Influencer-started businesses are rising—by popular demand.
In 2020, I argued that influencer-started businesses would emerge as real threats to traditional businesses.
I got pushback; few agreed with my analysis.
Was I wrong? In this post, I want to revisit my initial analysis and further investigate how the business landscape is evolving.
Here we go:
The Advantage: Free Marketing and PR
Back in 2020, my main argument was that influencer-started businesses would have one main advantage:
The advantage of influencer-started businesses: Free marketing and excellent PR with an existing niche audience are decisive starting points for any competitive venture.
Read also: Influencer Marketing is A-Changing
I argued that the marketing- and PR advantage would be so prominent that influencer-started businesses would soon begin to challenge traditional businesses, even global powerhouses like McDonald’s.
The pushback argument was that influencers wouldn’t be able to challenge traditional businesses due to their lack of corporate proficiency. Scaling a business is not easy.
The consensus seemed clear: “Influencer-started businesses will continue to pop up and be interesting, but… in no way will they be able to challenge traditional megabrands.”
PR Case Study: MrBeast Burgers
Later in 2020, the famous Youtuber MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) opened up MrBeast Burgers, a virtual restaurant. A virtual restaurant means you can order from the MrBeast Burger’s menu via various apps, and other existing restaurants (“ghost kitchens”) will fulfil your order. 1MrBeast. (2023, January 12). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MrBeast 2MrBeast Burger. (2023, January 13). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MrBeast_Burger
The success was massive despite (or thanks to) the Covid-19 pandemic, and the extra revenue saved many fast-food restaurants. Today, the menu can be ordered from 300+ locations in the USA, Canada, the UK, and a few other worldwide places.
It took Beast Burger three months to sell 1 million hamburgers. In late 2022, the brand opened its first physical restaurant in East Rutherford, New Jersey. 10,000 people showed up, and they managed to serve a record-breaking 6,212 burgers on opening day. 3
MrBeast Burgers is still a far cry from posing a real challenge to a global brand like McDonald’s. The question is: will it ever?
The Slight Edge: The Overall Experience
What could challenge a megabrand like McDonald’s?
Let’s clarify: it’s not decided by one thing, like the taste. McDonald’s is great in many ways, but most burger lovers will attest to the simple fact that McDonald’s isn’t renowned for serving the best-tasting burgers in the world.
McDonald’s has many advantages. I don’t know which of these advantages allows them to dominate their market. I know that when you combine the positives and the negatives into a singular brand experience, McDonald’s is a popular enough choice to rule the world of fast-food burger restaurants.
But this is also why MrBeast Burgers doesn’t have to make better burgers to challenge McDonald’s. They only have to be the slightly more popular choice overall, particularly whenever they open up a physical location next to a McDonald’s. 3The benefits of success are rarely evenly distributed; it’s the natural outcome of the power-law distribution.
And since it’s not down to one single thing, like the taste, price, size, availability, or quality, I’m arguing that influencer-started brands will have a reasonable shot at contending even with global megabrands—at least when it comes to a crucial component: the overall experience.
And this is where the analysis of influencer-started businesses gets interesting.
An Audience Isn’t Something You Buy
Influencer-started businesses have the advantage of free marketing and PR. But they also have the advantage of having a nurtured brand community.
This means that influencer-started businesses are in a favourable position when it comes to one particular expertise:
How to create experiences that audiences seek.
Influencers might not be well-versed when it comes to running or scaling businesses—yet. But they are masters in tailoring experiences and nurturing audience relationships.
Or put in other words:
MrBeast has a better shot at improving the McDonald’s experience than McDonald’s has at improving the MrBeast experience.
MrBeast can leverage his enormous fame to hire armies of people from the restaurant business. But McDonald’s can never hire someone that constantly can churn out videos averaging 100M views on YouTube.
Will MrBeast Burgers challenge McDonald’s?
Well, that’s not the point.
Influencer-Started Businesses Are Coming
Do I think that MrBeast Burgers will be able to challenge McDonald’s? For that to happen, so many more things must go MrBeast’s way that the prospect of it ever happening must be deemed highly unlikely.
I’m the first to admit that the odds aren’t in favour of MrBeast Burgers.
But I think influencers will continue to launch more and more businesses—MrBeast Burgers is just one of the thousands of serious attempts to come.
And I think influencer-started enterprises will become increasingly more prominent threats to traditional businesses.
In 2022, Joakim Lundell, arguably the most prominent social media influencer in Sweden, produced a low-budget horror movie that became the highest-grossing Swedish film ever in its genre and went straight to number one—with almost half of the tickets for the opening weekend sold in advance. 4Feed (film). (2022, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed_(film)
Had Lundell ever produced a movie before? No. Does he seem to have a keen sense of what kind of experience Swedish horror fans are looking for? Apparently, he does.
Four Business Advantages of Influencers
I would even go so far as to push my argument to its limit:
Passionate niche audiences might be better at finding tomorrow’s business leaders than corporate promotion systems.
Having seen the naked interior of hundreds of corporate promotion systems throughout my career as a consultant, I’m not impressed. These promotion systems produce bosses, not leaders.
As more business cases accumulate and more venture capitalists get on board, this development could grow exponentially. Traditional businesses might be staring into an avalanche.
Here’s how I’d summarise my argument today:
The first advantage of influencer-started businesses: Free marketing and excellent PR with an existing niche audience are decisive starting points for any competitive venture.
The second advantage of influencer-started businesses: Influencers are experts at creating sustainable and long-term audience relationships using perfectly tailored experiences.
The third advantage of influencer-started businesses: Influencers can copy traditional businesses, but traditional businesses cannot copy the relationship between influencers and their audiences.
The fourth advantage of influencer-started businesses: Niche audiences are better at appointing leaders than traditional corporate structures.
|MrBeast. (2023, January 12). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MrBeast|
|MrBeast Burger. (2023, January 13). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MrBeast_Burger|
|The benefits of success are rarely evenly distributed; it’s the natural outcome of the power-law distribution.|
|Feed (film). (2022, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed_(film)|