Understanding the Creator Lifecycle: How brands can leverage lifecycle trends to build strong partnerships

Brand partnerships strategies and creator follower stages

The creator economy has a diverse ecosystem of creators, each with a set of preferences and priorities that tend to evolve throughout the course of their careers. Deloitte’s 2023 Creator Economy in 3D uncovered several notable trends in creator preferences and priorities as creators reach different stages in their careers. This report dives into these findings, what they could mean for creator-brand relationships, and why brands may want to leverage this knowledge to forge relationships with creators early in their career to help create strong, long-term partnerships.

Creators tend to bring a blend of motivations and priorities to the table that generally evolve throughout their careers. While changes in creative direction may be harder to predict, creators’ business needs tend to follow similar trajectories. Brands that understand the overall trajectory of creators’ professional priorities can better set their expectations and strategies for identifying potential partners.

Understanding these priorities may also be especially beneficial for the strength of that relationship. According to our 2023 Creator Economy in 3D report, long-term support is one of the strongest drivers of a successful creator-brand partnership. Trends we observed indicate it may be easier and more beneficial for brands to identify creators with good long-term strategic fit and establish relationships with those creators early in their careers.

The “Stages” of the Creator Lifecycle

When we refer to “the creator lifecycle”, we use it here as shorthand for describing the general growth of creators from their early days with smaller follower counts—to later in their careers where they have likely established themselves as a larger business. It is important to point out that follower count is not necessarily reflective of a creator’s business maturity per se, as very experienced creators may still have smaller follower sizes. However, for our purposes we found that follower count had a positive correlation among our respondents alongside years spent creating content, and self-perceived level of experience.

With that, we are representing four stages of the creator lifecycle using the following four follower ranges:

  • Micro creators: Under 10,000 range
  • Developing creators: 10k-75k range
  • Mid-size creators: 75k to 500k range
  • Macro creators: 500k+ range 

After looking at patterns in career motivations, revenue streams, brands partnerships, platform, and audience priorities—here are the noteworthy trends from the research that brands should keep in mind:

Creators become increasingly focused on business priorities

As professional creatives, content creators often need to find a balance between creative and business motivations. And while creative motivations may never vanish, our survey found creator motivations increasingly shift toward their business priorities as they develop in their careers (see Figure 1).

The shift in motivation toward business may be attributed to the increasing opportunities and pressures developing creators face, whether managing brand partnerships, diversifying their monetization efforts, platform diversification, or optimizing their content against engagement metrics.

Brands should try to accommodate these priorities either by developing relationships with early-stage creators to help identify and lay the groundwork for their evolving needs, or taking more seasoned creators’ priorities into account to develop a partnership that serves both parties’ objectives. More seasoned creators also tend to place higher emphasis on audience engagement and performance metrics. Creators tend to be their own brand experts, and generally know best the type of content and messaging that resonates with their audience. Brands can benefit by leveraging a creator’s expertise to help deliver more effective campaigns.

The field becomes more crowded for brands as creators develop

While our research shows micro creators and developing creators predominantly rely on affiliate marketing as their main revenue source, they become less reliant on a single revenue stream and tend to diversify across other revenue streams as they grow. Sponsored posts, in particular, become especially prevalent for creators as they grow from developing to mid-size creators (See Figure 2).


In addition to a source of income, this trend also suggests the degree to which creators tend to become increasingly involved with brands as they develop, and the degree of competition other brands may face in trying to secure a creator. This represents a potential challenge, but also an opportunity for brands.

Brands may have a better chance to establish themselves as a partner with a creator earlier in their careers before they become more involved with other brands. Establishing earlier relationships with creators can offer brands further opportunity to form a long-term and potentially stronger relationship with that creator through their career growth and development. When establishing partnerships with smaller creators, brands should try to ensure that these potential partners represent a strong strategic fit to their overall social strategy.

Our next finding reinforces why establishing earlier partnerships may be appealing, and why creators may be amenable to longer-term partnerships.

As creators mature, they tend to maintain more partnerships for longer periods

Creators follow a similar pattern to monetization with their preferences for brand partnerships. Our surveyed creators indicated, overall, they not only look to secure more brand partnerships as they develop, but also look to maintain these for longer periods of time.

At the onset of their careers, most creators we surveyed indicate a preference for a single brand partnership at a time, with an average contract length of under 6 months. As creators develop in their career, we found that they tend to become open to partnering with more brands with increasingly longer contract lengths. While the number of preferred partnerships stays relatively low, the preferred average duration of those partnerships increases substantially with 1 in 6 creators in the 500k + range looking for brand partnership of over a year. This increase in preferred partnership duration further underscores the potential importance of brands establishing partnerships earlier on in creator careers.

It might be beneficial for brands looking to establish relationships with creators at the onset of their career to offer short-term contracts. This can appeal to early-stage creators’ preferences for shorter contract lengths, but also can give brands an opportunity to determine if this creator is a good fit before committing to longer-term partnership.

Once the brand has verified a creator's strategic fit, it can cultivate long-term relationships with that creator, likely strengthening the partnership.

Brands may appeal to earlier-stage creators by facilitating networking opportunities

One potential avenue for brands to appeal to early-stage creators was found in their platform preferences. Among the different aspects of a platform that appeal to them, creators identified networking opportunities as one of the most important aspects, though its relative importance diminishes over time (see Figure 3).


For early-stage creators, networking with other creators can be particularly important for learning how to develop their business, how to manage content, interpret analytics, or market themselves to other brands. It can also paves the way for collaboration opportunities, fostering innovation and audience growth.

Establishing relationships with promising creators in the early stages of their career can not only be important for brands seeking to incorporate creator partnerships into their marketing strategies, but this is also the stage where creators tend to place more importance on networking. This dual priority could make it an ideal time for brands and creators to forge strong long-term partnerships.

Final thoughts

The creator lifecycle poses several takeaways for brands to consider when developing their creator strategy. As creators develop, they tend to turn towards the demands of the business—which provides direction for where and how brands can assist their creator partners. The increasing frequency of partnerships among later-stage creators suggests it may be easier for brands to establish partnerships earlier in creators’ careers—which may be reinforced by creators growing preference for longer-term partnerships as they develop.

These trends can help develop a directional guide for your creator strategy, but building strong partnership with creators generally involves individual tailoring and care. Our 2023 Creator Economy in 3D report goes into more depth on what creators say are the best drivers of a stronger creator-brand partnership.

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