

Take MrBeast, an American content creator, who launched MrBeast Burgers off the back of his 130 million strong YouTube audience to the tune of 10,000 people queuing to experience his first restaurant on opening day.

Or Michelle Phan, a fashion blogger, whose beauty brand Ipsy used a micro-influencer strategy building communities across to globe to create a business with a predicted annual revenue of $500 million.

Overpass insight: micro-influencers are great brand ambassadors who have smaller followings but higher engagement rates. You can work with them to promote social media posts, provide social proof, and generate authentic word-of-mouth marketing.

Creator-driven Brands Choose Relatability Over Aspiration

Have you noticed that interesting personalities consistently find more success on social media platforms than brands do? If you look at the top 25 Instagram accounts in the world, only 3 are brands. And the picture is even clear on TikTok, with only 2 brand accounts in the top 50.

It’s clear then, certainly when it comes to social media, that people resonate more with personas than companies. They want to follow those who are like them, they want content that’s relatable, not aspirational and they value connection and realism over excellence and aspiration.

So how can brands develop a content marketing strategy to reach the mass audiences that these creators do?

What Brands Can Learn From Influencer Marketing

A focus on collaboration, interaction and consistent communication has replaced the traditional "them and us" mentality, with creators actively in conversation with their audience and inviting them to be a part of the creative process. Subsequently, their content is much more believable, relatable and ultimately, engaging.

Creator-driven brands embody this change, prioritising genuine influencer relationships with their audience over polished, high-budget content. Further than this, they’re beginning to adopt a decentralised marketing approach, replacing internal and high-value production teams with hundreds of smaller creators that each have their own communities – a wildfire approach if you will.

With a combined following of over 60 million, fitness brand Gymshark epitomises this approach, investing heavily in influencer marketing, user-generated content and collaborative product launches. Not only do they build long-term partnerships with fitness influencers, creating passionate and effective brand advocates across the globe, but they also motivate their audience to share their experiences with the product. Their “Gymshark66” marketing campaign saw great success, with thousands of users posting fitness transformations over 66 days.

How You Can Build a Creator-led Brand

In order to build a successful creator-led brand, you must first identify your marketing goals and key metrics for success, ensuring these align with your business model and overall brand objectives. Do you wish to build engagement rates so you can create a community of eco-warriors? Or perhaps you want to improve conversion rates, in turn giving you the funds to launch a new project?

Next, you should look at the content creators making content that engages you. What strategies are they using when creating content? What content are they creating? And what influencer marketing platforms are they using? Adapting this style of content and the creator’s best practices to fit your own brand identity is an excellent starting point.

When hiring a social media influencer, prioritise those with an ability to produce high-quality and authentic content, over just those with the highest influence. Not only will it save you money, but you’ll find it much easier to quantify the value they bring to your brand.

Overpass best practice: Choose relevant influencers who have the right audience and genuinely resonate with your brand values. Then encourage them to create content and share their personal experiences with your products or services across their social media accounts. Make sure to avoid overly scripted or staged content – this usually comes across as inauthentic.

Embrace decentralisation as a cost-effective alternative to traditional high-budget content teams. This approach involves undergoing influencer collaboration with a diverse network of creators who contribute their unique skills and perspectives, resulting in more authentic and engaging content. By decentralising content creation, you can tap into a wider range of talent while reducing overhead costs and fostering a culture of innovation.

Overpass best practice: Trust is essential in creator-driven marketing, so avoid micromanaging and instead give influencers creative freedom and a guide for how to stay true to your brand's values. This approach will foster a more genuine and engaging connection with top creators and subsequently your target audience, ensuring you're all on the same page.

Finally, consider using a content management system to plan your influencer campaigns and monitor key success metrics such as engagement rate, reach, and conversions. In turn, this ensures that your marketing efforts are organised, backed by data and effective in achieving your goals.

A successful content strategy pays attention to industry trends and uses competitor research to develop a personal brand and produce relevant content that appeals to potential customers.

Overpass best practice: Patience, patience, patience – give each campaign you run a few months minimum. Building an audience takes time and it’s important to trust in the process and foundational work and not make hasty calls.

Three Ways You Can Eliminate Risk Whilst Working With Social Media Influencers

Expanding your partnerships and letting others influence how the world sees your brand can come with risks. Here are three ways you can reduce the likelihood of controversy, brand misalignment or audience backlash.

  1. Thoroughly vet creators to ensure they align with the brand's values and have a positive online reputation.
  2. Establish clear guidelines for creators to follow when representing the brand.
  3. Monitor audience reactions to creator collaborations and address any negative feedback promptly and transparently.
  4. Develop long-term creator relationships – not only does this ensure consistency, but it fosters increased loyalty amongst a creator’s followers. You should work to provide ongoing support and feedback where possible.

Legal and Ethical Considerations in Creator-led Marketing

Ensuring that your marketing efforts comply with industry regulations and maintain a high standard of ethics will protect your brand's reputation and build trust with your audience. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Proper disclosure of influencer collaborations and social media marketing: The UK's CAP Code requires that marketing communications must be clearly identifiable as such. Brands and creators must ensure that a paid partnership is clearly labelled, typically using hashtags like #ad, #sponsored, or #partner. The ASA has the authority to enforce these guidelines and penalises parties producing content that does not comply.
  • Avoiding deceptive marketing practices: The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPUTR) prohibits misleading and aggressive commercial practices in the UK. Brands and creators must avoid making false or exaggerated claims about products or services and should adhere to ethical marketing practices.
  • Intellectual property rights: Intellectual property laws in the UK, such as copyright, trademark, and patent laws, protect the rights of creators and brands. It's essential to obtain the necessary permissions and licenses when using a creator's content in marketing materials and to have contracts outlining the rights and responsibilities of each party.
  • Ethical influencer selection: The same principles apply as mentioned earlier. Choose a brand ambassador who aligns with your brand's values, maintains high ethical standards in their content, and complies with UK advertising regulations.

Five Ways to Act Like a Creator Today
  1. Utilise TikTok marketplace: This influencer marketing platform makes it easier for you to find and collaborate with influencers who align with your brand's values and target audience. Research popular creators and trends within your niche, and reach out to potential partners through the marketplace to develop exciting, shareable content that resonates with viewers and promotes your brand effectively.
  2. Share a founder video: Create a video featuring the founder or key members of your team to showcase your brand's story, mission, and values. Share insights into your journey, the challenges you've faced, and the passion that drives your brand. This type of content humanises your brand, helping to forge a deeper connection with your audience.
  3. Leverage cross-promotion opportunities: Partner with other brands or creators in your space which have a complementary target audience and share your values. Not only will this expand your audience, but it offers you an opportunity to create unique and engaging content to strengthen both brands.
  4. Develop a creator content hub: Create a dedicated platform, such as a blog or YouTube channel, where you showcase the best creator-generated content for your brand.
  5. Sponsor creator-driven events: Support creator-driven events, challenges, or competitions within your industry or niche. By sponsoring these events, you can associate your brand with creativity and innovation, while also gaining exposure to a larger audience of target customers.

Of course, if you’d like more guidance on this topic or help to build your creator network, just drop us a line.