How Brands Can Leverage User-generated Content to Connect with Customers

January 7, 2019

This post first appeared on MarTechAdvisor

Every brand tells a story, but successful brands recognize that their story has to be authentic. They also know the customer has to be at the center – not as a mere consumer, but as an active participant. What better way to accomplish this than by making work done by consumers an integral part of the experience the brand has to offer?

 This is where user-generated content (UGC) comes in. UGC is material produced by independent content creators online – from artwork to music to film – that can be used by a brand to showcase its products and services. For example, if guests at a hotel post pictures of themselves lounging next to the pool on Instagram, the hotel may want to post those pictures on its own social media pages or use them in a marketing campaign. It can do so by contacting the rightful owners and entering into legal agreements that outline the usage rights.

More and more brands are taking advantage of the massive, ever-expanding trove of high-quality content online. They’re realizing that they don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of money on traditional productions when they can get content that resonates with their customers from one of the millions of talented people who upload their work to the Internet every day.

There’s nobody better to help your brand tell its story than real consumers who understand the message you’re trying to convey, which is why UGC is a powerful addition to your marketing platform.

How UGC helps brands connect with customers

Brands have entered the era of hyper-engagement. The number of ways for customers to interact with them has surged, and a drastic shift in expectations has come along for the ride. Brands aren’t just required to have a significant online presence – they have to maintain it every day, answering questions, updating information to reflect what’s happening in the world, and figuring out creative new ways to connect with consumers.

According to a Time Inc. survey of 17,000 people across three generations (Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X), 90 percent of respondents want brands to provide them with custom content online. And 93 percent say they appreciate it when brands share interesting content they may not have seen elsewhere. At a time when consumer engagement should be a top priority for brands, the use of UGC demonstrates that your company is working directly with consumers to produce great content.

TINT recently released its 2018 User-Generated Content Marketing Report, which surveyed 500 businesses about how they use UGC. The report found that three-quarters of respondents think UGC makes content more authentic, while almost half of the marketing professionals surveyed said UGC increases social media engagement. And engagement was cited as the top performance indicator by a huge margin.

Although consumers are eager to establish deeper relationships with brands, a 2017 survey of 2,000 people conducted by The Playbook and Opinium found that 78 percent “feel brands never emotionally connect with them.” UGC is one of the best resources to help brands change this perception and forge stronger relationships with their customers.

UGC provides financial and creative freedom

If the benefits of UGC could be summarized by a single word, it would be “flexibility.” UGC gives companies a boundless range of creative options, and the money it saves them can be used for other investments. Consumers want original and authentic content, and there’s no limit to how much of it brands can find online.   

The aforementioned TINT marketing report found that “UGC provides practical value for marketers, in that it gives them higher-quality content at scale.” UGC also “saves marketers time, and it can be applied to numerous different stages of the marketing funnel.” In other words, UGC is versatile – it can be the focal point of a campaign or it can be supplementary; it can provide a critical social media boost or it can be used in more traditional forms of marketing (such as TV ads and newsletters).

UGC is also one of the most cost-effective ways for brands to increase their exposure and trust. It costs much less to pay an independent content creator than to produce an ad in-house or hire a production company, and UGC campaigns are often propelled by consumers who don’t ask for any compensation at all. For example, Starbucks encourages customers to participate in its annual Red Cup Contest by posting pictures of cups they’ve decorated – a campaign that gets millions of engagements every year.

Consumers want more opportunities to engage with brands, the amount of online content is exploding, and people trust UGC more than other forms of advertising. UGC is also an efficient and inexpensive way to increase your marketing options and make your campaigns as dynamic as they can be. What more does a marketer need to hear?

Building loyalty with authenticity

The relationship between brands and consumers has changed dramatically. Along with the demand for more engagement, consumers expect brands to communicate with them in new ways – from asking them to be a part of their marketing efforts to showing them what real people have to say about their products and services.

According to Pew, almost 70 percent of American adults use at least one social media site. And Hootsuite reports that almost 3.2 billion people use social media worldwide. Is it any wonder that the immense popularity of social media – which allows us to cultivate authentic connections with real people – has coincided with the increasing desire for authentic advertising?

A 2016 survey from Cohn & Wolfe found that “Nearly nine out of 10 consumers are willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity, including 52 percent who would recommend the brand to others and 49 percent who would pledge loyalty to the brand.” These findings are consistent with the results of a survey conducted by the UGC marketing platform Stackla, which reports that 86 percent of consumers value authenticity in a brand and 60% say UGC is the “most authentic form of content.”

There’s nothing people find more compelling than a good story, which is why it’s so important for your brand to tell one. Perhaps your software company gives talented artists the resources they need to reach a much larger audience. Or maybe your hotel has given guests memories that they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives. No matter what you do, the representative's consumers will rightly trust to tell these stories are real people who have a relationship with your brand.

That’s why UGC is one of the best ways to spend your advertising dollars.

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