The Importance of Celebritization, Part II

An emerging trend over the past decade has been the celebritization of leaders and influencers across nearly every vertical, hobby, and interest group imaginable. No longer are athletes and actors the only celebrities in the public sphere. One easy example – Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg aka “PewDiePie” has over 30 million subscribers to his Youtube channel – more followers than Ashton Kutcher, or even Ronaldo.

In my view this is attributable to two main factors: (a) the rise of reality TV which has created recognizable personalities in hundreds of interests, ranging from food to polygamy and (b) the proliferation of single purpose interest groups across the web (discussion forums, content communities, etc), which cultivates credible influencers in a highly concentrated category.

It is the latter phenomenon, of digital celebrities – sometimes mere screen names – that has always fascinated me. In what I consider to be THE landmark e-commerce study, a 2012 Battery Ventures report found that celebrities were downright useless in influencing behavior, but that friends and family won the day. However, the report presumed that “celebrity” meant Kim Kardashian or Brad Pitt. What if you became so closely connected to celebrities that they felt like friends or family?

This is precisely what several of our portfolio companies at Chicago Ventures are doing. Here a couple of examples:

Bloomnation

Florists are artists. Many have Masters in Floral Arts and create dazzling displays. But due to their reliance on the wire services  (1800Flowers, FTD) for business, they were relegated to de facto back office employees. Bloomnation inverted that. In creating the platform, they put the merchant first with content rich profiles that offer deep personality profiles of who you’re dealing with.

Second, they believe that florists need more opportunities to both feel and actually be important. To that end, they throw red carpet parties in cities across the country that are entirely florist-centric. The florists are the stars: they give the speeches, their designs are on display, and night is about them. And, perhaps, more importantly, they run a huge PR engine, generating hundreds of TV, magazine, and online press opportunities for the florists in their network – recognition the florists would never garner on their own.

Zipments

One of the striking things about the Zipments website is its focus on the courier as star. When we were researching the delivery market before making the investment we were surprised to learn the subculture surrounding bike messengers. There are blogs, communities, even magazines dedicated to the bike messenger.

Zipments sought to leverage that when they built their platform. Couriers aren’t employees or even “team” members, they are the star. Zipments invests in professional photographers and profiles for their best messengers to ensure they feel important and respected as they’re building their brands. Most importantly, like Bloomnation, they make the courier the focus – with content rich profiles then allow the couriers to express themselves and their personality.

Morsel

I don’t know who the first celebrity chef was (maybe Julia Childs?) but the obsession with culinary arts has surged ever since I first start watching Rachel Ray on the Food Network back in 2002.

Morsel’s thesis is almost a next level celebritization of the food space (celebritization 2.0), moving beyond the personalities of the chefs themselves towards the storytelling behind food.  It recognizes that just as we want to know more about the people we admire – their backgrounds, how they got to where they are – food itself is a dynamic process. What was the creative process beyond a dish? Its inception? Its development? Morsel plays into the human desire to consume content around the people who inspire us – except on their platform, it’s one part people, one part food.

My general recommendation for the startups I work with is to make the producer – whether the florist, the courier, or the chef/food – the focus of the attention. Consumers enjoy being catered to, but they also love to connect with inspiration. Give the producers the tools to feel special and consumers will come to connect.

About the author

Ezra Galston
Ezra Galston

Consumer focused hustling @Chicago Ventures, Young Entrepreneur @Foundation Capital, Class 18 @Kauffman Fellow, and Chicago Booth MBA. Former professional poker player, with 4 years experience doing marketing/biz dev in the online gaming industry. Launched a "poker hedge fund" in 2011, a record label in College, and produced a festival screened short film in 2006.

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