The Internet is a highly visual space where billions of people gather; a free-flowing space for ever-growing opinions and user generated content. Undoubtedly, social media platforms were a major turnin point in the history of the Internet - the years between 2004 and 2011 saw the public swarming towards joining social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. Back then, these social media platforms were a novelty, a foreign concept that everyone was curious about and eager to join.
Every platform offered something different, and was a free and convenient method for people to share their everyday lives, information about themselves, their thoughts, brands they liked and disliked, and so on. Nine years ago in 2009, YouTube users pioneered the rise of user generated content in the form of videos; examples included gaming videos (e.g. Pewdiepie), makeup tutorials (e.g. Michelle Phan and Bethany Mota), and comedy videos (eg. Shane Dawson and RyanHiga). Today, these people have become self-made millionaires with billions of hits on their YouTube videos; and YouTube has become an extremely saturated community of influencers from all walks of life.
What inevitably followed this explosion of influencers was influencer marketing, affiliate networks, and social listening. For the first time, social media was the first point of access for customer reach, complaints, and comments. Retailers were quick to rise up to this change - and have so far invested billions of dollars worth to just to engage social audiences from these technologies in attempts to influence buying behaviour in innovative ways that legacy channels and owned data were incapable of providing. In other words, the social web is no longer merely a platform for reconnecting with others and staying in touch with peers; it is a visually fueled, multi-platform place for means of self-expression and discovery. However, there is a challenge here. Tags and text that people usually depend upon to pinpoint advocates and opportunities are failing to paint a more wholesome picture for brands that are looking to engage audiences and propel significant business revenue.
But let us first examine what has happened here. Seemingly, it turns out that the opportunity does not lie in just the content itself, but rather within the images and videos - the dominant form of media being shared and consumed online. Business savvy online retailers swiftly started searching for methods of using user-generated content on their sites to maximum advantage. To improve user shopping experience, these online retailers began exposing browsers to content from other shoppers “just like them” who wore that monochrome top, bought the tasseled bedsheet, or booked that vacation to Bora Bora. What lies at the back of this is the global cycle of consume, share, consume, share - the factor that led to increasing sales.
Still, the opportunities that lie within visual content is at a much bigger scale than many can ever envisage; huge revenue opportunities and sheer scale of visual content should not be underestimated. Just a few years ago, marketers looked out for every scrap of data and content they could find; but all that data became overwhelming and just by possessing UGC was just not cutting it as it said it would in increasing conversions. For instance, think about the disjointed process of a brand when it resposts an Instagram picture a customer has posted on their delight and love for their new skirt - only to have the follower double tap the picture, receive an email with the IG picture in it and a link to the product page where only then the customer can begin the transaction. Not only is this process messy, but high attrition is almost assured. The question regarding creative user generated content is no longer what it used to be six years ago of “are we first with this idea?” but instead, “does it drive revenue to our bottom line?”
To illustrate this, let us take a look at Burberry. Its sales rose by 50% within just a year of the brand’s famed classic trench coat. How did they do this? “The Art of Trench” campaign was first created in order to motivate customers to post pictures of themselves in the brand’s classic trench coat. The crucial part is that Burberry integrated customer’s UGC directly into online shopping experiences; where the connection to sale is much more direct. Notably, they had connected that very moment of visual inspiration derived from UGC directly to the opportunity for a purchase to be made. This particular bit is what we deem as true visual commerce. Significantly, not only does it make users’ shopping experiences much more pleasant and cuts to the chase, it also transforms and fulfills the true potential of UGC. It is no longer just about a brand’s reach and engagement, but precisely about conversions. Artificial intelligence is undoubtedly one new method to enable innovative retailers to efficiently manage the massive amounts of UGC being thrown at brands every day and turn it from a burden to a scalable blessing. The ability to process all kinds of UGC - be it photos or video content- becomes more organized as UGC can be sorted, selected, and deployed timely. In addition, common visuals that are made available that are provided to customers as inspiration and as the first point of the payment process, can reduce the volume of steps a customer must take to purchase the product they desire. Essentially, every step that can be removed via visual commerce ensures that visuals on your site are truly shoppable, is a key step towards improving customer’s shopping experiences and the likelihood to make a purchase.