Creators, content commerce and control – those are the three key areas that Dave Yovanno says will be critical for brands to focus on in the years ahead.
The CEO of impact.com told AdNews that creators are quickly becoming one of the main sources of information that people are sourcing from in their journey to make a purchase.
"Now, there are creators who are cheesy salespeople and I think that the community pushes them out pretty quickly, but any successful creator for the long term recognises that their audience is what's most important and they feel their allegiance to their audience, not necessarily to a brand," he said.
"Brands are going to come and go but their audience remains and if they lose that, they’ve got nothing, so they're finding ways to weave in brand messages with their other content that they publish."
A Goldman Sachs research report in April said the creator economy is worth USD $250 billion today and it's growing to USD $480 billion in the next five years, figures that Yovanno says highlights both the need for brands to take creators seriously and the influential role that they play in the buying process.
He said that another trend happening concurrently to this is publishers are writing more content about products, a phenomenon he calls commerce content.
"Think of a creator - typically an individual person, or a very small team of people - doing reviews on products. Now, these major publishing houses have an editorial team of like 80 people that are researching products; they're surveying their audience, they’re following search and social trends and seeing what their audience is interested in," he said.
"The trend, at least with the major publishers that I've spoken with, is that they have gone what's called 'ad free'. They've taken ads off these commerce content pages and they are 100% focused on monetising those pages with the affiliate links within the pages.
"I've heard that it's worth three times the value those pages are if it's done right, so it's a really transformative change to how they're monetising."
Yovanno told AdNews that the third major trend that he sees brands having to focus on is acknowledging and embracing the fact that they are no longer in control.
"I wouldn't even say that the publisher or the partner is in control - I would say the customer is in control," he said.
"A lot of brands recognise the fact that they have to stop interrupting and disrupting the normal course of online behaviour. Why do people go online? They're looking for information, they're looking for entertainment, they’re looking for connections with people - what they're not coming online for is an ad.
"Brands need to recognise that the information that people, creators and publishers are sharing is really what is driving the customer journey now and the challenge to them is be part of that information - stop being such an ad and draw more alliances with the people that are connecting with people and telling these stories."
Yovanno said that brands haven't done themselves any favours over the last 100 years.
Upon the launch of both TV and radio, ads were inserted to sponsor that programming, and ever since brands have been in the driver's seat and controlling the narrative; Yovanno said this means they've been able to say whatever they want to say and nobody’s called them out on it.
"Think about those early ads – ‘eight out of 10 doctors say smoking is okay, or even good for you’; Coca Cola was the same thing, ‘sugar is good for you’. No one called them out on it and now you look at the access to information that consumers have, consumers are the ones in the driver's seat," he said.
"With the rise of platforms like YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat and Tiktok, it's exciting because consumers are getting a better product, they’re getting a better experience and there's just a lot more authenticity built into it."
Looking ahead to where the space that impact.com plays in is headed - that of affiliates and partnerships, as well as influencers and creators with the technology platform's recent launch of impact.com / creator - Yovanno said that a clear trend he's observing is traditional affiliate teams converging with influencer marketing teams.
"A big part of what's driving it is you're not buying an ad necessarily; you're saying, 'Hey, here's what we're about, you have a connection to somebody, here's how we'll compensate you’" he told AdNews.
"A lot of that is on performance basis, but one of the challenges is if you come from the affiliate world, all you have typically known is performance: 'I'm only paying somebody a commission' - but that's not the way creators think about it. This is not the world of advertising where it's like, here's a slot and it's worth this much; creators have varying degrees of value, but all of them spend time to get to know the brand.
"They are producing content – photos, videos, texts – and that’s worth something; nobody's going to do that for free. For affiliates, it's super easy, because it could be just a simple coupon or discount; there's no production level or effort really involved with that. But when you start getting into these other partnership types, it's figuring out how to compensate that."
Yovanno said that brands can suggest, influence and guide what a creator is saying about the brand, but ultimately the creator is using their own voice to talk to their audience.
"Because of that, it's not fair actually that the brand should bear all of the risk and pay it fixed fee for that. What this all leads to is what is the right combination of fixed fee and performance and what makes sense and we're on the verge of figuring that out.
"We're playing our role as a technology platform to make recommendations - generative AI is now starting to help with this. Any creator on our platform is authenticating into their social platform, so we see how many followers, likes and comments they have.
"It's not available just yet, but soon, it'll say, 'if these guys post something, we estimate it's worth this. It's up to you on how you want to set your contracts with them, but we're giving you some intelligence and guidance to say on a flat fee basis it's worth this, but here's another scenario - a flat fee plus commission."
Yovanno calls this 'post plus', something he says "seems like the right balance on both sides", where a brand is paying a creator to post something plus a commission over the long term on sales that are generated from that content.
"It's the same challenge with customers - customers aren't really motivated to earn a commission with their friends, but giving them a discount on a future purchase makes sense, right? It's about figuring out what is the right balance and mix of compensation models for these different partnership types and we're trying to be a platform that simplifies that challenge."
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