Are You Leveraging the Power of UGC?

When shopping online, consumers turn to product information as a key influencing factor for purchases. When product information is compelling and brand-consistent, retailers can reach more shoppers across both digital and physical marketing channels. The challenge is in discovering preferences of individual consumers or targeting segments that will convert to purchases.

If product content diverges from the attributes and brand values that shoppers care about, it can leave them hesitant to push the buy button. To establish continuity between perceived and actual preferences, brands should be analyzing user-generated content (UGC) as an indicator of trends.

With the retail industry changing so often, UGC—like a Facebook update or an Instagram post—can help brands evolve their marketing efforts from reactionary to anticipatory and even shape trends. UGC can also signal to retailers when their content deviates from what is popular in the market. Particularly across digital channels, retailers are missing powerful consumer signals when they fail to follow target audiences and monitor visual content. Every single image posted is a powerful, real-time glimpse into the mind of a potential customer.

To derive true value from UGC, today's retailers should start with these two steps:

Align product information with relevant and trending UGC. A great way for a brand to determine if its content information matches user preferences is to monitor UGC and spot industry trends. As brands begin to pay closer attention to the content coming from key audiences and demographics, they can better recognize the product attributes that matter most to customers. For example, if a particular color or pattern keeps appearing with positive sentiment across social sites, this trend is one that brands should emphasize across their own channels. From Web site content to digital marketing efforts—even print catalogs—brands have to be intentional about promoting the kinds of content and including the attributes that move customers from intent to purchase.

Notably, UGC is a powerful predictor of real-time shopping preferences. When consumers post on social media, retailers can feel assured that the content displayed is timely, unlike many other means of collecting consumer insights. For both negative and positive feedback, social channels are nothing if not a repository of the current mood. This means that brands can act upon the trends they notice with confidence. Although social media interactions can have misleading individual posts, aggregate input smooths out such information and can be a very helpful guide for adjusting content strategies.

Integrate UGC into future marketing strategies. In addition to mining UGC for insights, brands can also engage consumers by incorporating existing UGC into marketing campaigns. As this content already exists and has a proven track record for sharing, retailers can leverage UGC to bolster their own marketing efforts. Here are threee approaches:

  • Incentive-based programs: Contests or giveaways motivate shoppers to post content online. Brands can observe social channels to capture this content, interact with consumers, and generate UGC for marketing.
  • Links: Brands can find high-performing UGC and link to images or posts on their sites. Giving credt to consumers for their content is important as it builds trust and establishes a transparent relationship between brand and shoppers.
  • Celebrity: Retailers can interact with celebrities and share their UGC as a strong endorsement of products and brand. Even if a product is not from a brand, communicating with celebrities across social channels develops engagement with a celebrity's large network of followers. This situates brands to push future interactions toward their own products.

Integrating UGC is important because consumers inherently prefer peer recommendations over branded messaging. Every piece of UGC shared acts as a testimonial for a brand. Using UGC also demonstrates that a brand cares about its customers and values their feedback. To maintain relevancy, retailers should interact with consumers in real time, approaching UGC as an active and ever-growing conversation.

Including UGC might seem like an extra step, but it is one that successful brands cannot ignore. A growing number of consumers turn to social media as their main source of product information. If a brand lacks a presence on social platforms and fails to interact with UGC in a productive way, they miss out on this entire pool of consumers. What's more, if a brand's competitors are actively incorporating UGC into their marketing campaigns, they are winning these sales opportunities with more relevant social interactions.

As retail industries move fast, it is nearly impossible for brands to catch up on social conversations once they have fallen behind. Although a large portion of UGC is dedicated to fashion, UGC is an area all e-commerce players should be cognizant of. By understanding how UGC is affecting their brand, and how UGC is empowering their competitors, any retailer can better engage within an increasingly digital world.

E-commerce is continuously growing. Online purchases are predicted to surpass $3.5 trillion over the next five years, making up 12.4 percent of total retail sales by 2019. If brands want to remain competitive and earn more consumers, they have to begin paying closer attention to what consumers want and share online. Brands are nothing without their customers, which makes embracing UGC an intuitive choice. 

Rick Chavie is the CEO of EnterWorks, a provider of production information management solutions.

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