We are all bombarded by media. So much so that we easily tune it out. The more interruptive it is, the more absurd we find it and the more likely we are to disregard it.
So what’s a company to do when it needs to continuously bring in new customers, but nobody pays any attention to ads?
User-generated content, which is any content voluntarily produced by customers, is making waves in the eCommerce world as a top form of permission marketing. It allows brands to leverage social proof to reach consumers in a way that is authentic, scalable and personalized.
Consumers are overwhelmed with the content they have to encounter all day, every day.
It’s gotten to the point that we don’t even realize how much media we are consuming. Whether online or offline, each advertisement, each branded label, each piece of sponsored content just blends into our surroundings.
In the last decade, the number of branded messages we are exposed to per day has nearly tripled, from 3,500 in 2005, to 10,000 in early 2016.
This information overload, along with our mobile lifestyle and waning attention spans, makes achieving consumer awareness increasingly difficult for businesses.
This puts businesses in a predicament. They need to sell to customers, but customers don’t want to be sold to–or at least not so overtly.
The skyrocketing success and subsequent closure of ad blocker Peace after just two days in the App Store perfectly encompasses this challenge.
While Peace was helping tons of consumers steer clear of advertisements, the entrepreneur behind the app, Marco Arment, was uncomfortable achieving success at the expense of other businesses.
Arment pulled Peace from the market after it was the number one paid app on the U.S. App Store for nearly 36 hours.
On one hand, customers don’t want their experiences interrupted. On the other hand, they want to discover new products and learn how to address existing pain points.
The good news is that there is a happy medium between content overload and effectively communicating with customers.
Enter the ultimate form of permission marketing for online businesses: user-generated content (UGC).
Consumers Look For Social Proof
While consumers are actively avoiding advertisements, everybody is looking at user-generated content.
Just think about how much time people spend on social media every day looking at pictures, opinions and spontaneous thoughts of their friends and people like them. Mark Zuckerberg said users spend an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.
Consumers today are interested in–and are being inspired by–what their peers are saying, doing and purchasing. And the reason is social proof.
Social proof is a socio-psychological principle so ingrained in our behavior that many of us don’t even realize its impact.
The idea is that we are influenced by other people’s experiences. If we see someone get burned by a hot pan, we are not going to touch that pan ourselves.
Applied to consumerism, if we see a friend or someone we relate to wearing a cool pair of sunglasses, we might want to buy that cool pair of sunglasses too.
User-generated content lets you shine a spotlight on your customers’ good experiences with your brand, which then piques shoppers’ interest and influences their behavior throughout the buyer journey.
It hits just the right notes for both consumers and businesses because shoppers trust past buyers way more than they trust branded content. So UGC is something that shoppers are actively looking for, and that businesses can use to capture the attention of their target audience.
Shoppers Trust Authentic Content
UGC is real content from real people about real experience with real products.
People ignore interruptive marketing because it feels forced and disingenuous. UGC on the other hand sparks an emotional reaction from the viewer because they can imagine themselves in a similar situation and identify with the experience of fellow shoppers they trust.
Whether with customer reviews, Instagram photos, customer Q&A or another form of UGC, social proof is a key pillar of marketing for online businesses because shoppers with similar taste, needs and purchasing preferences are able to influence each other.
We’ve all been there: a barista tip jar with just $1 in it will fill up faster than an empty tip jar; a packed restaurant is more enticing than an empty one; a product with five positive reviews and five negative reviews is more alluring than a product with zero reviews.
This is because the motive for writing a review, posting a picture or answering a question is not to sell, but to genuinely inform fellow consumers.
An effective way to leverage this in eCommerce is with a best sellers section, as seen on the Uniqlo page shown below.
Without outrightly saying so, they are communicating to shoppers that these are the products that people with similar interests bought, and the social proof draws them in.
The Gap also does a great job of leveraging authentic customer reviews to communicate with interested shoppers.
A professionally photographed picture of several numbered products appears on their homepage, but when shoppers roll over the numbers they are pleasantly surprised to see a customer review instead of a product name.
Seeing glowing customer reviews instead of product names or descriptions in the roll-over text builds interest for the shoppers and encourages clicks through to product pages.
Instead of something generic like, “The perfect pair of shorts for summer,” it has an amazing review from a Texas shopper exclaiming that she finally found a pair of shorts that she loves.
Where a typical line of marketing copy may be easily passed over by a shopper, these passionate reviews by real people spark an emotional reaction from site visitors.
Who doesn’t want to love their shorts? Everyone knows the real struggle of searching for the perfect pair of shorts, and the real joy in finally finding them.
What better way to grab people’s attention than by communicating this excited, satisfied, relatable information at the outset?
Social Proof is Scalable
As the Gap example shows, UGC is easily scalable. Each review, photo or question submitted can be repurposed throughout marketing materials.
