What Brands Can Learn From Creators About the Future of E-Commerce

By Roger Patterson

Confession: I’m not much of a shopper, but I was scrolling through Twitter a while back and saw Issac Childres, one of my favourite indie game makers, had launched a Kickstarter for a Euro-inspired board game. A few clicks later, I was making my order for Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.

And unlike the last thing I’d purchased from Amazon, this buy left me feeling good. Yes, I’d be getting a fun game once production started, but I was also supporting a real person, with a real mission. Having followed the creator’s account for months, I was well versed in his values, work, and dreams. I wasn’t just a consumer — I was an insider, a community member, connected to a creator.

This is the power of social commerce in action.

The next evolution of commerce is being led by a rising class of creators on social media who value community over conversion and turn followers into purchasers. They’re creating unparalleled experiences tailored to their fans (offers even reluctant consumers like myself can’t resist). And the approach is paying off, big time: the creator economy is estimated to be worth over $38 billion today. In Canada alone, YouTube creators contributed $923 million to the GDP in 2020, supporting the equivalent of 34,100 full-time jobs. 

The pandemic has only amplified this trend. In fact, the global social commerce market is worth almost $89.4 billion and is estimated to reach $604.5 billion by 2027. And with Canadians spending more time on social media than their American counterparts, marketers have fully embraced influencer marketing as a leading strategy to reach consumers. For businesses, however, the transition has been clunky. Social commerce relies on authenticity and community, and (no offense!) big brands struggle with this — a whopping 41 percent of consumers don’t trust brand marketing. 

But for brands that are able to make the leap, there are huge rewards. Studies show socially connected consumers think more positively about brands, make more purchases and give higher product ratings. Here are three takeaways businesses can learn from creators who are leading the way.

Creators Build Community At All Cost 

When it comes to building community on social media, Kayla Itsines, a 30 year-old personal trainer from Adelaide, knows a thing or two. What started as a passion –– helping her sister’s friends get fit for their highschool netball team ––  turned into a $100M USD annual revenue-making business. 

Itsines, who co-founded Sweat App in 2015 after her Instagram became a source of fitness inspiration (now with 13.1M followers), never intended to build an empire. When asked in an interview how she became so popular, she answered: “Have your passion, but also listen to your audience and what they say. My clients find little things that I don’t see … If you just listen to them, you build a product that your customer wants.”

The “social” in social commerce can’t be overstated. Community and personal relationships have to come first. Selling too quickly is the biggest mistake brands make — trying to move from transaction to relationship. Creators on the other hand, start with content that adds value and builds community first. From trust, sales organically grow

Creators Amass Fans Not Customers  

When creators build a community, their followers don’t just become customers — they become fans. This distinction is proving important as social commerce evolves to include social tokens. 

Like cryptocurrency or NFTs (non fungible tokens), social tokens are an emerging category of digital assets that are backed by the reputation of an individual, community or brand. 

Not only do they enable fans to directly invest in the creators they love, they allow creators to reward them accordingly. This next gen spin on customer loyalty should have big brands thinking ahead. The days of discounts or points for products may pale in comparison for Gen Z who prefer receiving an NFT from a favorite hip hop artist, or scoring a 30-minute phone call with an adirmed CEO. 

And while it may be easier for creators to amass fans than brands, the technology can also be leveraged by brands to improve customer relationships. NBA Top Shots, for instance, allows NBA fans to own sport moments from their favorite players via NFTs. And digital sneaker brand RTFKT did a collaboration with artist FEWOCiOUS launching an NFT sale that grossed $3 million. These, of course, are examples of brands selling rather than rewarding loyalty, which is where creators still lead the way. 

Creators Focus on Niche Over Numbers 

The ability for creators to discover people who share in their passions is also changing how we do business. In order to be successful, in the past companies would only produce products that appealed to the masses; now, it’s not uncommon to find creators with niche products flourishing after being discovered by smaller numbers of people from around the globe. 

Amazon, the monolithic retailer, which often gets a bad rap, has actually done an exceptional job of marketing to “the long tail” — targeting multiple niche markets with a product or service, as opposed to specializing in one specific offering or audience. This diversification and appeal to thousands of distinct audiences has served the e-tailer well: more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles.

Long story short: The days of mass-market appeal are changing. Instead, successful selling is becoming more about niche products or services, and individual experiences. 

Social commerce in the West is evolving organically, and it’s hard to predict what trends will stick. This constant shifting means brands can take one more cue from the digital natives who have done so well with social and embrace adaptability. While ‘planning’ was once the most prized skill for marketing teams, flexibility is even more valuable in today’s ever-changing landscape. Regardless of the road, expect more personal, engaging and meaningful shopping experiences from the creator level up. 

Roger Patterson is the founder and CEO of visual marketing platform Later and co-founder of Canadian tech accelerator Launch Academy

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