To say this year has tested brands is an understatement.
The pandemic has forced businesses in every industry to reframe the way they market themselves due to mandatory closures and a surge in online competition.
Empathic marketing has never been more important, and the lack of resources to create full-scale marketing campaigns has affected both big and small brands. Not to mention the cutbacks that have rippled through every in-house department and the fragmented teams that are the result of work-from-home orders.
Brands have had to find alternative ways to connect with their audience without studio setups and huge budgets bolstering their efforts.
But, with 42% of people around the world spending more time on social media since the start of the pandemic, there’s never been a better time to connect with customers online.
Why User Generated Content (UGC) Has Been a Pivotal Part of 2020
UGC has always been one of the most compelling forms of content. It’s more trusted than brand-led campaigns and it instills a sense of trust in a digital landscape.
This year, it’s been more important than ever. Here’s why:
- UGC taps into a desire for human connection in the wake of months of isolation and quarantining
- UGC builds and strengthens community
- UGC is relatable - people look for uplifting content that acknowledges the difficult situation we’re all in
- UGC allows brands to meet customers where they’re already spending a lot of their time
- UGC helps brands generate remote, great content without having to setup photoshoots
What We Learned From UGC in 2020
2020 has taught us a lot about life and business. In terms of UGC, it’s shown us how important connectivity is in times of need and how a sense of community is crucial for getting through tough situations.
1. Bringing together brands and buyers
As a powerful storytelling tool, UGC is able to bring together brands and their customers and create a deeper sense of belonging.
Take Facebook’s pivotal “We’re Never Lost If We Can Find Each Other” campaign that highlights how people are staying connected during the pandemic and how they are coping during quarantine and multiple lockdowns.
It uses videos and photos captured by Facebook users and stitches them together in a documentary-style video that’s both moving and informative.
2. Relatability is key in times of need
No one likes to feel alone, especially with a global pandemic raging all around. The fluidity of UGC as a marketing strategy means it has the potential to be far more relatable than brand-driven campaigns.
Made.com quickly realized this. Their marketing has always centered around the notion of “home”, but during the pandemic this became even more prominent.
They created product pages packed full of customer images that served as inspiration.
3. Everything changes so quickly
No one could have predicted how 2020 would turn out - in fact, it’s hard to plan ahead even a few weeks in advance at the moment as things are changing so quickly.
UGC saves brands time and allows them to jump on trends in a matter of days. This is key for keeping up with evolving consumer needs.
Buffalo Wild Wings took this theory and ran with it - they created an ad made purely from UGC that shows real people creating made-up sports in their homes. This was to reflect the fact that sports fans could no longer gather and watch their favorite teams in public places.
The ad actually went from conception to completion in less than a week, and allowed customers to stay connected with the brand virtually when they were unable to in-person.
4. Events were thrown into disarray
The events industry has been one of the hardest hit. Brands that once delivered in-person ceremonies, seminars, and conferences have had to be resilient and pivot to meet ever-changing guidelines.
edX did a great job of this. When they were faced with the challenge of celebrating graduates after thousands of graduations were canceled, they utilized TINT to pull together achievements, messages, and celebrations that graduates had shared all in one digital place.
5. Hope is important
It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when millions of people are in pandemic-related turmoil. UGC gives people hope and encourages individuals to feel connected. In many ways, it nurtures a sense of “we’re all in this together”.
The Gulf County Tourist Development Council leveraged UGC to create travel guides people could use to plan future trips. Even if they weren’t able to travel in that moment, they could browse photos and videos taken by real people as something to look forward to.
6. Existing customers need connection too
Stats show that it’s cheaper to market to existing customers than attracting new ones, and returning buyers spend more than first-time shoppers. UGC is the perfect way to solidify relationships with long-term customers and create deeper connections with them.
This is exactly what KFC did with their UGC campaign that welcomed customers back after mandatory closures. They created an ad featuring customer photos and videos pulled from the #RateMyKFC social media campaign which encouraged customers to recreate the brand’s famous fried chicken recipe.
7. Don’t forget employee-generated content
Employees are a goldmine of content, and during 2020, work-at-home orders and mandatory guidelines made them far more relatable to the average consumer than ever before, and there were plenty of brands that tapped into this.
Take Cisco, for example, they won gold for 'Best User-Generated Content' in the Corporate Content Awards for the employee-focused campaign “We Are Cisco”, which highlighted employee stories and brought behind-the-scenes activities to the forefront.
How to Plan Your UGC Strategy in 2021
2020 has changed the world.
This has opened up opportunities for brands to take advantage of new online narratives, and going forward, UGC will be a key consideration for social commerce and eCommerce strategies across the board.
The key elements of your UGC strategy in 2021
- Build trust - Brands will have to work harder than ever to recapture the trust and loyalty of customers in 2021. A precedent has been set this year, and this will continue to play a huge part in strategies moving forward
- Provide social proof - When things start to return to normal, consumers will want validation that others are buying from you or are at the very least re-engaging in shopping and purchasing
Planning Your 2021 UGC Strategy
1. Design the Concept
The concept of your campaign is what it’s about or what it aims to do, promote, or say.
Think about what your UGC campaign will center around. Use data from 2020 and your customers’ input to decide on a campaign topic that will resonate with them. Consider outside inputs too, like what’s going on in the world and global trends.
It doesn’t have to be complicated - take Made.com’s example above. They simply replaced product photos on their website with customer photos to tap into the growing need for a safe and secure home space.
2. Engage and Amplify
This is the part where you encourage your customers to get involved.
Use incentives and create a buzz around your brand. Make people want to get involved.
A great way to do this is through UGC contests and campaigns. Offering a reward in exchange for a customer photo is a compelling incentive and will quickly spread your campaign far and wide.
3. Curate and Display
Choose the best customer contributions and decide how you’re going to display them.
Will you create a dedicated landing page to host the UGC on like EdX, or will you simply re-share contributions across your social media channels?
Get creative here and consider all the options you have. Maybe you share UGC in your email campaigns, maybe you incorporate it into your product pages, or maybe you do what Facebook and Buffalo Wild Wings and turn it into a video.
4. Plan, But Let Customers Drive the Story
Planning is key for ensuring you get the most out of your UGC campaign - but, as 2020 has shown us, anything can happen. Keep an eye on trends and pivot to meet the changing needs of your customers.
Track patterns in your campaigns and be prepared to switch things up to align better with what’s going on in the world.
2021 will be the year of UGC
UGC should be a core part of every marketing strategy in 2021. New competition means brands are fighting to stand out, and the changing needs of customers will require a more sensitive, empathic approach to marketing.
Through the tactical use of UGC, brands will be able to nurture a sense of community, connect better with existing customers, and keep up with the ever-changing events in the world.