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True Colors: How To Succeed with User-Generated Content

From the time Olapic pioneered the visual content industry, we have understood the value of ‘the customer’ as an integral part of a brand’s marketing strategy and story. Moreover, with the rise of social media platforms paired with shifting consumer habits, the call for more authentic and effective marketing has never been more imperative.

While many marketers are aware of the wealth of user-generated, or “earned,” content (UGC) associated with their brand, there is still an ongoing struggle to adopt strategies to truly activate this content both seamlessly and at scale. Specifically for retail marketers, when done correctly, integrating UGC across the shopping experience can offer a lot of value: From increasing authenticity in visual content, to improving personalization, to better connecting the buyer’s journey. Injecting UGC into your strategy can even help brands increasingly understand their own consumers, thus revealing their true colors in profound ways that can extend beyond marketing and into customer loyalty, product development, and more.

UGC and Authenticity

According to Adweek, 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase. And now, with the growth of channels like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, there are more places than ever before for consumers to turn for inspiration and product discovery in their buying process.

Today, that buying process has become increasingly complex. We’ve talked about contextual commerce before, which is the ability to buy anything, anytime, anywhere. And, it’s clearly a trend that won’t be going away anytime soon as shoppable technology matures. Even Amazon has leaned into the social commerce with its release of Amazon Spark.

For brands, the key to capturing users’ attention, especially for younger audiences, is to create more authentic experiences that map to their unique lifestyles and interests. Increasingly, consumers are demanding more from brands, and expect personalized messaging that aligns with their values. To achieve this lofty goal, many brands are turning to user-generated content, as it is created and shared by other loyal users. Beyond authenticity, UGC can help brands fill the need for large quantities of high-quality visual content to fill a growing set of digital communication channels. Churning out the same quantity of brand-owned content would be entirely time-consuming and costly.

Consumer content also can help your brand to better understand how audiences perceive and use your products. Additionally, it represents a unique opportunity to showcase and promote your biggest fans, drive loyalty, and add a layer of authenticity to your brand expression and visual tone.

Don’t just take our word for it either. Forrester Consulting, through studying Olapic’s Total Economic Impact, found that we were able to create more than a $2.5 million benefit for a specific retail brand over the course of three years. Not only that, but through incorporating UGC into its marketing, this retailer saw a 680 percent ROI and discovered the power UGC had in better connecting its customers to the brand.

“There are instances where UGC has worked so well that there’s now a ‘UGC first’ rule when selecting imagery for social ads,” said the Director of Social Media and Digital Content for a large US speciality retailer.

Reveal Your True Colors

By incorporating your consumers’ content into your marketing strategy, you can begin to reveal your brand’s true colors and better connect with your biggest fans. Whether brands are including UGC in-store, on their product pages, or in other channels like email and social mediaIt’s clear that this type of content is changing the way consumers interact with retailers for the better.

Here are a few of our favorite brands who have been igniting their true colors through increasing their customer-created content across their marketing experiences.

Crayola (No Pun Intended)

Whether you’re a kid on her first day of school or an adult that’s jumped on the new coloring book trend, Crayola holds a special place in many consumers’ hearts. The 132-year-old company has a long history with many buyers, often reminding them of the good ol’ days of childhood. Which is why, even as the digital landscape has grown, Crayola has been able to maintain relevance and a strong footing in the craft industry.

The brand is quoted in AdAge saying, “We are spending much more resources trying to do more user-generated initiatives,” in reference to a number of campaigns the company has deployed in the past year. Whether the brand asking its customers to share and vote for the name of a new Crayola color, or touting its partnerships with Sally Hansen, Clinique, and Target, the company knows how to inspire excitement in its customers. So much so that Twitter and Instagram are overflowing with customers’ own content praising Crayola products.

Take for example one of its many popularized hashtags: #crayoligraphy, which has 18K+ posts tagged on Instagram or its original hashtag #crayola with over 500K posts on the platform. Both hashtags offer a plethora of high-quality visual content that the brand can, with the right technology, easily incorporate into its marketing to display its customers’ loyalty and even drive discovery of new ideas like DIY projects like the one you see below.


Another brand we think does an incredible job of baking UGC into its marketing plan is the outdoor retailer, REI.

As reported by a number of industry publications, REI ‘won’ Black Friday in recent years by developing an #OptOutside campaign, where the company gave paid time off to employees on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, encouraging both its staff and REI customers to spend that extra time, outdoors—using their branded hashtag, of course. As RetailDive put it, “REI took a gamble that what would be lost in store sales would be made up for in brand loyalty — and it won.”

This campaign ended up earning the retailer major kudos for creativity, sparked an anti-Black Friday movement, and most importantly rallied brand loyalty among its environmentally-conscious consumers that has extended to loyalty all year-round. Now, with a plethora of user-generated content at the brand’s fingertips it is well positioned to increase its authenticity by incorporating its customers’ best photos and videos across more channels than just social. Especially on Instagram, the pride and value REI holds for its customers is palpable.

West Elm

Last but not least, it’s hard to talk about user-generated content and not tout West Elm as a winner in this space. The brand has increasingly begun to incorporate UGC across its channels in an expert manner and has even uncovered insights about its products that wouldn’t  have otherwise been discovered without observing patterns in its customers’ content.

By bringing West Elm’s fans into the fold, the brand has been able to create a true community that inspires one another, and ultimately drives purchase behavior. From a gallery of consumer photos for buyers to discover new products, to incorporating UGC on its product pages, to featuring customer content on its social feeds, ads, and even print catalogs — the brand has learned that the more UGC they have across experiences, the better and more seamless the buying journey becomes.

And there’s proof in the effectiveness of this type of content. According to an AdweekWest Elm saw a 2.6x higher click-through rate on Facebook ads with UGC versus brand creative. The brand’s Director of Social Media and Digital Content added, “I think it works because it looks like what people expect in a Facebook newsfeed… It’s a natural space.”

So whether you’re a brand that already has a robust hashtag strategy for user-generated content or you’re just starting out, the key is to not only encourage UGC creation, but also have a plan in place to activate it properly across channels to truly create a more connected and personalized buying journey. We no longer live in a space where marketing can be a one-way street. Instead, customers are craving an understanding in the brands they interact with, so why not use them to reveal the true character of your company. As Cyndi Lauper would say, “So don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors are beautiful.”