In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Christie Horsman, who brings a decade of expertise in both B2B and B2C marketing within the SaaS arena. Currently serving as the VP of marketing at Thinkific, a platform that empowers entrepreneurs to craft, market, and deliver online courses, Christie delves into the burgeoning Creator Economy and how it’s reshaping the marketing landscape, especially in the B2B sector.
Besides leading the marketing initiatives at Thinkific, she is an avid writer on marketing trends for Entrepreneur Magazine, elucidating how modern marketers can break the mold to drive business growth. Her keen insights into leveraging community and human-centric approaches provide a fresh perspective on evolving B2B marketing practices.
The Creator Economy isn’t just a playground for B2C marketers or influencers. It’s a rich, untapped terrain for B2B marketing, offering a humanized and community-centric approach that can significantly contribute to business growth. By embracing the principles of the Creator Economy, B2B marketers can foster a deeper connection with their audience, enhance trust, and drive meaningful engagement.
Questions I ask Christie Horsman:
- [01:10] How are creators changing marketing, especially in B2B?
- [02:08] How do you define the “creator economy” compared to traditional economic models?
- [03:44] Some creators do quirky things for attention. What can B2B brands learn from this?
- [05:28] Brands are teaming up with influencers. What’s good or bad about this approach?
- [07:02] Successful creators have personal branding. How can a brand adopt this idea?
- [09:39] B2B and B2C marketing are blending. How are authenticity and personal branding playing a role?
- [11:51] In the creator economy, how does shifting from push to pull marketing work for product exposure?
- [13:13] How should a B2B person measure the impact of creator economy strategies on engagement and community?
- [15:45] Thinkific is a creator tool. What’s your advice for B2B brands considering such platforms for course creation?
- [19:16] How is Thinkific adapting to the demand for community engagement?
- [21:55] Where can our listeners connect with you to learn more about today’s topics?
More About Christie Horsman
- Read Christie’s article in Entrepreneur magazine – 4 Ways Creators Are Revolutionizing Marketing — and How Big Brands Can Benefit
- Connect with Christie Horsman on The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with Christie Horsman
- Check out The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with Christie Horsman
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Connect with John Jantsch on LinkedIn
John Jantsch (00:08): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Christie Horseman. It's over 10 years experience in the B two B and B two C SaaS based. She is the director, mother and teacher based in Vancouver, British Columbia currently serves as the VP of marketing at Thinkific, a software platform that enables entrepreneurs to create, market, sell, and deliver their own online courses. And she also writes about marketing for Entrepreneur Magazine. So Christie, welcome to the show.
Christie Horsman (00:40): Thank you so much, John. I've been a listener for many years, so it's very exciting for me to be here.
John Jantsch (00:46): Well, I appreciate that. I appreciate you listening for many years. Many I
Christie Horsman (00:51): Know.
John Jantsch (00:52): So you recently wrote an article and it appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine, four Ways to Create Four Ways Creators Are Revolutionizing Marketing and How Big Brands Can Benefit. So let's start there a little bit because we are really going to talk about change in marketing, change in B two B marketing. I want to bring in the whole creator topic. So it seemed like that just kind of teed it up for us. So talk a little bit about the primary point you were trying to get across in that article.
Christie Horsman (01:20): Yeah, I think that just coming from my career in B two B marketing and the way the B two B marketing has evolved over time, and one of the biggest, I think impacts to B two B marketing and how people are approaching it today has been through the creator economy and just the change in marketing because you have so many people that are able to open their phone and talk to their audience, talk to people, talk about their point of view, talk about their passion, their unique genius, and how companies are scrambling to get into that mindset of what the creator brings to their marketing tactics and their business and what that means for businesses that have typically been a little stiffer in their marketing.
John Jantsch (02:08): So let's define a term there. You used the term creator economy, and I'm guessing it's a pretty buzzy term, but I'm also guessing there's a lot of confusion about what that means or misconceptions even frankly about what that means. So how do you define that or how do you define that as being maybe different than traditional economic models?
