As we evaluate growing market trends for 2015, one thing has become evidently clear: user-generated content will soon become a brand staple. The stigma will be lifted, the floodgates will be open, and a new array of timely and relevant UGC will empower brands to capture audiences in the most entertaining ways possible. For brands, it's no longer about content creation. Users are already doing that to great effect. Generations of people are now endlessly equipped with cameras across every device -- handheld or otherwise -- and what we capture in the blink of an eye can never be replicated. For brands, this is truly the era of content curation. Here are 6 reasons why brands need to get onboard and leverage this emerging opportunity.
User-generated content is pure and organic in a way that no agency or marketing team can re-create. Audiences are smart, know fake when they see it, and identify with real people like themselves. UGC is a participatory remedy. It's broadly appealing because it comes from a place of familiarity. UGC feels like your family, friend, neighbor, pet, kid, etc. because that's exactly who it is. It's that slice-of-life moment with a dose of social significance. Brands don't have to be trendsetters to be authentic. They just need to be conversive about it.
Just as authenticity is the key to speaking the audiences' collective language, efficiency in cost is the key to speaking a brand's language. Every agency looks for ways to get maximum value out of their clients' budgets. And in the ever-fragmented media market, there's no greater way to shift dollars away from TV and into digital than to take ownership of assets that immediately capture brand equity. Original production is expensive, time-consuming, and resource-heavy -- with little or no evidence that glossy "production value" has ever translated to sales. UGC flips the script. With low cost and high margins, brands have the unique ability to wrap themselves around existing narrative. And some of the money that would've otherwise been spent on creating can now be used to enhance distribution and increase total potential audience.
While most everyone agrees that programmatic ad-buying will disrupt the entire agency model, it's important to remember that people (not computers) are still responsible for the greatest form of marketing: word of mouth. People are the ones programming us to advocate and reciprocate when it comes to brand participation. Just look at how influential YouTube personalities and social media influencers have become in communicating with their audiences. UGC has the same effect, but with perpetual results. There are no random plugs or paid endorsements. There are no purchase indicators or market fluctuations. There are no corporations acting behind it. It's just "as is" from accidental creators. And nothing can change its course. It's truly the anti-program. Brands need to step in, embrace the content, and amplify their message.
Beyond the influencer
While brands have grown increasingly reliant on influencers to convey their message, almost none have tapped into the truly viral nature of UGC. Without question, there's a tried and true dependency on influential talent to drive awareness through millions of embedded fans. But that's not always an easy position to be in. With influencers at the helm, a brand's message can often get distorted. The influencer's No. 1 loyalty is always to his/her audience. They must weigh every single opportunity cost against losing audience loyalty and viewership. UGC doesn't carry the same sensitivity. In fact, audience derived from viral content is brand new, fully engaged, and ready to consume. It's pure, relevant entertainment with no discerning voice. Brands can maintain complete and utter control on how they're integrated around the existing content. As a brand, don't be an influencer. Be influential.
The most obvious response to UGC is, of course, shareability. And unless you're releasing a new Star Wars trailer that dominates the world, or your name is Taylor Swift and you have four hit songs atop the Billboard charts, it's likely your well-produced YouTube video won't go viral. So why is it that brands still insist on "making a viral video." User-generated content makes up the largest category of video uploaded to YouTube daily. It remains the ultimate driver of social shares and engagement on the world's most popular website. If the goal is to reach critical mass, UGC is the only proven formula. With the proper messaging and strategy, brands can harness a user-generated viral video and ignite social shares. The biggest mistake is trying to re-create that magic. Don't make it. Relate to it. Turn that measurable value into a branded, shareable asset.
Signed, sealed, delivered
What brands often try to achieve through the creation of native advertising, can already be possessed through unique content that's identified and distributed. Thousands of hours of video content exist online with people speaking passionately about specific brands, using their products, and perhaps most importantly, living the lifestyle that the brand embodies. Just as creation has long been the foundation for agencies, discovery, curation and delivery should be essential to a next-generation content strategy. User-generated video content is at the core of influencing young audiences. Not because we tell them, but because they tell us. Branded content is out there en masse. And those 'lightning in a bottle' moments can be harnessed tenfold. You don't have to create the content in order to create the conversation.
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