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Codeword’s POV: Brands Should Act Like Creators

Audience behaviors and tastes are changing, which means we need to change with them.

May 16, 2023

Headshot of Kyle Monson - Founding partner at Codeword

Kyle Monson

Founding partner at Codeword

I love the word creator. It has a hint of mysticism to it — creation is magic, after all — and it has the gravitas of that “-or” at the end. Creat-ors are obviously powerful wizards.

If you’ve been to our website recently, you’ve seen our new agency positioning, We help brands act like creators. It’s a concept first floated last summer by Brandon Carter, one of our brilliant strategy directors. As we’ve noodled and ruminated on it since then, it’s felt more and more appropriate to this era of marketing, and a perfect direction for the next era of Codeword.

Marketing doesn’t have to suck

We’ve always been guided by the idea that marketing doesn’t have to suck for the audience, it just usually does. The way out is for marketers and brands to create experiences people care about. Duh, right? It’s one of those industry truisms that no one would disagree with, but when you look across the marketing landscape, it’s incredibly rare to see.

For the past decade, we’ve made non-sucky marketing by helping brands act like publishers (11 years actually, here’s me saying it in Ad Age in 2012.). For brands that want to use owned and earned media for brand building, a newsroom publisher model is the best way to do it. Create the stuff people want to consume, not the stuff they want to avoid. Post regularly, build community, tell the truth, break down difficult concepts, follow the news cycle. It’s worked very well for us and for our clients.

And over the years, Codeword has built a world-class editorial team of journalists, bloggers, editors, designers, audience-dev experts, and content strategists — certainly the best editorial team in the agency world, and competitive even with traditional publishers.

Follow the audience

The landscape keeps shifting though. Audience behaviors and tastes are changing, which means we need to change with them. People are getting their information from more dynamic sources. Call them podcasters, YouTubers, Instagrammers, TikTokers, Substackers, micro/macro influencers; we simply call them ✨ creators ✨.

And it means so much more than “social media influencer.” The traditional media world that used to connect audiences with information and advertising has itself been disintermediated by tools and platforms that let creators go direct. Respected journalists are building Substack communities, pop musicians have their own podcasts, gaming legends are running Discord servers, famous artists have Patreon communities, and yes, they’re also on YouTube and Instagram and Twitch and so on.

It’s the messy, exciting space where internet culture is made. And internet culture is all culture.

How do brands act like creators?

Just like we used to model our approach after the publishers who led culture, there’s a ton of value here for brands that figure out how to act more like creators, and a ton of value for Codeword in helping them get there. Because the elements of our creator approach solve standard marketing challenges in a fresh way:

diagram showing "fan-first", "find the x", "creator cadence"


  1. Fan-first: The audience is always right. Always. They click on what they like, subscribe to channels they’re interested in, and ignore everything else. Advertisers have this fantasy that they can easily convince people to do things. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of time and money to do it, especially in today’s media landscape. So let the audience take the lead. Successful creators are relentless about audience attentiveness and vibe-setting. Their end goal isn’t to sell a product to a community, their end goal is the community.
  2. Find the X: Content about a brand is boring, content that’s just for the audience is pandering, and it isn’t effective. Our job as an agency is to take what the brand wants to say (their KSPs, USPs, and RTBs) and what the audience is interested in, and play in the intersection of the two. We call it “The X,” and it’s where the audience connection happens.
  3. Creator cadence: This is my favorite point. Always be posting. Build programs instead of campaigns. It’s hard and feels unnatural for most brands, but it’s how audiences and communities are built. So stay scrappy, put stuff out there, create big moments, create little moments, and move at the speed of the news cycle. Creators know that some pieces will hit, others won’t, and the cadence itself is more important than any individual piece of content.

Our hypothesis is that these principles apply to pretty much every brand.

We have a wide range of clients and projects, across lots of different marketing disciplines. But at the highest level, their brand dreams are mostly the same. They want to build a beloved, trusted brand with an engaged, scaled community of loyal customers and advocates.

We believe acting like creators is an effective way to get there.

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