From Content to Commerce: 3 popular ways creators are introducing physical products to their fans
From MrBeast’s Burger to Kim K’s Skims to the Sidemen’s entire clothing line, there is no shortage of success stories of creator-led brands. In each of these examples, the named creator(s) each built massive online communities initially via content alone and ultimately found a way to extend that value offline into now-recognizable brands. In other words, they took what they created in the digital world and found a way to capitalize on it in the physical world.
We would be remiss to sit here and talk about these creators’ product success without addressing a perhaps obvious reason for this success - the sheer size of their audience. These creators not only had loyal fans before moving into the commerce game, they already had creator economy-ing!
We don’t bring that up to discourage creators from exploring new avenues of opportunity. In fact, any creator with a loyal and engaged community can and should explore the physical commerce track. Not only do they already have a foundation of potential customers (which is more than most startups at launch!), but commerce can be a way to generate sustainable value in a form where the creator doesn’t always have to be on camera or in front of an audience, combatting content fatigue.
We bring it up only to shed light on the reality of the lift behind these glamorous brands. The more embedded a creator becomes in selling physical goods, the more they start to look and feel like a full-blown business - which comes with its own set of rules and functions to oversee, from finance to marketing to sales. It shouldn’t shock anyone that Kim Kardashian and MrBeast have full teams behind them to do this, but not every creator can or will have that luxury.
So for that reason, before entering the commerce game, our suggestion to any creator is to do the diligence. Familiarize yourself with existing options and make a call on your best fit.
The good news is because of the accelerating influence creators have on consumers’ purchasing decisions and the growing interest from creators to commercialize their digital communities, several solutions are popping up to help interested candidates bypass some of the more intensive requirements of running a business.
Perhaps the most nascent of models to enter the creator world, dropshipping models provide a low-risk, low-barrier option for those who want to dip their toe in the water with physical commerce.
Startups like Cortina, Fermat, and Carted, to name only a few, are democratizing the act of selling for anyone with a passion by enabling creators to access a variety of branded and wholesale inventory they don't have to hold. This is an affordable and fast way to test demand across various products if the creator is unsure. By removing away the messy logistics of physical commerce, these solutions allow creators to focus on what they do best: engage with their audience on their existing channels.
That being said, this model does come with its challenges - most notably, the difficulty in matching and curating a limited set of pre-made products to a pre-built audience with pre-vetted notions of a creator. In addition, this model is also susceptible to customer complaints about product quality, refunds, and shipping time. Lastly, margins may be less lucrative since the cost to have a partner hold and ship product comes at a premium.
2. Brand Product Collaboration
Certainly the most established commerce model, brand-product collaborations mimic original brand-creator partnership models in that 1) we often see them being done with top-tier creators, and 2) brands maintain a majority of the creative control.
Not to be confused with brand sponsorship or affiliate marketing, where creators are incentivized to promote and sell existing brand products.
The collaborations we’re referring to are when a brand works with a creator to co-launch a new product or line entirely - typically for the brand to unlock new value from the creator’s community, a group that previously might have been unreachable for them.
One example of this is Remi Bader, who recently launched an extended-size product line with Revolve (if you’ve read our last post, you’ll probably catch on that we’re big fans of Remi!). Remi speaks about her experience working with them here and gives some insight into the level of input and feedback she was able to provide to Revolve directly from her audience.
While it certainly sounds like an overall positive experience, she does call out that in this partnership, as well as others she’s done, the brand did not extend their products quite to the sizes she would have liked - one example of the limitations these types of partnerships might pose on creators. While the brand provides the full force of an established team to support, they’re still the ones in charge and will likely only humor creativity and flexibility to the extent that it still lives within their guidelines.
That being said, this is a powerful way to compound the reach and impact of two brands. If a creator chooses the right brand, it could lead to a home run for both sides and become a sustainable long-term partnership.
