Recent e-commerce trends have cemented the fact that the buyer’s journey has transformed from a passive, linear process to an interactive adventure for online customers, aptly referred to as the age of the consumer.
Whereas the buyer’s journey used to be dictated by brands before, consumers are now taking control of their personalized purchasing cycle. With billions of online users immersed in the world of information across different channels, how can your business chime in perfectly with the digital conversation?
As consumers’ habits are moving the focus from owned to earned media, producing original content true to your brand’s voice is no longer enough - it’s time to step up your game by letting your customers take an active role in contributing to your e-commerce content.
User-generated content: It works
User-generated content (UGC) - photos, videos, reviews, etc. - continues to grow exponentially, as the increasingly visual web is inundated with online platforms enabling consumers to contribute their own content in the digital realm. This interesting phenomenon is something that businesses shouldn’t be afraid of, though.
If you have been striving to make your brand’s voice influential online, then why not let your consumers speak on your behalf?
The numbers don’t lie: user-generated content is finding its way to the top of a brand's marketing efforts, as UGC-driven campaigns are proven to be 20% more powerful in influencing purchasing decisions compared to other types of marketing media. Belinda Hallworth of Flagship Consulting asserts that user-generated content effectively drives consumers to decide on their product research and purchases. “There is now the technology to make sure that whatever a consumer looks at online, they are targeted with appropriate UGC that will inspire them to progress to the next stage of their path to purchase.”
Thus, the challenge for businesses today is to make user-generated content work for their brand - by effectively integrating user-generated content into their marketing efforts, creating a UGC-driven buyer’s journey.
Mapping UGC to the customer buying cycle
To maximize the potential of user-generated content in your marketing and sales strategy, it is vital that you involve it in every single stage that your buyers go through when browsing and purchasing on your e-commerce site.
1. Awareness - Attract and impress your audience
A recent Accenture consumer survey posited that 88 percent of people research items online before buying them. When consumers are actively looking for information on their own, you have to execute smart strategies to be easily found on the internet. Optimizing your e-commerce site for search engines is a good start, but once visitors land on your content channels, you need to offer content that's worthy of capturing and retaining their attention.
For example, one way to gain traction online and increase social traffic using user-generated content is via hashtag-centric campaigns. Just take a look at Yogawear company Lululemon’s #TheSweatLife campaign. Their fans were asked to share photos of themselves in their best yoga pose and use hashtags to describe the Lululemon products included in their photos.
These collected images were featured on a subsection of Lululemon’s website, and they successfully garnered over 7,000 photos and attracted 40,000 visitors since the campaign was launched.
2. Consideration - Content that gives customers confidence
When your prospects are now aware of what they are looking for, it’s time to draw them in with personalized ads and campaigns featuring user-generated content. Gone are days when it’s only celebrities who can pull off convincing ads. In fact, e-commerce stores who used UGC-driven ads have experienced 4x higher click-through rates, 50 percent cost of acquisition, and 50 percent drop in cost-per-click.
You can begin browsing for user content published on popular image-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, tag the products featured, and repurpose the content for your websites. Giving credit and mentioning the original uploader of the image not only shows that you care about user-generated conversations but also gives visitors the impression that your product or service has a loyal following.
The good ol’ word-of-mouth tactic has changed into social sharing, so by showcasing the creativity of your customers in your UGC campaigns, you’ll get to reach out to their followers and connections in social media. As a result, consumers will be more than interested to check out your product since online shoppers trust user content more than brand content.
Take the British clothing company Burberry, for example. As part of a strategy to transform the company’s aging brand, the company launched The Art of the Trench, a website where users could upload and comment on pictures of them wearing Burberry clothing.
This UGC-led campaign has increased Burberry’s e-commerce sales by 50 percent year-on-year after the site was launched, proving that your customer’s visual content is a cost-effective yet highly powerful asset that you can spread across different marketing channels to build consumer trust.
3. Decision - Drive leads to close the deal
Persuading your prospects to the point of purchase will take more than photos and social media mentions, but other forms of user-generated content can seal the deal. Social proof - in the form of customer reviews and ratings - will help you close the sales.
A consumer review survey by search agency BrightLocal reveals that over 88 percent of people trust online reviews and ratings of other consumers as much as they trust their personal contacts’ opinions. Positive reviews (in the form of video commentary, ratings, and captioned photos etc.) are the tools you can use to convert your brand believers into actual buyers.
You can also implement innovative solutions on your platform that provide your customers with more product options to choose from to complete the purchase. For instance, visual technology company ViSenze powers e-commerce and retail solutions that revolutionize an e-commerce platform’s product recommendations and browsing experience.
Users are able to upload images they find in user-generated ads or content as search queries and visually similar items based on color, style, pattern and other features from the product catalogwill be surfaced.
Improving your site searchability and catalog accessibility using technology such as ViSenze allows for quick pic-and-click purchases, making it easier for shoppers to buy the products they like after viewing inspirational user-generated photos or content.
4. Retention - Encourage and delight brand patrons
Now that you've gotten your consumers to buy your product, what's next? It's not the end of engagement or their journey with your band, that's for sure.
One quick glance at any social media site and you'll understand that people love to share stories about their lives. As such, you can whip up your brand's story straight from collecting these stories and testimonials from your fans' accounts. It might take you years to excavate the gamut of content that's already published online, so uncovering content organically might not be the best move.
Instead, you should focus your efforts on encouraging and helping users create new content featuring your brand, through attractive incentivized UGC campaigns. Instead of giving money or products away as prizes, go for something unique, like giving your fans a chance to be featured in your website or official social media page. Therefore, you are not just going after your consumers' feedback or content, but to build genuine relationships with them.
Here’s a great example from Starbucks: In April 2014, the coffee company held a contest where users can design Starbucks cups and submit pictures of their works online.
The campaign was a success, earning 4,000 unique entries and boosting visibility of Starbucks across different social media channels.
Wrapping it up: Users can put your brand in the (social) spotlight
Nothing makes customers feel more valued than seeing their own content appreciated, promoted and shared by the brands they love. Inexpensive yet authentic, user-generated content doesn’t come off as forceful and unnatural. Your prospects will be more convinced to go with your products and services as a result of such involvement.
E-commerce trends continue to evolve each day, but it looks like user-generated content is here to stay - as long as there are people around ready to share their knowledge, opinions, and creativity with the rest of the world.