Christie Horsman (02:28): Yeah, so I think there's a lot of, I've read, heard being in part of the creator economy ourselves at think of it, and there's a lot of definitions out there of what it is and the way that we define it and the way that I kind of look at it is anybody who is out there really using their unique genius, their unique point of view to influence, to attract, to create either a community, a group of people, an audience or sell something through that community or audience. So it's really just, I think a lot of people would say are creators, are you see these YouTube creators? Are they entertainers or are they educators? And actually think of it, we look at these two categories and define them as such. There are people that are out there that are just creating for the sake of entertainment purposes, which is amazing. And then there's people out there that are creating for education, and that's how we kind of look at the lens of the creator economy. I think last time I read, and I think it was in a Forbes article a couple of weeks ago, there was this estimate of what are the creator economy worth? And it's somewhere between a hundred billion to 700 billion, which is depending on how you define those people that are within it, but it's growing every day, obviously with the advent of social media.
John Jantsch (03:44): So I think for a lot of people, they see some of the folks that are really doing what seem kind of goofy things that are getting them a lot of attention and maybe making them a lot of money. And I'm sure that big brands B brands particularly are looking at that and going, well, that's not for us necessarily. So what is the lesson that might come to play that would be practical, usable, relevant for that B two B brand particularly?
Christie Horsman (04:09): Yeah, and I think exactly when you look at, I always look at Mr. Beast for instance, and brands aren't going to go out there and start trying to jump 1300 motorcycles in a row or something like that, and so do something crazy. But what the dilution, if you bring it down to it that even creator entertainers and educators have in common is it's this human element. It's this trusted element and it's something that brands like big brands really have always been striving for, right? To be that trusted brand, to have that element of yes, come to us for the product or service that you want or need. And it really boils down to that human and that trustworthy element. They're putting themselves out there so much. We know so much about these creators and they've created this humanity as part of towards their audience, as part of their brand that big brands really need to look at and say, how do I emulate this? How do I bring this into our messaging and our core values?
John Jantsch (05:11): So it seems to me there would be a couple logical paths if somebody's saying, yeah, that's kind of a missing piece of ours. Obviously they could go create their own connection of some form to their, they're not fans yet. I guess it would be their customers even or their community. But also a lot of brands are exploring, let's get one of those influencers, if you will, or somebody that's a creator that has a big audience, let's get them associated with our brand. Is there a better way? Are there pitfalls to one way or the other?
Christie Horsman (05:43): Yeah, I think the only pitfalls I see when looking for, I think hiring creator influencers to represent your brand is great. I think that it's a great way to bridge and find a new audience. If you understand your core customer, where your core customer is digesting content and who they're looking up to and the creator sphere, it's a great way to bridge that and gain that new audience. I think where sometimes it falls flat. And this is where again, that kind of trusted component is a lot of the times creators, we always say, they say it's an ad, they say it's sponsored and everyone knows that it's a sponsored deal. And that's how creators, realistically, a lot of creators make the majority of their money is through these big brand sponsorships. And lately we've seen some of that fall off as brands have pulled back a little bit because they're seeing that, yeah, it's great for eyeballs, but maybe it's not always driving the sales they want to see. And so I think that it's definitely important to align yourself with creators that align with your values and that make sense for your brand. But I would also say that for brands to take the tactics that creators are using and try to employ them themselves to create more of an authentic humanized element for their brand without having to go through that creator or that third party. Right.
John Jantsch (07:05): One of the hallmarks I suppose of a popular influencer or creator is it's basically personal branding. I mean, they've gone out there and established themselves as a voice that does this, or as a person that does this or a person who shares amazing information or how to stuff on a certain topic, how does a brand really adopt that mentality? Because I think that's real tricky for 'em, isn't it?
