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March 11, 2014
Let User Generated Content Tell Your Marketing Stories
 
Static forms of advertising are not sufficient in today’s social media dominated culture in which businesses must captivate audiences with increasingly short attention spans. To do so, they must invest in a content strategy that informs, entertains, and/or solves problems.
 
The most effective way to produce relevant and engaging content to increase user interaction and conversion is to encourage the people you’re targeting (prospects and customers) to create it themselves. A successful user generated content (UGC) strategy will come across more like storytelling than traditional marketing messaging. UGC humanizes brands, allowing site visitors to envision themselves as collaborators with the brand, attracting potential customers and maintaining customer loyalty.
 
By participating in a brand community and creating content, the individual essentially gives the brand permission to advertise to them. People take control of the type and frequency of brand interaction, which requires flexibility and a level of trust on the part of the brand. UGC influences more than just products and services — it disrupts the way people communicate with their favorite brands, and with each other. Millennials, in particular, are more likely to share brand experiences online, via services such as Snap My Ad, and are more likely to have purchasing decisions influenced by anonymous user-generated content and word of mouth from their circle. The importance of integrating user-generated and social content into marketing campaigns and websites will only become more important in the coming years.
 
So what are some specific ways ecommerce brands are tapping into User Generated Content?
 
1) Encourage Customers to Share Products in Use
 
When customers are given a platform to post what inspires them, the retailer is better informed as to the products and styles that it should offer. This sort of content has proved to be enormously powerful, and highly lucrative, to the fashion industry in particular.
 
Activewear company Lululemon is all about living well. They connect their values of action and personal responsibility to their pricey yoga-inspired athletic wear by selling a lifestyle through well-crafted UGC campaigns. The brand recently collected images from consumers that represent #TheSweatLife; users were asked to Instagram or Tweet photos of their active lifestyles. These crowdsourced images of customers exploring their world in Lululemon gear are displayed on a subsection of the brand website. Like the brand itself, these images are simultaneously inspirational, aspirational, and strong purchase motivators.
 
2) Provide a Platform to Share Stories
 
Burberry took a similar approach, utilizing the status of their iconic trench coat, and recognizing that street photography had become a trend that works well with the trench look. The two were combined for their Art of the Trench campaign, which leveraged Burberry customers to generate content that appeals to their peers.
 
Burberry envisioned a website where existing customers could share their photos wearing Burberry trench coats, giving them exposure as models, and allowing others to admire their sense of style. The site was designed to walk a fine line between appealing to Burberry's high-end customer base while generating interest among aspirational future customers.
 
Every inspirational image enabled click-through to the Burberry site for purchase. Rather than explicitly market the Art of the Trench, Burberry opted to rely on public relations, word of mouth and sharing submissions on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word This tactic allowed the Art of the Trench to have an exclusive 'in-the-know' feel that appealed to their luxury consumer base.
 
Parting Thoughts
The integration of user-generated content provides continuity that builds long-lasting relationships between companies and users in the digital space. Giving users the power to influence how they interact with a brand establishes a relationship that helps smart brands improve their products and services, serve their audiences in innovative ways, build loyalty, and re-shape the way brands do business in the digital era.

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Ross Beyeler co-founded For Art's Sake Media, Inc., a technology company servicing the art industry, and Growth Spark, a design and technology consultancy focused on helping eCommerce and B2B service companies excel. (Growth Spark has completed over 225 projects and led Ross to a 2010 nomination as one of BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25).
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