Marketing Expert Extols Virtues of User Generated Content

opinionThe following is a guest contributed post from Az Ahmed, Senior Marketing Advisor at SmartFocus. 

In the world of digital marketing, ‘normal’ advertising is fast becoming obsolete. With 15% of people now blocking ads and the use of ad blocking costing the advertising industry $21.8bn last year, it is clear people are fed up with ads intruding into their online lives.

People are blocking ads for a number of reasons – from finding them annoying or irrelevant to them slowing down their browsing. It has created a huge challenge for marketers: what can we do to boost awareness of our brands and products in this sort of environment?

I would suggest that marketers looking at driving brand awareness focus on fostering a level of trust with your existing customers with the aim of them becoming brand evangelists. There is nothing more valuable than a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or a member of your family. Customers are much more likely to trust a friend’s opinion than they are a company ‘telling them’ what they should buy. If they cannot find a friend or family member’s opinion about a product or service, the next place most people will turn to are online reviews.

Marketers should also consider the blurring of lines in how customers interact with a brand and its products and services is the effect of the mobile or smartphone. People are now connected to their mobile phones almost 24 hours a day. They are becoming connected customers where they can interact with a company’s website and social media accounts, find online reviews, check out its credentials at the same time as standing in the company’s own store.

So how can a company take advantage of these new connected customers and give themselves the best chance of success in this new digitally connected world.

Encourage Customer Interaction. Instead of shying away from talking directly with customers and asking their true opinions, businesses should encourage two-way communication with their customers. Companies should ask customers to upload their own pictures of them using a product or enjoying a service and to share it far and wide. They should also set up a way for people to do this, via their website or social channels. It’s really quite simple to do.

Find your Brand Ambassadors and work with them. Look out for those customers who are the most loyal, active and engaged with you across all of your channels and platforms and work with them. Get positive stories out of them, push case studies, ask them to run a webinar, create a hashtag and ask them to actively contribute. Make them feel special. Reward them. Foster a relationship with them. Working with brand ambassadors will give a business credibility that simply cannot be gained by traditional advertising.

Work with a Digital Marketing Platform that is uses User Generated Content (UGC). Deciding to utilise UGC can be easier said than done and can sometimes feel a bit daunting for a marketing team. One way of making the process a lot easier, is to work with an established digital marketing platform, who is able to provide the means to handle user generated content in all its forms.

From being able to tap into social sentiment and include this in an email marketing campaign at the touch of a button; to handling customer reviews and publishing them on a company’s website; to providing the means and strategy behind running a social media customer help desk service, while developing apps which promote user generated content and turn them into a fun experience for customers is something you can, and probably should, outsource.

The question then comes up of why a company should do this in the first place. The reason is simple; UGC is one of the most trusted forms of marketing; from YouTube stars promoting products to companies paying people to push their content on social media, this is a form of marketing that actually drives measurable sales.

UGC is more trusted and more effective for a company than traditional advertising and with new methods popping up all the time, it looks set to continue. Using on-open live UGC in email results in 43% increase in click-through rates, up to 3x conversion rate improvement, and 86% consumer trust rating as an indicator of product/service quality. UGC is 50% more trusted than any other content[i] and can help to drive maximum returns for any campaign by combining UGC with brand content, resulting in a more authentic, personalised and connected customer experience.

One large brand already using UGC in their summer email and social campaign #myholidayhabits is Teletext Holidays, the UK’s longest established digital travel agency in the UK, with nearly 300,000 customers last year.

Kelly Maher, Head of CRM at Teletext Holidays explains: “Since using Smart Content, SmartFocus’s UGC solution, we have seen unprecedented increases in open rates and click-through rates. My team and I are now able to use up-to-the-second user generated content from all major social channels including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to populate our emails with truly personalised, highly engaging content in real-time.”

What a company should do is start to encourage UGC, provide a means for customers to provide it and then they should leave it alone. Too much meddling can result in a fake sheen being put on the whole thing and savvy customers will see right through it. Let it run and as long as the content keeps pouring in and they’re mostly positive, the sales will rack up over time.

Are you up for the challenge?