Christie Horsman (07:33): And I think that's where people have gotten stuck a lot of the time. They think that, and especially I think when we think of B2B traditionally has been very broad strokes in terms of our marketing. We're trying to capture a broad audience. We're also trying to be a little bit elusive because we really actually just want you to talk to our sales team who's going to get you more details. And I think that we need to go away from that and what the creator brings and what brands can start to emulate in terms of tactics are when we think about creating that human element and connection, it's really about, I've seen companies use their employees in a lot of their advertising, for instance, and not just for hiring for actual campaigns. We did this actually last year with our Meet the CSS campaign and we wanted to humanize our customer service team, and we used actual customer service reps in the campaign.
(08:27): And I've seen other brands do this where they're like, look, we're not good at commercials and we're not good about talking about this, but what we are good at is actually being customer service reps and here's why. But it humanizes the brand because you're bringing in that element of people. And that's the thing that the creator does is they bring themselves the creator's life story, their family, sometimes their kids, their dog. And the more that you can do that as a company with your employees to bring them to the forefront really humanizes the brand because it is a company, but it's also a company that's made up of actual people with actual lives.
John Jantsch (09:02): That's one
Christie Horsman (09:02): Way that I see.
John Jantsch (09:04): We've certainly for the last few years, particularly as hiring has become more challenging for a lot of companies, we've really put their employee or employer branding on the forefront of marketing just because it's a great marketing message too. I mean, the fact that you have employees that love where they work probably is a good marketing message as well. Not to mention that they obviously are on the front lines of really interacting with customers anyway. So I think a lot of people, I'm thinking makeup for example. A lot of makeup is sold directly to consumers through the creator economy. It's probably one of the bigger categories. So that model has that model. As B2B folks try, I mean that's typically a B2C play. They're not trying to sell to stores. So as that model really something that is influencing or maybe even blurring the lines, there used to be the, oh, I sell only b2b. I mean a lot of marketers are like, I'm a B2B marketer, or I'm a B2C marketer. And sort of blurring the lines now because a lot of the same ideas are being employed, authenticity, personal branding, those things.
Christie Horsman (10:11): And I think the makeup one's such a good example because it really did open the doors for people to say, this is how I apply this, this is how I do this, this is how I use this. And you can actually see a foundation go on in a video using real people. And I think the interesting thing that how I've seen it kind of manifest in B two B has been in the veil being lifted on the product or service that you're selling. So for instance, I think I've seen a couple companies, ourselves included, we've played with this a little bit and I think that we have to get better at it. Everyone does, but it's offering real people those customer stories of how they're using the product, what does the product look like on the inside, showing more of the product upfront and having real customers talk about it in an unfiltered way.
(11:01): We've done this in terms of LinkedIn lives where we just have customers come on and talk about their journey and their company or their personal brand and then how they use the product. And we actually show the product being used. And I think that it's bridging. We have to figure out how to open that door a little bit more. But it is, I think that's the transition where we're saying, look, we not having this, you're not going to see the product until you've had three or four sales calls. We'll finally show you the product. It's like, no, we're going to show you the product up upfront. It's in our marketing, it's right here. And it's being used by real people.
John Jantsch (11:36): It is probably an antiquated terminology, but I think it still means something. But a lot of B two B brands used to spend some money sampling, for example, spend some money on getting directly to the consumer, even though that consumer was only going to go to the store now and ask for the product. So we used to call that pulling sales as opposed to pushing sales. So does the idea of this creator economy that way apply, in other words, get exposure for your product even though you're then going to tell them go to Macy's and get it, or whatever, wherever it's sold?
