The Age of Authenticity: Retail Marketers Must Embrace UGC

Over the past decade, social media has revolutionized how shoppers create, consume, and share online content. As photo-sharing platforms continue to flourish, the volume of content produced has grown exponentially, with nearly 2 billion user-generated photos posted on social media daily. The content explosion has brought consumers and brands closer than ever before, resulting in both challenges and opportunities. Engagement along the path to purchase is a two-way street, and this direct connection with consumers comes with a need for better, more authentic content.

Today’s consumer doesn’t just want authentic marketing — they demand it. Crappy stock photos like “woman laughing with salad” have become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring countless memes and even a full-length play. Too terrible to be taken seriously, these traditional marketing assets demonstrate the necessity of authentic content across digital media, heightened by consumers’ frustration with fake, photoshopped material and a lack of diversity in background and body-type from models and spokespeople.

User-generated content plays a pivotal role in meeting the need for authenticity, showcasing brands’ offerings while driving shopper interaction. Peer-to-peer endorsements are especially powerful, with 53% of millennials admitting UGC influences their purchases, seamlessly inserting consumers into the brand-building process. Marketers must take advantage of the opportunities that UGC offers to improve engagement, purchase intent, and brand loyalty.

Purchase Visualization

Ready your selfie sticks! Sixty-three percent of consumers trust user-generated content more than branded images, with 32% more likely to purchase clothing online if photos feature real people wearing products. Gone are the days of stiff, expensive photoshoots — leveraging UGC can lower marketing costs and streamline content sourcing while promoting peer-to-peer sharing. UGC is especially powerful when  it comes to beauty and apparel, depicting how offerings can be worn on shoppers of different ages, skin tones and body types. These variables can help potential shoppers visualize themselves interacting with products, spurring inspiration to make purchases. Many brands like Doc Martens have dedicated social feeds to displaying these consumer images and ultimately, 90% of brands say they’re seeing positive results from UGC campaigns, demonstrating that consumer content is a great way to create more genuine marketing opportunities.

Valuable Consumer Data

UGC is a critical source of customer data, providing marketers with a better sense of overall consumer engagement, the level of brand advocacy occurring within branded hashtags and even the conversion rates of content-centered campaigns. Based on the content fans are posting, brands can get a sense of the most popular or sought-after products in their catalog and adjust accordingly. UGC also grants brands an “inside look” at how products are being used. A retailer may find their new line of dresses make frequent appearances at music festivals or that a comfy pair of shoes are well-appreciated by new moms. These real-time uses can help augment and expand marketing efforts and break through to new audiences.

If a consumer-generated photo is receiving significant likes and comments, a brand may want to consider reaching out to the user and asking permission to repurpose the content. Well-received images can be used in future marketing collateral, including branded social media accounts, in-store materials and websites, where more than two-thirds of brands report leveraging UGC.

Drive Email Conversions

Email continues to be one of the most popular channels retailers use to engage new and returning shoppers. Email has proven to be an important channel to re-engage shoppers who have abandoned carts or outstanding searches. While these emails are powerful in their own right, they’re even more meaningful when they incorporate user-generated content. By inserting curated images within emails, retailers have the ability to deliver authentic emails uniquely tailored and relevant to consumers’ interests. The authenticity generated through UGC directly correlates to revenue and engagement. Many retail and e-commerce brands are measuring the effectiveness of UGC in some capacity, with 42% measuring engagement metrics and 31% measuring sales and conversions. On average, user-generated content in email sees a 43% increase in click-through rates and a 2-3x conversion rate.

With 91% of retail and e-commerce brands affirming UGC would fit their company’s tone or personality, there’s a significant marketing opportunity to insert efforts across industries. In order to experience the many benefits of UGC, brands must establish a culture of contribution to encourage customers to engage with their brand. To spur brand ambassadors, and in turn long-term loyalty, promote hashtags on product packaging in-store, at branded events, online and in any other consumer communication channels. Brands can embrace their creative side by creating sweepstakes that invite consumers to share brand-related content in exchange for the opportunity to win a prize.

No matter what opportunity fits your brand best, welcoming consumer content is a sure-fire way to boost authenticity and create interactions that engage and inspire shoppers.

Pau Sabria is CEO and co-founder of Olapic.