Your store may have tons of customers. But whether you have ten customers or ten thousand customers, you only have one brand voice.
User-generated content has a major positive impact on brand visibility because your customers amplify your message by sharing their feelings about and experiences with your brand.
Marketers are faced with consistently creating new, valuable content in an increasingly competitive space. User-generated content is a great way to keep things fresh and provide real value to customers.
For example, GoPro posts a photo and a video from their customers on their site every day, showing the amazing things they do and places they go with their cameras.
It would not be scalable for GoPro to send employees on magnificent hikes in uninhabited mountain ranges every day. But they don’t have to because their customers are going for them and sending in the pictures to prove it.
After seeing a picture like the one above on GoPro’s Photo of the Day page, a shopper does not need to be told that the camera takes clear pictures and is light enough to bring on a hike. They see the proof right away.
One of the most effective channels for conveying such social proof is, naturally, social media.
With all the time consumers are spending on social media, the effectiveness of UGC in social ads is all about blending in, not standing out.
People scrolling through social channels easily ignore traditional marketing content. But customer content like user-generated photos and customer reviews makes your ads blend in with the surrounding social content, which makes people more likely to look at it and click through.
A Facebook case study shows that including user-generated content in Facebook Ads increases click-through rates by 300%, and decreases both cost-per-click and cost-per-acquisition by 50%.
For Campus Protein, using customer photos doubled the CTR of their Instagram Ads.
Happy customers are your best marketers–let them be your voice, grow your community, and enhance your brand personality.
User-generated content is free to create and strengthens the relationship between brands and customers with increased brand loyalty.
People love to be part of something. Fun and inclusive challenges that encourage community members to show their individuality allow companies to collect tons of reusable UGC in a short amount of time, and increase the connection between a brand and its followers.
UGC campaigns such as Starbucks’s White Cup Contest and Toms’s Without Shoes campaign are a great way to do this.
At the suggestion of a customer (extra UGC points!), Starbucks challenged followers to draw designs on the iconic Starbucks cup and post it from their personal Instagram accounts with the hashtag #WhiteCupContest, for the chance to win a Starbucks gift card.
Within Days there were thousands of entries.
Starbucks took it one step further by producing a special edition cup of the winning entry, which was sold in their coffee shops. Even if they only got 1,000 entries, and each of those people had 100 followers, that would mean 100,000 people looking at a Starbucks cup who would not have been looking at it otherwise.
Every year, Toms asks their followers to share a picture of themselves barefoot using the hashtag #WithoutShoes to bring awareness to people in need across the globe.
This year the campaign generated 27,435 pictures in one day, resulting in 27,435 pairs of shoes donated, and got people around the world talking and thinking about Toms. Furthermore, the participants who already had a connection with the brand felt proud to be part of the brand community.
As these two examples show, different incentives resonate coming from different brands.
For Starbucks participants it was the chance to show off their creativity. For Tom’s participants it was the chance to give to a good cause.
But regardless of what your customers’ interests are, what drives their brand loyalty and what motivates them, UGC campaigns can bring you tons of content that is relevant and relatable to your audience.
In parallel, it provides your business with reusable content and increased brand awareness.
Customer Content is Personalized
45% of online shoppers are more likely to shop on websites offering personalized recommendations.
This is in part because customer reviews that address specific pain points let shoppers in on people’s real experiences and provide them with relevant information that helps them make their purchase decision.
While eCommerce is convenient and puts a world of possibilities at shoppers’ fingertips, it lacks the in-person dynamic of getting an opinion or reassurance from someone else in the store.
As shown in the ThirdLove example below, UGC ads that personal touch by connecting shoppers with past customers who went through the same thing they are going through.
UGC is more targeted than traditional advertising because consumers are seeing content–whether it is pictures, reviews or Q&A–about exactly what they are looking for.
UGC is all about people and their experiences. Reading customer reviews and seeing pictures of other people you relate to creates a community and allows shoppers to imagine themselves having similar experiences.
Bonus! Free Webinar
Want to see more of how brands are turning UGC into sales? Webinar 165, Let Your Customers Do the Talking: The Real Value of User-Generated Content, discusses:
- The impact of social proof on purchase decisions
- How to scale your UGC and encourage customer evangelism
- Which UGC metrics you should be keeping track of
Check it out for more information on viewing the recording.
Consumers have moved past traditional interruption marketing–and businesses need to catch up. Turn social proof into sales with genuine, relatable, reliable user-generated content.
Your customers are your best brand advocates. Amplifying their voices broadens your reach, increases brand visibility and builds a community in the process.
About the Author: Joanna Alter is the Co-marketing Manager at Yotpo where she helps businesses maximize the marketing potential of user-generated content. Learn more at yotpo.com!