I’m sure you’ve heard before “a logo is not a brand”, but it definitely represents it. Logos were invented to identify and differentiate products and companies in the real world. McDonalds in the next service station. Nike on your gym instructor’s t-shirt. Signal in the toiletries section. 

However, the online world is a little different from real life. We spend less time looking at spaces and objects, and more time looking at videos and pictures. And in contentland: faces are king. 

In a post-pandemic world, where TikTok gave everyone (including brands) permission to pick up a camera and make a video with the potential to reach millions of people regardless of your following, more and more companies are realizing that letting creators run your content (behind and in front of the camera) can bring huge growth and relatability. But how does this impact the brand? 

The rise of creator brands

I think at this stage we can all agree that a logo is not a brand, and that brands are about vision and purpose as a means to build trust. Purpose-driven branding, as described more than 10 years ago by Simon Sinek in Start with Why, is still how most brands are built these days. 

The new creator economy has introduced a different way to build brands – one where many brands start from a known personality, not an idea. At the core of this new type of brand, there isn’t a strong vision, but a strong personality.

Feastables by Mr Beast, Prime by Logan Paul and KSI, and even Tesla by Elon Musk are great examples of this phenomenon. I call them “Creator Brands”.

Creator Brands are less focused on a big vision or purpose, and more centered on those who represent it. 

A few characteristics that creator brands have in common

  1. Most run ads, but they value more organic content and usually excel at it.
  2. Marketing tends to be decentralized, collaborating with other creators to promote and distribute their commercial content and POV. 
  3. They’re focused on being relatable (a friend), not aspirational (a leader).
  4. Prioritize connection over excellence.
  5. Their communication is interactive, not one-directional.
  6. Video is their by-default communication medium, not design or text.
  7. Less about why they do things, and more about who is behind them. 

This last one, is the reason why most people would recognize Elon Musk when shown a picture of him, but would struggle to draw the Tesla logo. This would be unthinkable of Nike, Pepsi, or McDonald’s. 

The wonders (and dark avenues) of creator brands

Ok. We get it. Creator brands are a thing as more entrepreneurs started their days making content. But why would the rest of humans even care? In short, because Prime is the fastest growing sports drink in history and Feastables launch video (17min) has close to 200M views. For context, the most viewed SuperBowl commercial (30s) got about 140M views.

The reason why creator brands are so powerful is because it’s way more complicated to grow a loyal audience than it is to launch a product.

Creator advertisement is extremely efficient for a few reasons: 

  1. Creator networks are huge for brand awareness
    It not only relies on the brand’s spending power, but on the quality of their network and size of their reputation. When a big creator launches a brand, every smaller creator makes content with the aim to ride the wave. This is not only free distribution, but really powerful word-of-mouth. A quick Youtube search for “Prime” will reveal how much content on the platform is not from their creators or the brand itself. 
  2. Creator intel on media increases marketing performance and ROI
    Creator’s knowledge on media creation, distribution and content consumption behaviors enables the brand not only to perform extremely well organically from the get-go, but also to deliver more engaging creative for their ads.
  3. Their community secures product market fit, and enables feedback loops
    It is really hard to build an engaged community, but it’s an incredible asset to improve and evolve your products and services. 

So what’s the catch? 

The creator’s personal brand is intimately connected to the brand
This is true at many stages of growth of the brand, but especially critical at the beginning. An individual decision by the creator leading the brand and really damage the performance and reputation of the brand. An example of this is Elon Musk’s decision to take over Twitter. 

Scale can be challenging
As the creator grows and launches more brands, and each brand releases new products, it can be challenging to keep a healthy relation between the creator and the brand or products. Having a solid diversification strategy could be a way out. Feastables and Beast Burgers are managing this in a very interesting way. Both brands leverage secondary characters from the Mr. Beast universe (Karl, Chandler… etc) to promote new products, and release some pressure off of Jimmy’s shoulders.

How to “creatorize” your brand?

There are two approaches on how to build a creator brand or “creatorize” an existing brand. 

Founder-led creator brands 

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, that you (or your founder) are not a top creator just yet. That’s fine. You can kick off your journey as a creator today by starting to appear in your brand’s content, and even creating your own content through your personal brand in case you’re not doing that yet. 

But I get it, most founders or entrepreneurs don’t have the time to learn creator skills or make content even if they’re excited about taking a leading role in representing their brands. That’s where a smart content team comes in. 

Something I find fascinating is how little some content teams have evolved over the last few years. The world of online content has drastically changed with the introduction of discovery-based algorithms. However, many content teams still prioritize creating content for search engines, focusing on SEO and written content to grow their brands. 

One of the best examples of a discovery-based content team leveraging the figure of a (very introverted) founder is Nothing Technology. Nothing is a tech brand trying to compete with Apple, the biggest company in the world. And their approach is brilliant. Since they can’t compete in execution or resources, they are positioning themselves as the edgier, no bs, relatable alternative. And they’re killing it. 

On their Youtube Channel, their content team has created a catalog of really engaging content touching almost every popular content genre. From reactions to product reviews, including creator collabs, many of the videos feature Carl Pei, the CEO of the company. but they have also been smart diversifying with other team members.

Creator-led brands

Not all founders are interested in becoming a public figure. And that’s ok. You can still build a creator brand by working with creators (in-house or partners) to increase your reach, boost your engagement, and build an invested community.

Here’s how: 

  1. Find a micro-creator (10-50k) that are already making content in your niche and offer them a long-term partnership. 
  2. Give the creator clarity on your audience, product category and main benefit, and your positioning and POV as a brand. 
  3. Let the creator decide what content to post and how it should be packaged. 
  4. Start growing organically and finding your tone on the platforms. 

But what if your creator leaves the company? It’s totally fine. Just keep going. This has happened many times in Hollywood and we all got over it. How many Spidermans or James Bonds have we seen and loved in the theater? As viewers accept it’s part of the game.  

The key to creator-led brands is diversification. As the content starts taking off and your community starts growing, you can start partnering with other creators and introducing new characters to your media.

Work with a small group of creators that hopefully collaborate in the content between them. Mr Beast is a great example of this, as seen before, and The Futur did a great job at it as well. Chris Do has always been running the show, but he wisely introduced different personalities like Matthew Encina or Ben Burns that refreshed and expanded the brand. 

Faces are the new logotypes

We’re still in the early days of the creator economy. More and more people are realizing that to have a healthy online persona (or brand), nothing beats content creation.

As brilliantly explained by Noal Yuval Harraris in his book Sapiens, capitalists invented trademarks to disassociate commercial activity from a specific individual in a commercial landscape. Obviously, this has tremendous legal and growth benefits. The most prominent expression of a trademark is obviously the logo. Which allows humans to identify trademarks from companies runned by groups of people, and not just one individual. Purpose has been used to give symbols a meaning, an emotion. But connecting with people directly is way more powerful. 

That’s why we engage more with creators than we do with brands. We always did. Humans are designed to be attracted to other humans. We just happen to communicate with each other using symbols. With today’s technology, we can create and distribute media regularly, at scale for free. Now media supports human-to-human connection, and your brand can benefit from it.

Why not take it?

Cover image source: master1305