The future of influencer marketing and the creator economy looks promising to Dwayne Waite Jr, Marketing Manager, Schell Games. For Dwayne, with more than 25 years of marketing experience, the mix of creators and social commerce could be a game changer for many industries.
He has a reason to say so. Dwayne contends that because people are social creatures, brands may capitalize on this by developing successful influencer marketing strategies. Especially for consumer companies looking to interact and start dialogues with groups connected to their target audience, the gaming industry is increasingly becoming a prominent market.
Dwayne discussed the future of the creative economy while talking to Archana Mishra of Affable. He highlighted how games and game studios could assist more creators in making streaming and content creation their full-time jobs.
To make that happen, he shares that 80% of an influencer partnership should be preparation and research and 20% execution. Dwayne wants to go so far as to follow the creators who encourage customers to make a certain amount of spending. He believes the partnership between creator and brand would be significantly more helpful if both parties knew which creators' fan bases have greater Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) rates.
Q. After spending quite a long time in sports marketing, you now work for a company that creates virtual reality games. Tell us what your experience has been so far. What consumer marketing efforts have you run in the gaming sector, and hacks that worked really well?
A. With a background in marketing strategy and consumer behavior, I have always been curious about why people act the way they do and which products and services people choose to support or affirm their activities. From sports and entertainment to gaming, these industries have unique communities of consumers who “swear” by certain brands, ideas, and affinities.
I wouldn’t call it a ‘hack’, but I think employing the Seth Godin philosophy of ‘Finding a Tribe’ is incredibly beneficial. Humans are and -at least for now- continue to be social creatures. We’ll always look for a sense of belonging, identifying “Us’s and Them’s”, and building a community from those differentiations. Figuring out how your brand, good, or service can faithfully serve those communities is a great start to formulating an impactful marketing campaign.
The virtual reality (VR) gaming scene is fascinating and challenging for several reasons. First, it is one of the newer frontiers in-home gaming, so a lot of marketing and messaging is education. We have to answer questions: ‘Is this really for me?’ ‘Are these games and experiences worth the value?’ ‘Can I share these experiences with my friends and family?’
Second, while marketing the games, we are also de facto selling the VR hardware. We have to show the power behind our experiences and the quality of our experiences to assure the consumer that it is worth investing in this new hardware to play these games. For me, as a marketing professional who enjoys answering tough questions, these past couple of years have been a lot of fun.
Q. Since you brought up the idea of creating a community, there has been a noticeable trend among consumer brands to engage the gaming community. Particularly now that gaming has become a popular sector. Why do you think interest in the subject has grown?
A. It’s been a hot topic lately because it makes a lot of sense. Fewer people are watching traditional TV and listening to traditional radio. With the proliferation of streaming services, direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, and OOH advertising, we’re facing one of the most fragmented consumer landscapes we have ever seen.
However, billions of people are doing the same thing– gaming. Yes, even if you play Wordle 3x a week, you’re a gamer.
So the gaming marketplace is a latent market for non-gaming brands, and after several esports tournaments and content creators attracting more eyeballs than the Super Bowl, it was only a matter of time before gaming rose more into the mainstream marketing conversation.
Thankfully, there’s been a shift in thinking about who ‘gamers’ really are. The silly notion that gamers are only 14-19-year-old boys in their basements or dorm rooms is dying off. The fact that the average gamer profile is a 35-year-old woman surprises fewer people. Once that unconscious (or societal-driven) bias goes away, we’ll see more non-gaming brands jump into gaming activations.
Q. With consumer brands jumping into gaming, we are seeing an interesting thing — brands incorporating influencer marketing into the gaming sector. Are the two streams combining in some way? And what potential future developments do you envision in this connection?
A. Game discoverability (how people find games in stores and beyond) has been getting increasingly difficult since 2017. There was once a time when you would only see 20-30 games released in a month, on the high end. In today’s marketplace, there are hundreds of games released on a monthly basis, making it incredibly hard for the consumer to find high quality games that they would like.
So, with market saturation, the industry self-corrected itself by leveraging influencers and content creators as gatekeepers. These digital personalities not only entertained and created bonds with their fans, but they also rose the profiles of interesting games, games studios, and everything in between. Earlier I mentioned how I try to pay attention to niche communities. In the gaming space, these creators are building fan bases around how they play games, why they play certain games, and then they showcase different goods and services that help them do what they do. Absolutely fascinating.
There are more future developments in the combination of creators and gaming than I can possibly list, but some are more interesting to me than others. I’m curious how games and game studios can help more creators make their streaming and content creation more full-time, benefiting the Creator Economy overall. I think there’s more to product and game testing here than what’s happening now. Codesigning and development with creators sound very interesting.
Q. Clearly, a lot of conversations have been happening around the creator economy. What do you think the future holds for influencer-led commerce?
A. The combination of creators and social commerce, I think, is going to be a game changer for many industries. The United States market is lagging behind the Asian market when it comes to this, and the Asian market is proving that there is a lot of money to be had when you empower creators to serve as ambassadors for your brand to promote your goods and services.
Amazon really had the lead in this area with having “Creator Collections” online, where creators could curate the different outfits and products they liked on Amazon.
