When Coca Cola brought out their personalized coke bottles, the world went crazy for them. Dubbed the “Share a Coke” campaign, it took off all over the world with bottles named after people in every different destination.
To keep momentum going, customers were asked to share pictures of themselves enjoying a drink with their personalized coke bottle on social media. The result? Coca Cola’s customers stepped into the role of advertiser.
This wasn’t just a one-off campaign, or a fancy fluke.
Instead, it is one of thousands of User Generated Content (UGC) campaigns that brought the business it promoted millions of revenue and a whole new image.
“The next wave of the Web is going to be user-generated content.” – John Doerr, Venture Capitalist.
But what exactly is User Generated Content?
The term refers to any type of content that has been created and put out there by unpaid contributors or, using a better term, fans. It can refer to pictures, videos, testimonials, tweets, blog posts, and everything in between and is the act of users promoting a brand rather than the brand itself.
So, UGC sounds like another one of those marketing buzzwords, right? In fact, it isn’t a fad at all. It’s been burning brightly for a while (well, a while for the fast-paced world of the internet).
Let’s take it back to 2009 for a moment to Burberry’s Art of the Trench UGC campaign. Seven years ago, brands were adopting the idea of their fans promoting their business – because word-of-mouth referrals are the best kind of referrals, even in the digital age.
Burberry asked its loyal fans to upload pictures of themselves and their friends wearing the brand’s iconic trench coat. All Burberry had to do was curate the best submissions, which they showcased on a dedicated microsite and their Facebook page.
When you consider that 86% of millennials say that UGC is a good indicator of the quality of a brand, and that 68% of social media users between the ages of 18 and 24 take into account information shared on social media when they make a purchasing decision (eMarketer), it’s easy to see why UGC is so powerful.
Why UGC is So Successful (and Why You Shouldn’t Ignore it)
Obviously, UGC campaigns have been a constant player in the marketing world because they are so successful (do I need to point you back to the Share a Coke campaign?).
But why are they so successful? Why are brands turning to their audiences to share their products instead of crafting their own ads?
- UGC Puts Customers Front and Centre
Customer-orientated businesses are on the rise, because companies constantly have to keep up with the changing trends of their audiences. In this fast-paced, digitally-run world, attention-spans can be snapped away with the click of a fingers. If brands aren’t catering solely to their customers, their customers will simply find another brand that is.
Online users are become increasingly savvy in knowing which companies are using slimy marketing tactics, and which ones are being authentic and transparent. You don’t need me to tell you which ones are most successful.
- People Don’t Trust Marketers
Which brings me on to my next point. In the past ten years, the idea of the sleazy marketer has risen to unprecedented heights. The average Joe in the street is no longer impressed by pushy sales tactics.
Instead, they crave stories, they crave connection, and they crave interaction with other humans (a byproduct, perhaps, of the increasing amount of time we spend in front of a computer screen?).
In reality, we’ve been buying into UGC content for centuries, but there are now media platforms to make it more accessible across the globe. And, when you discover that a whopping 92% of people are more likely to trust a recommendation from another person over branded content, it’s clear to see how far the trust between people and marketers has stretched.
In a study run by Cohn & Wolfe, 63% of consumers said they would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over a competitor.
Authenticity is so important in today’s online world. Customers are no longer the passive consumers led by TV commercials and billboards. Instead, they’re active choosers of their own fate and want a say in who they do and don’t buy from.
But how do they choose who to buy from? They opt for brands that have the same values as them, brands that they can connect with on a human level, and brands that “get them”.
UGC brings audiences together. Instead of it being an “us” against “them” situation, where brands are constantly trying to win consumers over, UGC brings everyone together in one big happy family.
It’s common knowledge that people like to feel a part of something. In a 1986 theory penned by MacMillon and Chavis, there were four things that encouraged people to feel like part of a community.
- Integration and fulfillment of needs
- Shared emotional connection
Point 2 and 4 are of particular interest with UGC. Influence has to work both ways – members also have to feel like they have influence over the community, an element that UGC puts on the table.
Shared emotional connection is pushed through UGC, too. MacMillon and Chavis stated that healthy communities have a story, and this is what brings them together.
UGC is all about the users creating content. They’re unpaid and do it for a number of reasons, whether it’s to share their experience, build a connection with like-minded people, or to be in with a chance of winning something.
