As consumers battled to get used to the “new normal” in 2020, brands were also faced with finding new ways to stay connected with their audience.
Not only that, but the last twelve months have completely destroyed the concept behind big advertising campaigns. Social distancing meant camera crews weren’t able to gather, while many brands faced content production limitations.
But there was one type of content that was particularly pandemic-friendly: user-generated content (UGC).
In 2020, we saw a dramatic surge in customer-created photos and videos, across all different industries. Brands were able to collect and share content under tight budgets, with short deadlines, and without going all out on production.
More importantly, they were able to share content that tapped into a growing need for human connection - which will remain a key element to consider in your 2021 approach.
Why UGC Connected Consumers Around the World in 2020
'Connection' was the buzzword of 2020.
People were forced to stay home under strict lockdowns, as part of the COVID-19 mitigation effort. We were separated from family and friends, and the whole ordeal left a lot of people searching for connection anywhere they could find it.
The pandemic has brought a sense of “we’re all in this together" with it and brands, are able to use this to maximize their own connection.
Take Michigan Medicine, for example. They encouraged people to share drawings, photos, and words that recognized the sacrifices that medical workers have made.
Understandably, people didn’t want to feel alone, and the internet brought comfort in the form of UGC. It brought people together, and created communities around brands, while also giving people hope and uplifting stories to focus on.
The Power of UGC - Why It Was the Most Needed Form of Content in 2020
UGC wasn’t just the easiest type of content to create in 2020 - it was needed.
Here’s why: It facilitated a surge in 'globally-focused' content
Brands that attracted a local audience pre-pandemic found their doors blown wide open to a global customer base. As stay-at-home orders forced people to, well, stay at home, large numbers turned to online shopping. This enabled brands to focus on optimizing their online stores, and serving customers that weren’t just in the local vicinity of their brick-and-mortar store.
UGC helped bring all of this together, enabling brands to connect with customers wherever they were in the world.
Essentially, UGC fostered human connection - and that connection is more important than ever during a global crisis.
As humans, we want to feel a part of something, and a pandemic is a scary time for everyone. UGC helps bring like-minded people together, inject a sense of community, and create more “human” campaigns instead of polished, branded offerings.
Mastercard’s “Apart, but united” campaign is a great example of a brand doing this well - they pieced together real footage from customers into a short, docu-style video that was emotional and connective.
Consumers were actively seeking inspiring, uplifting, and relatable content during the pandemic. In fact, one study showed that 70% of people wanted brands to share positive content.
They especially sought content that acknowledged the turbulent situation we were all in, but that did so in a sensitive way.
UGC bridges the gap between brands and buyers and increases the sense of belonging.
Oreo’s #stayhomestayplayful cross-platform campaign shows this in action. It reminded their audience that happiness can still be found, even in the hardest of times.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen at any time. No one expected last year to turn out the way it did, and it shows that being able to successfully pivot is a must-have for brands.
The fast-paced nature of UGC, and the rawness of content from real people, means that brands are able to be far more flexible. This was vital when the state of the world was changing so fast - the last thing brands wanted was to spend two months working on a campaign, only to find it completely out-of-date after a couple of weeks.
UGC enables brands to gather and share content quickly, and create in-the-moment campaigns based on current needs and trends.
Jack Daniel’s did this through their “With Love, Jack” campaign. Using real footage from their audience, they edited together a short video showing people at home.
It increased trust at a particularly untrustworthy time
People were hurt, confused, and skeptical in 2020. Many people had their livelihoods destroyed, millions lost their jobs, and even more had sick family members. There was a lot of bad news all round.
As such, trust was absolutely crucial for brands wanting to attract and maintain their customer base during the pandemic, and UGC is key to building trust. In fact, 70% of consumers trust UGC more than branded content, while 75% think UGC makes content more authentic.
What This Means for the Future
I think we can be pretty confident that many of the trends in 2020 will carry over to 2021, including the surge of UGC. Instead of waiting for the “new normal”, we should accept that we’re already experiencing it, and in this new normal, trust, community, and connection are absolutely crucial.
Brands are now serving a much wider audience, and that audience is often sprinkled all over the world. To maintain these new customer bases, businesses will need to continue building trust, and cementing customer relationships. UGC is the perfect way to do this through social proof and community building.
What UGC Will Look Like in 2021
The State of UGC Report states that UGC will still be huge in 2021. The effects of the pandemic continue to ripple throughout the world. That won’t change anytime soon.
However, we can expect brands’ use of UGC to develop and evolve as they settle into this new groove of customer-focused marketing.
In 2021, brands will:
Use UGC to provide deeper social proof
Instead of sharing UGC as and when it becomes available, it will become an integral part of every marketing campaign. Positive customer reviews will be critical for brand success, and social proof will expand to include real-life customer stories told through different content formats.
Encourage employee content creation
Employees have been stuck at home too. In 2021, more brands will loop their staff members into content creation to bring together dispersed teams.
Personalize UGC campaigns
Most consumers today expect personalized campaigns. In fact, they’re happy to hand over their data in exchange for personalized product recommendations and individual journeys based on their needs.
Tap into nostalgia
According to one study, nostalgic feelings make customers more willing to spend their money. As people strive for “things to go back to normal”, we’ll see more brands tapping into the past.
Weave UGC into other marketing campaigns
UGC has proven to be an integral part of marketing in 2020. Next year, we’ll see it popping up in other types of campaigns, too.
Take White Plains’ 'Virtual Oktoberfest' event, for example. The main campaign is a virtual event, but the organizers turned to UGC to generate increased buzz around it.
Share more live-streams
Live-streams were incredibly popular during 2020 - which is not surprising really, given consumers were stuck at home and craving connection.
2021 is likely to propel video-based UGC campaigns into the limelight. Sephora started to increase their IGTV output during quarantine, and it looks like they’ll be doubling down on that over the next few months.
Integrate UGC into Your 2021 Marketing Plans
At this point, you’ve probably mapped out your marketing plans for the next few months, maybe even the next year if you’re particularly organized. But have you included enough UGC in the mix?
We can’t predict what will happen in 2021 (and we wouldn’t want to, if 2020 is anything to go by), but we can learn from things that worked in the past. And UGC was definitely one thing that worked well in 2020.
In fact, it was the perfect marketing tactic during the pandemic. It brought people together, instilled a sense of “we’re all in this”, and helped brands cement trust with an increasingly skeptical consumer base.
So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll inject a hearty dose of UGC into your marketing campaigns.