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The Data Doesn’t Lie: Sapphire Studios’ Formula For Identifying Top Creative Content

Entrepreneur Thomas Ma has journeyed to the forefront of the creator economy. After an unconventional start working at his mom’s nail salon in Chicago, the once aimless college graduate co-founded Sapphire Studios. His marketing firm specializes in data-driven, user-generated content (UGC) for major platforms like TikTok, Meta, and Snapchat. 

The Data Doesn’t Lie: Sapphire Studios’ Formula For Identifying Top Creative Content

After being inspired by a Facebook group of marketers and creators, Thomas took a leap and moved to Los Angeles to immerse himself in that world. “Eventually, I started learning about the world [of] marketing because people started telling me, and I started researching online,” he recounts. His first client opportunity came from a casual conversation. “One day, somebody said, ‘Hey, I need marketing. How can you help us get customers?’ I said you should try this. And that was the initial start [of] Sapphire.”

What began as a performance marketing agency has since evolved into a UGC powerhouse. “We discovered if brands want to scale, they need new creatives,” Thomas explains. “So what better way to build a business than to partner with somebody like TikTok? We’ll drive more revenue to use the platform and the brand because we help reduce conversion costs.”

Thomas believes his company’s grit and laser focus on performance metrics have allowed Sapphire to succeed where others have not. “We’re very data-driven [and] pretty upfront with our clients. We say, ‘Hey, we can create performance first, but here’s what you need to tell us to make this a success,’” he says of their approach. “The vision is just [to] continue to make the best creative possible to stay relevant. Because [in] marketing, you always have to invent the wheel.”

The Data Doesn’t Lie: Sapphire Studios’ Formula For Identifying Top Creative Content

What Makes Sapphire Studios Stand Out

Thomas believes Sapphire Studios’ key differentiator is its grit and data-driven approach. “I wouldn’t say there’s anything secretive we do that people can’t do, which is we’re very data-driven. We have the correct partners. We work with the brands we work with, and we have good clients. We’re pretty upfront with clients that we work with.”

For creators, Sapphire provides valuable opportunities, especially for those just starting out. “I think what’s great is we give a lot of new creators an opportunity. We’re not the high-end place where the top creators can come to work. We can give [them] their first opportunity as long as [they] can follow what we’re asking.”

Thomas touts the major brand partnerships they can offer. “By working [with] us, you partner with amazing brands such as…Amazon, Wayfair, Fabletics, and a lot of big brands. And if you’re just starting out, you need those case studies to get your next opportunity.” There are also product perks, he notes: “Sometimes you get great gift cards that are like hundreds of dollars, amazing products that you can fill your home with.”

On the brand side, Thomas cites Sapphire’s experience as their edge. “I think we just have the format down. I think we have the right system. We’re always improving, of course, but having years of data from different industries and working every month, I believe, gives us an advantage that others may not have. And we’re built for the bigger teams that have structure.”

He adds, “We still work with founding teams who are the point of contact. But let’s say you work with Amazon; you’re not dealing with [the] chief executive; you’re dealing with whoever the director may be, their team. And I think we have the experience [to] work with various teams.”

The More Opportunities for Creators, the Merrier

Thomas sees Sapphire Studios playing a vital role in providing opportunities for creators. “For us, as long as we’re making content for brands, we need creators. So we’re going to provide opportunities for creators.”

He finds it rewarding to help nurture emerging talent. “What’s cool, from my point of view, after three years, is just seeing some of these beginning creators we worked with when they were starting out. Now, they’re just large brands. They’ve increased their rate tremendously, and they’re just thriving. So it feels great to support that journey for them.”

Thomas believes the creator’s career path will become more mainstream and acceptable in the coming years. “I think the trend is everybody wants to be a content creator, and now it’s very popular. It’s considered a job. Now that’s very realistic,” he says. “Three years ago, if you were to say, ‘Oh, I record on my phone and make money,’ I don’t think that would sound very logical, but now it’s very flexible.”

He sees low barriers to entry for aspiring creators. “You can do any job if you’re willing to [follow] instructions, get good lighting, and communicate well. You have an opportunity. It’s very inclusive. So I don’t think the barrier to entry is very high to get there if you want to do it. But you gotta put in the work.”

As for changes he’d like to see in the industry, Thomas feels good about Sapphire’s current approach.

Previewing Thomas’s VidCon Presentation

VidCon, an annual convention for digital creators, video makers, and influencers, began as a convention for YouTube and content creators across various online video platforms. Over the years, it has grown to include creators from other social media like TikTok, Instagram, Twitch and more. The event features Creator tracks, performances, meet-ups, and more. This year’s event takes place June 26-29 in Anaheim, California. 

On Friday, June 28, 10:45 AM – 11:30 AM (PT), Thomas will participate in the panel discussion “Creator vs Corporate Creative: Authentic Influence in Advertising” alongside Austin Null, Jason Nichols, Hector Benavides, and others.

The Data Doesn’t Lie: Sapphire Studios’ Formula For Identifying Top Creative Content

When asked what he’ll cover during his upcoming VidCon session, Thomas says he will focus on identifying good creative content that drives performance. “I think one point is just how you identify good creative. The simple answer is understanding what performance means and having the right metrics behind it.”

He elaborates on their data-driven approach: “When you run a campaign, you’re not just running it because the video looks great; you’re running it because it’s backed by data. You analyze the data, and you take the data to make something better for the next iteration. because the world [of] creatives can be very complex.”

Thomas hopes attendees gain a better grasp of what qualifies as true “performance creative.” “I think just understand what performance creative is so that when brands reach out, they say ‘I need creative.’ They have a better understanding of what that means.”

Instead, he wants to educate brands on collaborating effectively with firms like Sapphire. “If you’re reaching out to us, you should let us explain what is working and suggest the types of content we’re seeing. Because if you have ideas, we’re okay making it. But I want to be useful [for] us, to deliver the best value we can.”

Thomas has come full circle since attending VidCon in 2017 right out of college. “Now I have this brand, and I work in the world of marketing because I took that job to attend something and exhausted everything like a sponge…Now, it’s just fascinating how I’m the person that people reach out to for advice. VidCon is a great place – I recommend it if you’re in the world of creative.”

The Future for Sapphire and Advice for Creators

When it comes to long-term goals, Thomas prefers to stay focused on the present. “I think every day, I just try to be relevant. In the long term, I don’t know where the future is. I just want to enjoy the day-to-day process of being surrounded by folks in this industry and the brands that we work with right now.”

He finds satisfaction in the marquee brands and campaigns Sapphire now attracts. “I was fascinated by how we worked on this Amazon Video campaign. It was cool to see that we’re getting the opportunities to make these advertisements for TV shows I watch myself.”

For creators looking to make their mark, Thomas emphasizes doing research and being specific when seeking advice. “Reach out to speakers you think might be interesting, and just ask if you can have a few minutes of their time…but be very specific with your need. Don’t be generic.”

He also advises going the extra mile at events like VidCon. “Attend the session, take notes, take photos. At the end of the session, send in those clips…because no one will do that. So you must think, how do you stand out and bring value to that speaker?”

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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