User-generated content (UGC) has come a long way since we gathered in the sitting room to observe ourselves silently having a picnic on the beach for two minutes. For some of us it reached its zenith with You’ve Been Framed or Kids Say The Funniest Things on Saturday night primetime TV, but let’s accept that things have moved on a bit since then.
Although we never seem to tire of people falling off things into water or being hit in the face by a rogue football (and, let’s be honest, that can be funny). User-generated content has definitely spread its wings over the last decade. There was a time when the new ‘creators’ were panned by the establishment. Amateur, poorly produced, unwatchable for the most part and a mere blip in the natural order of things.
Some of us, even this writer, tended to agree. But we missed something. That something was authenticity. These ‘amateurs’ were real people with something to say, and the enabling pillars of freely available technology and new distribution networks were going to help them say it.
Those amateurs are the new professionals. From Zoe Sugg, whose Zoella blog flourished into a YouTube channel, book deals and a cosmetics range, to Felix Kjellberg, whose gaming-focused YouTube channel, PewDiePie, has had over 100 million subscribers. These new creators are fully professional, and they make a lot of money.
Authenticity is something that all brands strive for and struggle with. So, what does UGC have to offer them?
In this week’s podcast, we heard from Simon Comins, Commercial Director at Superdrug, and Gill Smith, Managing Director at The Perfume Shop. They both highlighted the need for brands to demonstrate authenticity to their customers. Both companies are big fans of content in this respect and suggested that more traditional channels such as TV lack the ability to foster conversation and relationship building.
What was also interesting is the acceptance that real stories from real people form a large part of their strategy. The prime objective of any business is to generate revenue, but there is a growing belief that promotion without emotion has a short shelf life.
Customers have an unparalleled amount of choice in today’s climate. This is no more apparent than in the retail sector, where customer journeys are increasingly complex and businesses are seemingly able to eat each other’s lunch at will.
Good old-fashioned customer focus is where it’s at, but not just in the numbers. It applies in equal measure to the stories and reviews that lead to engagement. Customers don’t want the hard sell any more. No promotion without emotion is a fitting mantra.
And who better to tell your story than the people who create it? UGC really is the holy grail of marketing. Allowing your customers to talk about your brand and products in a way that you don’t have permission to.
With trust in brands at an all-time low, perhaps it is time to let customers do the talking for you.