The western world is in a state of massive economic upheaval. But it’s one that started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever before, members of the creative class have become a significant driving force. They are shifting demographics, spending habits, and hierarchical understandings across many countries.
The economic development of a strong creative class has been instrumental in giving rise to what we now know as influencer marketing and the influencer class. Understanding one can lead to crucial insights on the other. It’s vital that brands and marketers understand just how they can leverage content creators as part of their greater communications and promotional efforts.
What is the Creative Class?
The concept of the creative class first arose through a similarly titled book by Richard Florida, professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University. In it, he defines the creative class as members of society who
“do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries—from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.”
In other words, this class does not just consist of artists, graphic designers, or other “traditionally” creative professions. It includes anyone from lawyers to managers who use creative problem-solving skills in their everyday jobs. This younger generation care less about societal norms and traditions and more about personal expression. And they often leverage their high educational attainment in the process.
That creative class, in turn, has become an economic force. When Florida first published his findings in 2002, he estimated that it included 38 million Americans, or more than 30 percent of the American workforce. By 2017, that number had risen to more than 56 million Americans.
The Distinguishing Characteristics of the Creative Class
Florida’s research was a watershed moment for economic thought. As defined by him, the creative class is the single most important economic driver in the United States today. With it, this class has brought values and characteristics that shape every bit of how we as a society live and interact.
Most importantly, traditional hierarchies have become less important. It’s no coincidence that over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of concepts like flat organizational structures and more agile, open office spaces. The creative class rejects strict concepts of supervision and task-based working. Instead, they prefer a more free-flowing environment where everyone can talk to and work with everyone.
Diversity is another crucial characteristic of this class. Importantly, that’s not just diversity in its strict, racial-based definition so often used in marketing and communications today. Instead, the creative class prioritizes diversity in all of its forms and shapes, including:
- Diverse workforces with inputs from all backgrounds, genders, and races.
- Workforces that are not just functional, but interesting to work at.
- Diverse influences, including different types of music, food, and culture.
Put it all together, and you get a class (though it may not look at itself as such) that values one thing above all: input from everyone. This includes input at all levels, based on meritocratic inputs rather than pre-defined organizational or cultural norms. And that’s where the influencer class enters the equation.
How the Influencer Class Fits Into the Creative Class Ecosystem
We talk about influencer marketing quite a lot in this space, and deservedly so. Over the past decade, what used to be a novelty has grown into a $14 billion industry that’s growing at an annual rate of almost 40 percent. Brands can gain Massive ROI from working with creators. It’s no wonder influencer marketing has become a vital part in the marketing mix of both small and large businesses.
That trend is impossible to separate from the creative class outlined above. As in countless professions, influencers are making their mark. A desire for meritocratic achievements, where diversity matters more than hierarchies and everyone can make an impact, is becoming standard.
They come from all walks of life. Here, success truly can be blind. Anyone with a camera and an active internet connection can make an impact and share their original content with millions of others around the world. It’s why 50 million internet users around the world now call themselves online content “creators,” whether or not they are able to make a living with that process.
Average People Making Big Impacts
These content creators are not celebrities. They’re famous for what they produce, not their face or their profession. And they now exist in every niche. Consider:
- Max Miller, whose YouTube channel Tasting History is approaching one million followers.
- Audrey McClelland, owner of MomGenerations.com and parenting social media channels that are approaching one billion views.
- Jaclyn Hill, a beauty influencer with more than five million subscribers who has partnered with every major beauty brand and created her own makeup line.
- Jelle Van Vucht, a Dutch influencer who live streams his gaming videos to more than 22 million subscribers.
And those are just some of the countless examples of influencers creating content and reaching their massive audience. That reach, of course, is not for naught. According to one survey, in countries like Brazil and India, up to 43 percent of all purchases are influenced by content creators. Even in the U.S., that share is approaching 20 percent.
If the creative class is the biggest economic driving force today, influencers are its online representation. They come from everywhere. They talk about every subject imaginable. In the process, they are responsible for billions of purchased goods every year. All of that is accomplished by “average” people. Their only distinguishing factor is finding a niche and being great at creating content related to that niche.
Influencers: Here to Stay
That’s how, in today’s economy, influencer marketing has become such a core piece of the typical and ideal marketing mix. The best part? Given current economic trends, that fact is not about to change or even slow down. Influencers, just like the creative class as a whole, are here to stay, and here to make an impact. Brands that can leverage that simple truth will be able to create a massive advantage in getting their message out in a creative, authentic way.
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By James Cashiola