Christie Horsman (12:08): Yeah, I think that it's one of the, it's for me, I think that's one of the best things about the creator economy is that they're bringing that audience in. They're pulling people in and bringing that audience in, that's the right fit audience. So again, finding the right creator to pair with based on your brand, your objectives, your product service. But from a B two B perspective, it's even, I think more important because a lot of these companies have such a core ideal customer profile that if you know it, you can go out there and really pull people in with interesting content through these creators because they're talking about it. And I think about, for us, we talk a lot to people in customer education and these roles and people that run these communities where customer educators are living and talking about their day-to-day problems of how do I make this content? How do I create these programming? And so we're going out there and trying to pull those people back in into the conversation through those creator communities that they're building with these really engaged audiences.
John Jantsch (13:13): Alright, let's talk about R O I or metrics in general. I think because initially sort of a creator economy plays have kind of focused on engagement and building community and things that sometimes are hard to measure. I think that those have obviously, I think people are putting metrics to those, but what do you say to a B2B person that's just like, how's that going to move the needle?
Christie Horsman (13:37): Yeah, so I think even I have struggled in the past with, we love working with some of these creators, but to your point, the measurement of the metric that we're trying to move is brand awareness, which we all know is you can try and try to put some numbers to it, but eventually that there's something there that you can't quite measure. So what we like to do is when we're working with creators or we're thinking about working with these communities, for instance, we love to think about depending on what it is, but for instance, we held a community kind of roundup event where it was like a mingle event and then it was a bit of a, let's talk about round table kind of topics and the R O I on events like that. For me, obviously there's an element of just getting the brand out there and having those conversations, but it's also about how many people are coming in and actually wanting to have a conversation.
(14:33): So thinking about how many conversations the sales team was able to capture, how many net new names do we get on to our list? And then going all the way down is obviously how are we making that into a sale and tracing that back into these events that we hold. A lot of it's around influence pipe that influence pipe number for b2b. And then a lot of it for some of our creators is we have a really excellent affiliate program, so we entice them to bring people in and sign them up with the product on our self-serve side. And we have really great payouts on that affiliate side. So that's kind of the two sides of it. There's definitely, again, that middle layer of brand awareness. How do we measure that? And obviously we look at things like media and share of voice, but we try to think about that influence pipe on the B2B side and then thinking about that we have those hard numbers on the affiliate side of how we're driving signups.
John Jantsch (15:25): So think if it naturally was created as a tool for the creator economy. I mean a lot of influencers, a lot of creators needed beyond YouTube, they needed a paywall and they needed ability to have courses and to expand access to them in a paid way. What are you seeing? So I think that it's well established. That's a great tool for that. So what are you telling or what would you tell B two B brands now who are like, well, we don't courses. Does that make sense for us? What would you tell them in terms of their creation?
Christie Horsman (16:03): And to start on how Thinkific was our founder, we actually have a really great founder story, a creator himself. He has a course that's still today, you can take it, it's an LSAT prep course. That's how it started. And he wanted to be able to educate the massive sounds
John Jantsch (16:15): Awful.
Christie Horsman (16:16): Yeah, I know. But that was how we started. And so we really have been through the pandemic, we went through this boom and then we started thinking companies really could benefit from having courses to expand their reach to their customers. And I always think about this when we talk to companies on sales calls even and say, look, do you want to have customers or do you want to have fans? Do you want to have people who are extremely loyal and engaged with your brand? And the way you can do that is through customer education programs, you're educating your customers to better use your product. You're creating exclusive communities sometimes in this case. So you're creating these fans that are incredibly loyal to your company and your brand and that eventually are going to a create more word of mouth and better referrals for your company. But also you're creating a very loyal group of customers that are fully educated in your product, which is some B2B SaaS. One of the trickiest things is getting people to make sure that they're using your product when your customers buy it. So
John Jantsch (17:22): More features they use a less churn. Right,
Christie Horsman (17:24): Exactly. And I think in today's economy too, we see that acquiring customers right now is tough. And so you want to keep the customers you have. And one of the best ways to do that is through customer education programs. We've got really good example is Hootsuite, which is a social media management software, and they have Hootsuite Academy and they have built Hootsuite Academy from just a few courses on social media certification to this is a standalone revenue set for them outside of their core. So they've got a secondary line of revenue and they're driving customer loyalty, customer education within the product, but the actual users, end users of their product. But they're also, they've created this certification where it's like, Hey, I'm Hootsuite certified. I am ready to be your social media manager. So it's this twofold. And I think for me, when I see companies like that be so successful, and we have a lot of really great customer stories around that, I'm like, why aren't all companies doing this? Take this education piece that's happening and bring it into your B2B customers. It just makes sense. And you see that success.
