Authenticity and UGC – it’s a crowd mentality

Building and protecting consumer trust is essential in today’s marketplace. It’s time for brands to embrace the crowd in the age of authenticity… and user reviews offer a fast-track way to achieve this.

Creating authentic engagement with customers is becoming increasingly important, and it's getting competitive. Nicole Kivel, Vice President of Strategic Retail, Bazaarvoice, explains how brands can win through user-generated content (UGC).

Today’s consumers want more from brands and retailers. Increasingly shopping online from their sofas rather than in stores, they have the ability to take their time over purchases, thoroughly researching them to understand the pros and, often more importantly, any cons. 

This means that they want to go beyond in-house marketing, finding the truth and demanding authentic content to guide their purchases. In the struggle to convert intent to sales, user-generated content (UGC) can be one of the most potent tactics at a brand’s disposal. 

Marketing departments around the world are now having to reconsider their approaches and find ways to make the authentic voices of consumers accessible to potential buyers. 

Retailers that are looking to really retain and grow their customer base have to present content that is authentic and trusted by shoppers. In fact, around 82% of shoppers say they won’t buy from a brand they don’t trust, and 62% choose products based on a brand’s reputation. Furthermore, 40% say that user-generated content (UGC) such as photos and reviews makes them most likely to buy from ads.  

It’s therefore important for brands to understand and embrace UGC. Whether on social channels or leaving reviews of products, consumers are very prepared to make their feelings known about the products and experiences that they spend their money on. Furthermore, there’s a wide range of outlets for people to make recommendations or issue warnings. This can be daunting for companies that may be facing very public and sometimes very negative feedback, but it’s crucial that they have proper plans in place to help them listen, respond, and then revise their approaches as necessary.

Growing consumer advocates

Over the last few years there’s been a gradual shift in brand advocacy. We’ve moved from Hollywood stars endorsing products to reality show contestants becoming brand ambassadors, to online, social media macro-influencers posting content which purports to show how much they love a product and its benefits. However, we’re now seeing a further move. 

Consumers are much more aware of when they’re being marketed to through paid endorsements and may resist blatant forms of advertising, an issue further exacerbated by changes in regulation that require a paid post be labelled as such. While celebrity influencers are great to get the name of a product into a shopper’s head, there’s another hurdle now. 

Once a potential buyer is aware of the product, they will likely do further research, looking at review sites and, more importantly, the experiences of people who are just like them and that they trust. These ‘everyday influencers’ are more frequent posters and are also more likely to post about the downsides of a product, providing UGC feedback that seems more genuine and is more likely to convert into actual sales. In fact, globally, the everyday social media user has become the preferred influencer to follow for over around 56% of consumers.

Encouraging UGC

Understanding how to develop UGC can present a dilemma. In order for the content to actually be genuine, and not just appearing to be, buyers must be encouraged to post reviews and photos of the product and not overly incentivised as any obvious benefits will make the content seem paid for and automatically less trustworthy.

However, reviews can be encouraged by offering discounts for future purchases based on a review, or by providing specific platforms for consumer feedback which are made easily available for viewing and negative comments can be addressed. Many companies are also gamifying their interaction with shoppers and providing rewards for loyalty. Gamification has been identified as very desirable by large numbers of consumers in the UK. 

Increasing analytics

Instead of paying large sums for expensive focus groups or large-scale market research projects, UGC can also provide huge amounts of ready-made data that can be analysed and used in further marketing or even product design and launch. 

Taking on board both positive and negative feedback can provide real-time insights which can be used to foster more sales. By responding to negative comments, there’s also a chance to tweak direction as necessary or, at the very least, engage with unsatisfied customers to get them back onside. All of this simply adds to the wealth of data available to other shoppers as they consider their purchases. They can get a true picture of their favoured brands and engage on a level beyond basic awareness. 

UGC is here to stay, and shoppers’ perceptions of brands are becoming more and more reliant on how their peers are reacting to products and companies. For any retailer or brand that is looking to engage with their audiences properly and more authentically in the ways that they want, embracing this new digital and consumer-led era will be key. Encouraging reviews, photography from users and emulating the style in other campaigns is crucial for companies looking to present themselves as authentic and trusted, meeting the demands of their customers.

Nicole Kivel

Vice President of Strategic Retail