Why Consumer Brands Turn to UGC During Tough Economic Times

While many businesses consider reducing marketing budgets as recession fears loom, user-generated content (UGC) is becoming more appealing to brands and retailers across a broad spectrum of industries. Online brands looking to cut CAC (customer acquisition costs) and content production costs are recognizing customer content has stepped up as the less expensive third-party proof consumers want. In a survey of 1,590 consumers conducted by Stackla (now part of Nosto), 80% said UGC “highly impacts their purchasing decisions,” compared to 13% who say brand-made content is impactful.

In spite of that, some traditional brands are hesitant to replace standard forms of content such as product images with UGC. To get started, marketers should view UGC the way consumers do — slice-of-life content that shows what things actually look like — and mix studio imagery with UGC to evolve a brand in a modern way.

Getting Real: Seeing UGC Through the Consumer’s Lens 

Even though UGC might not fit the narratives and formats that brands have been delivering via traditional advertising, the right type of UGC is a piece of content dedicated to a brand’s product. When online shoppers see expensive brand-produced content, products are shown through a bias “filter.” Not knowing what something looks like until it arrives in the mail can not only disappoint consumers but also increase product return rates and eat into profit margins.

Savvy marketers understand that UGC shows products to consumers, while traditional marketing sells products to consumers. When online shoppers see a model in a dress standing in a perfectly lit studio, it doesn’t help them see what the dress looks like on someone sitting at dinner. If a fashion brand posted a customer’s Instagram picture, an online shopper doesn’t have to use their imagination to picture themselves wearing it.


UGC Is Redefining Branded Content

The need for brands to get ‘real’ came before today’s age of authenticity, but plenty of marketers used to view UGC as not being branded. Some were and are still afraid to concede control to consumers. The truth is, UGC is actually branded because customer-created content authentically shows a product ‘in the wild.’ And let’s be honest with ourselves: consumers took some marketing control away years ago.

When brands use UGC, they easily add more on-brand content to their social feeds that doesn’t come with the heavy costs or delays from a photo studio or agency partner. Brand marketers do not have to stare at a blank social calendar or spend what they used to for product photography.

The most unexpected win of UGC for lots of brands is tapping the creativity and perspectives of customers. UGC crowdsources fresh creative ideas, many of them free, that brands often don’t think of. The truth is, consumers often translate what a brand’s product means to them and interpret it in ways that resonate with other consumers better than what in-house teams come up with. In addition, the credibility customers offer is unrivaled since they own and wear items.

Partnering with Customers Behind the Scenes

Several innovative brands are tapping UGC to help promote an upcoming collection or product. They’re doing this with creative briefs sent to specific customers via martech platforms, without stifling imaginations. This approach gives customers and influencers the fun opportunity to develop and send in fitting content that coincides with a theme developed by a brand. Incentivizing customers is sometimes done with a discount, early access to a drop or other perk.

With today’s skyrocketing customer acquisition costs and slow turnaround times from product photographers or studios, marketing during tough times will bring the best brands closer to their customers. Why not look to them for a creative solution that also lowers spend and makes them feel like brand-builders, not spectators?

Damien Mahoney is Chief Strategy Officer of commerce experience platform Nosto. Twitter: LinkedIn:

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