|May 4, 2017|
Back before every brand had a website, when digital marketing was still something that late adopters were warily checking out from the corner of a squinted eye, one of the prime selling points that us digital marketers tried to drive home for potential clients was the equalising effect that digital technology had on the promotional playing field. It was the horseshoe hidden in the glove of the small brand hoping to hang with the big boys.
The logic was that on the internet, all brands, whether big or small; young or established, are playing on an even field. You didn’t need to be as big as Coke or Nike for the amplifying effect of online marketing to make you look like you deserved to be in the same ring.
It was true then, and it’s true now.
The difference is that, nowadays, the trickle-down effect of advancing technology, as well as the astounding proliferation of social media, has put unprecedented promotional power into the hands of the average Joe.
It has long-ceased to be the case that one needs a king’s ransom in start-up capital in order to generate near-professional quality content.
Damn near everyone has a video camera in his or her pocket, in the form of a smartphone that comes standard with the feature. And everyone who does also has access to free basic video-editing software in the form of mobile apps like this, this or this. They might not enable the man on the street to Michael Bay his way to the Golden Globes, but for no more than the basic modern cost of living, they enable that man on the street to create influential content that grabs attention and spans the planet.
For the average Joe or Joanna with a bit more time and resources on their hands, and the dedication to do something with them, open-source software like Blender for 3D modelling and animation, or GIMP for Adobe-level image editing mean that the professional-level tools are available to anyone with a system that can run them.
Combined with a quick visit to the Youtube school of “an instructional video for every skill” and you have throngs of consumers with mastery of the skills to produce anything from recycled memes to fan-made tributes that put the professionals to shame.
Even that is setting the bar higher than it is in reality. A few spare minutes a day, a free WordPress blog, and the ability to string a sentence together is all the average consumer needs in order to emulate the digital marketer.
No matter how hard it may try, no brand is ever going to out-produce an internet that has something to say.
You could employ a team of 100, working round-the-clock to produce as much content for your brand as is humanly possible, and 95% of it would still be drowned out by the background hum of the internet on a slow news day.
Consider the recent damage done to the United Airlines brand as an example.
After forcibly dragging a passenger from a flight that the airline had overbooked, a smartphone video of the incident went viral, and the internet responded in familiar fashion:
You can search long and hard, but you won’t find any promotional materials put out by United that come close to being as memorable as the two examples above (just two of hundreds), and when you include online reviews, blog posts and this Facebook page, it becomes clear that United’s PR people haven’t a prayer of shouting loud enough to be heard over the sound of user-generated criticisms.
United Airlines’ history of customer service is hardly glowing, and it might be impossible at this point for them to leverage any goodwill whatsoever. However, for brands that haven’t yet committed promotional suicide, the greatest brand advocate is the creativity of the forthright consumer.
When your message is drowning in an ocean of voices, it might be time to consider getting the waves to talk for you.
Here, we hit on one of the greatest strengths of user-generated content: people do not trust what brands have to say about themselves.
People trust people, not brands.
As this infographic illustrates, consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that has received positive online feedback from their peers.
This is a trend that is only going to become more pronounced as time wears on and millennials entrench themselves as the target market of choice for any brand that wants to survive (and thrive) in the digital age.
Why millennials? Well, they’re the group that’s coming into their prime, with regards buying power, and so they’re the group whose attention we all want.
And the good news is that millennials are proving to be the most brand-loyal generation yet.
The more complicated news is that they are also far more wary of being sold to – as the first generation of digital natives, they are more resistant to traditional advertising tactics than their forbears, and necessitate that brands revise their entire marketing playbook.
The answer to this quandary?
Build a community around your brand, leveraging loyalty and engagement by focusing on – you guessed it – user-generated content.
At the end of the day, whether we’re talking about video reviews on Youtube, hate/love pages on Facebook, or just customer complaints on Twitter, it’s all user-generated content and it all has the potential to get attention and shift opinion.
We’re living in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world, and if 2016 proved only one thing, it is that Twitter knows better than CNN, and Facebook has the scoop when the BBC remains clueless.
Whenever someone doubts the efficacy of social media in spreading influence, remember that every major poll had the Brexit failing and Trump losing by a landslide, while predictions based on social media got both bets right.
Whether that means that social media (and, by extension, user-generated content) predicted the outcomes, or was a driving force behind them happening, the fact remains that if you are involved in digital marketing, you cannot long afford to ignore the power of user-generated content.
Your consumers are not just consumers, they are brand ambassadors and advocates, and in this day-and-age, they are the most powerful form of promotion available. Be good to them, be honest with them, and seek their engagement as equals on the platforms that they utilise to communicate with their peers.
If possible, encourage their involvement in the promotional activities your brand engages in, and engage the expertise and creativity of a generation of digital natives to your brand’s benefit.