This, obviously, is considerably cheaper than forking out thousands – or even millions – for prime-time TV commercials and Times Square billboards.
The beauty of UGC is that the users run the show, while marketers don’t have to empty their pockets on campaigns that may or may not perform well.
According to ComScore, brand engagements rise by 28% when consumers are exposed to a mixture of professional marketing content and user-generated content.
Take Starbucks’ White Cup Contest that took place back in 2014 as an example. Customers were encouraged to doodle all over their white Starbucks cups and post their images as entries for a competition to find a template for a limited edition Starbucks cup.
Nearly 4,000 customers submitted entries in just three weeks, showing that people were ready and willing to engage with the brand.
UGC vs Traditional Marketing
Consumers are considerably less passive than they used to be when it comes to advertising. They’re now more active in the decisions they make, who they listen to, and who they choose to buy from and engage with.
These days, buying traditional ads both on external media and online is a competitive game (and, even if you pull out the big bucks, you still might not catch the attention of your customers).
Add that to the fact that consumers are actively choosing to bypass ads (take pay-to-play streaming platforms like Netflix and the rise of ad blockers) and are more likely to click through to a site if they see a friend recommend it, and you have a solid argument for UGC over traditional marketing.
UGC works as social proof, too. In a 2013 study, 79% of consumers admitted to trusting online reviews as much as in-person recommendations. That’s a huge metric.
Think for a moment about the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge. The charity challenge went viral for a few months, increasing awareness of the ALS Association (which not many people knew about beforehand) and bagging the company $100 million in donations. No small feat.
The Best Examples of Brands Using UGC
Let’s pull this altogether by diving into some UGC campaigns that have really worked.
Lululemon’s #thesweatlife Campaign
Yoga clothing brand Lululemon wanted to bring their audience together and create a community around their business. In 2013, they came up with #thesweatlife campaign, which encouraged their customers to post pictures of themselves in Lululemon gear on Instagram.
“We created the program as a way to connect with our guests and showcase how they are authentically sweating in our product offline,” says Lululemon brand manager Lesia Dallimore. “We see it as a unique way to bring their offline experiences into our online community.”
In the first couple of months, the brand notched up over 7,000 photos of its customers (or “brand ambassadors”) on Instagram and Twitter, and the unique #sweatlife gallery which was created especially for the campaign received more than 40,000 unique visitors.
Chipotle Cultivate Festival
Chipotle’s branded festival used UGC to bring its crowds together and promote the different elements of the brand and the festival.
They pulled together social shares, images, and videos onto a single page, where visitors to the festival could scroll through and relive their memories after the festival had ended.
Throughout the weekend of the Chipotle Cultivate Festival, which took place in San Francisco, the brand racked up more than 1,200 social posts and a whopping 3 million impressions. What’s more, over 37.5% of the visitors scrolled through the Tint to load more content from the weekend.
Belkin’s Lego iPhone Cases
Back in 2013, Belkin ran a UGC campaign that included people’s favourite gadget – the iPhone. Partnering up with Lego, they asked customers to create cases for their phones using customizable Lego blocks.
They then posted the images onto Instagram using the hashtag #LEGOxBelkin. This is the perfect example of customers doing the selling for the brand because this simple but effective marketing method showed potential buyers just how cool, diverse, and trendy Belkin cases could be in an organic and authentic way.
NASDAQ’s All-Encompassing UGC
NASDAQ is a strong supporter of UGC content, using it across many of their brands including Virgin America, ETSY, Zebra, and Biogen. They use it to accumulate and bring together social content at social events and other important calendar dates.
NASDAQ uses Tint across a number of different channels when they’re running a big event, meaning the social shares get seen on large screens in Times Square and TV monitors all over the world.
“What makes Tint the best is it allows us to easily approve content on the go from the app,” says Director of Integrated Marketing at NASDAQ, Joshua Machiz.
And that’s another reason UGC is so important. In such a fast-paced, constantly-changing online landscape, content needs to be quick and on-trend. Instead of spending months and millions coming up with an advertising campaign that might be out of date by the time it finally airs, UGC allows brands to stay on the ball and stay current with their customers.
Brands can constantly be in touch with their audience, which means they stay at the forefront of minds.
The power of UGC is easy to see, and there’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing much, much more of it in the coming years as brands tap into the power of their audiences and take a step back from pushy sales tactics.