Marketing in the Creative Industries – Towards the Social Product

iStock-546197492-crowd-heartChris Bilton argues that the creative industries offer a new paradigm for marketing in a world where meaning and value are increasingly dependent on a shared experience of consumption.

The creative and media industries are recognised as big business. According to the most recent UK government statistics, the creative industries exported £21.2 billion of services in 2015, amounting to 9.4% of total UK exports of services. In 2016 the creative industries employed nearly 2 million people, 6% of all UK jobs. Yet many of these opportunities are concentrated amongst a privileged minority.

The economic growth in the creative industries needs to be seen in the context of their social and structural features. The creative industries have also acted as a laboratory for new forms of organisation and management. Some of these organisational models, including the outsourcing of work, self-employment and self-exploitation, networked models of production and co-creation, have spilled over into other sectors. From a management perspective, the creative industries are characterised by high levels of unpredictability and risk. Part of this unpredictability stems from the nature of cultural products.

What then are the creative industries? Across the arts, media and entertainment sectors, the common feature is that they deal in ‘symbolic goods’ – products or experiences whose meaning and value is dependent on a subjective interpretation in the mind’s eye of the consumer. Whilst some ‘symbolic’ or subjective elements can be found in many other industries, for the creative industries this is their defining characteristic. Consequently there is no correlation between input and output, between cost and value.

Risk and reward are distributed unevenly along the value chain. Risk and uncertainty are concentrated towards the point of origination – as goods move closer to the consumer, the uncertainty regarding value is reduced. At the risky end of product development, businesses in the creative industries tend to be small, with a high proportion of micro-enterprises and self-employed individuals; barriers to entry here are high, skewing opportunities towards those who can afford to work for low or no pay. At the other end of the chain, businesses involved in distribution tend to be much larger and more profitable, often global multi-media conglomerates.

In recent times the business of distribution and consumption has been dominated by a new generation of online intermediaries with a relentless focus on customer experience and little interest in content creation. The largest of them – Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon – trade in advertising, consumer data or technology rather than cultural goods.

The new intermediaries focus on revenue streams and related activities around the act of consumption, notably on the accumulation of data on consumer preferences, profiles and behaviour. In their business model, ‘content’ and those who make content are a necessary but relatively insignificant input. Much of the content can be sourced for free, from amateurs, from illegal copying, from consumers themselves. This has further disadvantaged those seeking to make a living in cultural production.

Understanding that the value of cultural products can only be realised at the point of consumption, artists, producers and ‘content creators’ cannot afford to ignore the business of marketing. The value of cultural products is often social – a shared experience which builds connection and community among audiences. Recognising and faciliating these social interactions should be seen as an extension of the creative process, not a separate task. Some of the most innovative work in theatre, music and the visual arts involves reimagining the nature of the audience experience, implicating fans as co-creators and participants in a shared experience.

Content creators need to reclaim their place in the new attention economy, whilst at the same time placing content at the core of the social relationships and experiences which define cultural consumption. In marketing terms, this means recognising symbolic goods as social, experiential goods – and building up what marketers call ‘the extended product’ – a set of potential meanings and value which go beyond the core product. The new intermediaries generate revenues from a ‘product surround’ where packaging, speed, convenience and connection matter more than the product itself. For artists, the ‘extended product’ remains embedded in the intrinsic values of cultural products, but provide a space for additional meanings and associations. Fan culture, interaction with audiences (especially at live events but also online), one-off events and editions all provide a mechanism for extending the meaning and value of cultural products.

In the creative and media industries, ‘creativity’ is not enough – engaging with the social experience of cultural consumers is the only way to ensure the economic survival of cultural producers.



The Disappearing Product
by Chris Bilton is out now




By the same author: New Intermediaries and the Attention EconomyChris Bilton looks at the dominant role played by global internet companies in today’s creative and media industries

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One Comment on “Marketing in the Creative Industries – Towards the Social Product”

  1. Aldo Beasley Says:

    What factor has made the main contribution to your success to date?


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