John Jantsch (18:33): Yeah, I think you make a great point. I've been using for years when I talk about the customer journey, for many people it stops at buy, but certainly content stops at buy quite often. And I think you're right. I mean even if it's just orientation and onboarding and then obviously through what you said, repeat business and referral business, those are great reasons to create content. And obviously that's a whole category of content that most businesses aren't even thinking about. You also mentioned a couple times, and I think that B2B brands are really waking up to this idea of community. I think a lot of brands are waking up to this idea of community because for the reason you said it's sometimes tougher to get eyeballs or keep customers and community is one of the greatest ways to do it. How would you use a platform like Thinkific really as a community model? I mean, there's a lot of community tools coming up. Circle is one, for example. How is Thinkific addressing, because I believe you were created as a pure content creation and not necessarily as a community tool. How are you addressing that engagement amongst members?
Christie Horsman (19:40): So because we saw when we were, to your point, coming up through content engagement, online education, really that learning management software tool, we saw early on that community was such a hand in hand thing with these groups of people that were wanting to learn together to take courses together. And even if in an on-demand setting, you're by yourself, community was a way for people could talk about it and learn more and discuss. So we launched our own community product last year and it's been such a great add-on for both our creator educators, which we call our B two C side, as well as some of our B two B customers, which we call 'em think fake plus because it does bind those people together and it gives you a place where you as a company or you as a creator can kind of moderate the conversation and create more engagement post courses.
(20:35): Because a lot of the time you're taking an on-demand course, you're sitting your home by yourself, you don't get that engagement. The community is a way to bridge that engagement aspect. And it's been really exciting to see. I actually love our think of a community. I'm in it almost daily talking to our creators because it's just such an interesting place to be. And one thing for us being obviously B2B and B2C SaaS, we launch a lot of products in there. First we'll put stuff in there and then we make that exclusive feeling for our community, but also we're getting such amazing intel back from them as the end users of the product.
John Jantsch (21:12): Yeah, I'm sure more and businesses will wake up to this, but I've certainly seen it firsthand. We certify agencies in our methodology and they go through and they love it. They get a lot of great training, but we have agencies that have been with us 10 years and they'll tell you point blank, I stay for the community. I don't need John and his team anymore. I stay because I've made friends here. And I think that's a huge element for business, isn't
Christie Horsman (21:35): It? It's that peer to peer communication that they get that's hosted by, if you're smart, it's hosted by you. The other thing is, I think a lot of companies don't realize is there are communities out there about their product or service, and if they're not in the conversation, it's happening without them.
John Jantsch (21:52): Yeah, absolutely. That's great point for good or bad. Right. So Chris, I appreciate you taking a moment to stop by the show. You want to tell people where they can connect with you and find out more, a little more about what we talked about today?
Christie Horsman (22:03): Yeah, so I'm obviously on LinkedIn. It's Christie Horseman, VP of Marketing at Thinkific. If you're looking for Christie Horseman's and you can always come over to thinkific.com, you can check out the products and service there. And also we've got links on there to our social and our communities, which all of my team run. So I'm always hopping in our community if you need to, you want to join there as well.
John Jantsch (22:24): Awesome. Again, I appreciate you taking a moment and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days out there on the road in beautiful Vancouver.
Christie Horsman (22:32): Thank you so much, John. Appreciate the opportunity.
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