3. Product Launch
Then, we have the full-blown product launches. Perhaps the most exciting but also most intensive is the idea of ideating, launching, and owning a new product from scratch. We’ve seen this done well by several major celebrities - but we know the notion of using celebrity status is an outlier, so we’re here to show a more realistic approach.
Instead, let’s talk about Dana Hasson, a baker with 2.8mm TikTok followers whose story we find a little more relatable and a lot more inspiring.
Dana originally went to school for beauty and fashion, which is when she initially started creating content. Her passion for baking was always there, but it was in the background. When she eventually decided to mesh her baking passion with her content passion, she realized the space was quite “outdated and boring, hard and intimidating.” Using the feedback of her community, she asked herself, “How can I change this and make it so that people are excited to get in the kitchen to be a part of the baking process?” (a question she tries to address in her engaging TikToks!).
After realizing how much whitespace there was and how much was missing to create a more fun baking experience, she decided to launch her own bakeware line. By listening to her community and identifying her influence in that community, she timed her entry into commerce perfectly - as is clear by the fact that her bakeware launch completely sold out.
While Dana decided to dive head-first into this route without prior commerce initiatives, she was aware of what she knew and didn’t know and leveraged an agency to guide her through all the logistics of an initial launch (funding, sourcing, etc.). The beauty was, however, that she could be entirely hands-on, and ultimately owned the complete vision and idea behind the product line.
Different commerce models make sense for different creators at different points in their journey. What’s most important is figuring out which one the creator is ready for - aka, finding creator-product fit.
Determining which approach may be right for a creator will be based on answering a handful of questions to determine “business readiness”.
These questions can be bucketed as 1) fan (buyer) needs and 2) category sophistication.
1. Fan needs: What are fans looking for, and are they willing to pay for it?
- Why do your fans follow you?
- How do they engage with you?
- What do you provide them that they can’t find elsewhere?
- What kind of buying power do they have?
- Have you already monetized your fan base?
- How likely are they to purchase something if you recommended it to them?
Understanding their needs, ability to make financial decisions, and the creator’s overall ability to influence will give a good idea of where they sit as a creator and potential seller.
2. Category sophistication: Are physical products already sold in this category?
- Do you often promote other brands’ products within your space/category/niche?
- What kind of physical products are sold in your space?
- Is it common to have physical products?
- Are there existing “go-to” products you’ll be disrupting, or are you offering something new or unique?
The creator must understand the industry’s familiarity with physical products and their relationship to them. This will give them an edge on first to market or whether they’ll need to compete against many others.
Overall, these answers will provide clear indicators for how mature a creator is in their journey and likely path to succeed in selling physical goods.
Where do we go from here?
We’re in an age where creators now have an opportunity to build sustainable wealth beyond monetizing their audiences digitally or indirectly (e.g., via brands or platforms). However, there hasn’t been much guidance to determine which pathway is the best fit or how actually to get started.
While we hope to have helped provide a bit more clarity, a whole array of new tools and solutions in each part of a creator’s “business stack” exist and attempt to do the same.
But it’s important to remember one ugly truth: many creators may not be ready to diversify with a physical SKU just yet, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen.
There’s a natural hierarchy of growth in a creator’s lifecycle, and it’s important to understand where they sit in that lifecycle and strategically decide what the next stage might look like. The table below isn’t the holy grail, but it’s meant to show the development cycle of creators from ‘create’ (earliest stages) to scale 2.0 (a mature business such as Mr. Beast). If a physical product is not the best fit for the creator, it’s important to note the plentiful other forms of monetization at their disposal.
What are some products you’ve seen creators build or partner with successfully? How do you think this space will continue to provide accessible tools and education for creators?
This article was reposted with permission from Saaya Nath and Jack Chen, the creators and writers of Creator Economy-ing. This newsletter provides deep commentary about the Creator Economy, specifically the Creators.
Into the Creator Economy too? Want a place to talk about it with people as obsessed as you? Subscribe here and look out for monthly emails.
The opinions expressed by Saaya Nath and Jack Chen are their own and not reflective of Jump Capital or SWIDIA.