The previous practice of brands looking strictly at advertising agencies to create new campaigns has now become redundant. It has been seen that young, mobile and socially savvy consumers value their experiences over their possessions, which has led to opportunities for brands and marketers to tap this trend and give this demographic an opportunity to share and report on its experiences - otherwise known as user generated content (UGC).
Surprisingly, more than 50% of online content in 2013 is user generated, and with these numbers only increasing, as a result of more people getting familiar with creating videos and sharing content, brands that look to creative consumers to shape their campaigns will come out far ahead of the competition.
The beauty of UGC is that it provides a win-win situation for both sides: Brands get to develop a deeper engagement with their audience by creating a platform where their consumers can gather and socialize (that they can control and monitor) and, in turn, consumers get exclusive access to products and services — which they can boast about to their friends.
The bonus for brands comes in when consumers take their involvement a step further, by sharing their brand ambassador status with their peers on social media channels. In a world where people rely on recommendations from friends, this endorsement is invaluable, not to mention helping brands continually release fresh, powerful content that boosts natural SEO rankings and reaching a more diverse audience.
It has been observed, that 64% of people are ‘highly likely’ to purchase something that included their input, combined with the 92% of people who rely upon other individuals they know while making a purchase decision. Over the last five years, there has been a 35% increase in user generated content, and 70% people feel most loyal to brands that listen to them.
We can now safely assume that the brands that listen to and interact with their consumers (or brand advocates) will be the ones seeing the most growth. And since brand advocates are likely to spend twice as much as regular consumers, a company would be foolish not to tap into them for the content used to market or create products.
The Consumer Mindset
For UGC to work effectively, it is vital for a brand to have an objective driven strategy with which to connect with the mass audience. It is a double edged sword; it can become the most expensive marketing tool, but at the same time become the most efficient tool effectively edging out the regular traditional one.
The Indian audience is slowly adapting and embracing to the idea of creating and sharing content through social media platforms. Culture as an aspect within the Indian consumers also affects UGC to a large extent. People are emotional about what they like and own. But at the same time they are reluctant to voice their opinions to avoid any kind of controversy. On the other hand, companies are not susceptive towards handling the criticism, which might make this process a little slow.
Having said that, we will find that most companies are slowly trying to adapt this tool, but very few are successful in this process. Companies like Flipkart have offered loyalty programs to engage the consumers, and recently MTV has also done great work towards UGC content. The process might require a large investment, but there will huge available content which companies can use for their campaigns in future.
The key to generating UGC is the level of interaction that the campaign can generate; there have instances where jingles, brand logos and names have been generated through crowdsourcing. If we consider the Hero ad campaign as one of the recent examples, the value of crowdsourcing lies in the innovation of the idea and in the authenticity of the contributions.
Indian and Global Brands: The difference in thought processes
As compared to their Indian counterparts, global brands easily adapt to newer mediums to engage with their target audiences. Global brands use social media as an aspect of creating and maintaining relationships, hence are using all platforms including Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to involve the audience into the brand culture, whereas Indian brands are looking at it as a marketing platform. Indian brands are still skewed to Facebook as far as their choice of platform is concerned.
Innovative Usage of UGC to Manifest Business Opportunities:
Following are snapshots of some interesting campaigns that have not only captured audience attention but have also enabled brands to achieve long term business objectives:
Lay's potato chips recently made a splash in the world of crowdsourcing when it offered chip eaters a chance to create the newest Lay's flavor with the "Do Us A Flavor" campaign. Consumers were asked by the brand to submit a flavor they would like to see Lay's create and, in turn, Lay's would reward the winning flavor creator either $1 million or 1 percent of the flavor's first year sales, whichever finished higher. The campaign succeeded beyond all expectations, with more than 3.8 million user submissions and unique flavor ideas like Cajun Squirrel and Chili and Chocolate. In the end, three finalists were chosen and one ultimate flavor was left standing, Cheesy Garlic Bread, beating its two contenders, Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles. This type of marketing is not only a great way to truly understand your consumers, but you can also expect a high percent of the 3.8 million participants to be picking up at least a bag or two of their selected flavor.
The Mountain Dew "Dewmocracy" campaign in 2009 also put flavor direction in the hands of consumers. To start the campaign, 50 diehard Mountain Dew drinkers tested seven experimental flavors and whittled the choices down to only three: Typhoon, WhiteOut, and Distortion. Mountain Dew even crowdsourced the marketing of the flavors by allowing 4,000 Mountain Dew fans to divide themselves into three "Flavor Nations" that would decide the flavor name, packaging, and even the ad agency that would create promotions for each. The 3 flavors hit the shelves, and the rest was up to the general public. In the end, more than 2 million flavor votes were submitted and the winner was picked: WhiteOut, earning 44 percent of the total votes.
Whereas Lay's allowed users to create their own flavor ideas, Mountain Dew's "Dewmocracy" campaign showed that consumers could also be tapped to pick between varieties of preconceived flavor directions as opposed to creating something brand new.
The future of UGC is massive; companies are paying to the consumer to write on the brand. Consumers have started trusting their peers on their opinions. UGC will connect the consumers and brand in an extremely effective way.
Coca-Cola has fully embraced user-generated content with several successful crowdsourcing campaigns in recent years. Most notable, however, was Coke's decision to give its marketing creative brief to consumers in North America, Asia, and Latin America instead of a high-powered ad agency, as is the norm. An incredible quantity of content was created with more than 3,600 submissions including animation, illustration, film, and print advertising.
Out of those 3,600, 10 of the highest quality were chosen and shown to creative directors and other ad professionals from around the world with one winning ad eventually shown. Surprisingly, the winning ad, "Happiness is in the Air," was ranked in the top 10 percent of ads shown globally after its debut on Valentine's Day during "American Idol," proving that user-generated content can test very, very well.
The Art of the Trench
The brainchild of creative director Christopher Bailey, the Art of the Trench campaign propelled Burberry’s ailing “staid/old fashioned” image to one of the hottest fashion labels in the world.
With the help of professional fashion photographers, a celebrated fashion photo blogger and the public, the British luxury fashion house, Burberry, underwent a total image revamp. It took UGC to the streets with a simple mission: to show real, fashionable people wearing the brand’s trench coat and looking fantastic in it.
Fashionistas and photographers alike were asked to pose in the coat and upload their photos onto the site, where the Burberry marketing team featured a selection from the best of the bunch. All participants and viewers of the site could comment on and share these photos on social media. The hundreds of pictures (which, in the first 6 months, generated 7 million views) that were submitted could be browsed by categories such as weather, color, style, gender, or popularity.
The use of social networking and digital media brought Burberry to the minds of a younger audience, brought in new consumers and brand enthusiasts to the brand, and re-established its presence as a “cool, be-seen-in, must-have brand” among the fickle fashion set.
User-generated content is quickly becoming the norm for brands that want to reach their consumers and brand advocates on a more personal level. And not only is it effective, but compared to other media, it's incredibly efficient. And as we saw with Coca-Cola, it can test very well and compete with agency created campaigns. As more and more consumers are being given a voice and the tools to interact with brands, we will start to see more creative ways in which brands are taking notice. Marketers must realize that consumers are no longer satisfied with being just spoken to, but they want in on the conversation and be more involved with their favourite brands.