I am not exactly sure why this trend hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but for both brands and creators, I think the future is very bright if implemented well.
Q. Realizing this growing potential of the creator economy, companies like Meta, TikTok and YouTube, have launched their creator marketplaces to bridge the gap between content and commerce. How effective do you think they will be compared to third-party influencer marketing platforms?
A. That is a big question that remains to be answered. As a marketing professional, I see the benefit of working within the native app marketplaces. In most cases, the search is better, the data is better, and the lookalike comparisons are better. However, it has been my experience that we, as marketers, do not have the luxury to focus on one specific channel to run an influencer marketing campaign. It sounds nice, but that just isn’t a reality.
Third-party influencer marketing platforms allow multi-platform influencer campaigns at scale. Many of them have nice evaluation and reporting tools, as well as creator search, comparison, and overall management. Those native marketplaces are great supplements to the 3rd party platforms, but I do not see the native platforms as the primary driver of influencer campaigns for some time.
It is an interesting turnaround, though. From 2016-2018, YouTube had its creator marketplace called Famebit. It was okay until they sunset the self-managed platform and made it concierge style. TikTok and Instagram’s marketplaces are nothing new, just new to their platforms.
What these native marketplaces can do, though, at a faster and relatively more affordable way, is help new influencer marketing managers and planners show the effectiveness of influencer marketing, so they can prove that the investment into a 3rd party platform is necessary and worth it to scale.
Q. Brands appear to be realizing the value of influencer marketing. In your opinion, what is a good benchmark for an influencer marketing campaign?
A. I view our influencer marketing activities as full-funnel, so each campaign has different benchmarks and KPIs depending on the type of creators we’re using, the type of content we’re asking for, and the length of the campaigns. Across the board, though, we do look for some similar data points. One is the engagement rate- that’s a big one for us. We don’t even look at some creators under a particular rate because we want to make sure that the content the creator is putting out there is truly resonating with their audience.
I haven’t run a campaign like this before, but one I hope to do in the near future involves digital commerce and average order value (AOV). I think finding creators who activate consumers to spend at a particular level would be a fantastic data point to track. Similarly, with the right marketing tech stack in place, one could track customer lifetime value (LTV) and segment it based on the creator and first-party data from the consumer. Knowing which creators have higher LTV rates in their fanbase would make the relationship between creator and brand much more valuable.
Q. What are the opportunities within influencer marketing that brands might be overlooking currently?
A. I think co-branding is vastly underrated and underutilized. For example, gamers need the game to play, that’s true- but they also need snacks, clothes, equipment, and more. Brands working together with the same content creator can reap a lot of benefits.
I also think more brands can embrace the Creator economy and provide more compensation opportunities than just product seeding and gifting. I know it is easier and more cost-effective to do so, but offering more cash payouts will show more creators that there is a chance to make this a career. More creators, and more paying opportunities, mean overall prices for content creators can decrease as the market balances. Paying more creators lowers the barriers to entry for everyone.
Q. How do you maintain a 1:1 relationship with creators? What are the common difficulties you encounter when working with influencers? And any top tips for managing the challenges?
A. Like most marketing activities, influencer marketing is a people business. We like working with creators who we like as people. We follow them on social media, watch content they’ve done for other people, and also look for ways to meet them in person.
We are also very selective about the creators we work with. In our Wild Wild West days of 2016, we’d send out 100-200 game keys to creators and prayed that we would get a mention or a let’s play video. Nowadays, we work with 30-50 creators at a time, with a streamlined process and aligned expectations.
Any type of difficulty that comes up with us is nothing unfamiliar to the creative industry. Sometimes a shoot went long, and they needed more time to edit. Sometimes they forget that they have a vacation planned, and we need to readjust their posting schedule. These creators are people, and so we treat the relationship like people working together to hit a common goal.
My favorite tip for this goes for marketing overall. In my first marketing job, our supervisor told us that any marketing activity should be 80/20. The 80% is research and planning, and the 20% is execution. Applying that adage to our creator program, we are very intentional about our relationships and therefore minimize any headaches or challenges.
Q. What does the future of influencer marketing look like to you?
A. The Creator Economy isn’t going anywhere. When I look at the rise of social media, it took about ten years for it to officially “mature”. There are some federal regulations around its activities, some well-established conferences and professional organizations around it, and the advertising infrastructure across the platforms are at a place (maybe, except Twitter) that make the investment in it worth it.
I think the Creator economy is facing a similar- albeit faster- climb to maturity. Rules of engagement are slowly being developed, and those creators who were in it for “the quick buck” are fading into the background, being replaced by professional creators to try to be their genuine selves and promote brands, goods, and services that they genuinely care about. The consuming public is getting better, too, at sourcing out those creators who rather be bought than be genuine, and that self-correcting helps brands choose the right creators to work with.
I believe that social commerce has to be a thing for creators to continue to flourish, as well as brands to find ways to create additional revenue streams that can be shared with creators to build up the Creator ecosystem.
As a creative class, will creators organize into some guild or union? It is not out of the realm of possibility. However, like working with union and non-union actors, bringing in and retaining talent makes things a little harder.
In short, the future of influencer marketing and the creator economy looks very exciting.
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