User-generated content: The next frontier for diversity in branding
I still remember a time when I would flip through glossy magazine pages only to see some of my favorite brands promoting their products using airbrushed, waif-like, white models. I struggled to imagine myself wearing the clothes I had seen or using the products advertised. For me, the experience was certainly more frustrating than enjoyable. I have no doubt that many others in the North American melting pot have felt the same way.
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way over the past 20 years, with brands making more of an effort to reflect our diverse population in their marketing outreach. In the U.S., where the nonwhite population is now 40 percent and projected to increase to 56 percent in four decades, brands are consciously being more inclusive in their promotions -- perhaps they realize they can’t afford not to.
Brands like MAC were the initial game-changers, demonstrating the power of diversity in their branding with ads so richly encompassing that you could see yourself in their advertising, feel included in their brand and imagine yourself looking fabulous in their makeup -- regardless of your ethnicity, size or gender. Many other consumer brands have since followed suit.
While a fantastic step in the right direction, branded content alone cannot meet the rapidly shifting preferences of consumers. In today’s social-media-steeped culture, consumers are looking for something more than a narrow ideal of beauty. What they are seeking is diversity and authenticity.
The good news is that brands today need to look no further than social media -- specifically the user-generated content (UGC) posted by their own customers -- to take their marketing efforts to the next level.
A number of brands are already leveraging UGC in their marketing outreach, and consumers are responding in a big way, with UGC generating 25 percent higher ad performance, a 29 percent increase in web conversions and an 88 percent increase in brand engagement on social media. Yet, UGC is often overlooked as a simple way to enhance (and diversify) a brand’s marketing efforts.
Here are three significant reasons to consider incorporating UGC to enhance diversity in your branding:
1. It’s everywhere
One of the best things about UGC is that it's (literally) right at your fingertips. Users armed with impressive smartphone cameras are posting high-quality, engaging UGC on social media -- to the tune of 300 million photos on Facebook and 95 million photos and videos on Instagram every day! This makes for a staggering volume and variety of visual content that no marketing team could ever recreate.
2. It’s for everyone
Given the fact that social networks are accessible by people of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes and families who experience different seasons, communities and landscapes, the diverse visual content found in UGC feels more like native social media content than advertising.
3. It’s authentic
Consumers’ growing preference for UGC in branding is driven by its authenticity. UGC depicts real customers enjoying products, services and experiences in a genuine, unfiltered way and in real time.
In the travel industry, we've seen several of our customers use UGC to convey an authentic visitor experience to a broad and diverse audience. For example, the Denver Art Museum leverages UGC to ensure a wide range of demographics are represented in their marketing, encouraging people from all walks of life to come through its doors while tearing down the misconception that museums are exclusive.
One state over, Visit Omaha is employing UGC to shift the perception of Omaha to that of a diverse city in the American heartland. And in Canada, Hornblower Niagara Cruises has used UGC to capture the awe of global visitors seeing “the Falls” for the first time, beating previous attendance records with 2.3 million visitors in 2018 and boosting advertising in foreign markets in the process.
The fashion industry is also seeing the value in UGC to attract and retain diverse customers, perhaps taking a cue from fashion bloggers who showcase runway looks on "real people." UGC can help fashion brands showcase their clothes on people of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and abilities. Brands like ModCloth, Everlane and RedSky feature UGC of loyal customers looking spectacular in a range of clothing sizes as part of their marketing.
If you’re unsure of how to leverage UGC to increase the diversity of your brand’s marketing outreach, there are a few simple things you can do to get started.
First, conduct a quick audit of your current visuals to determine who is (or isn't) represented. You can then begin to source UGC that better reflects the people who make up your community.
Next, make sure you are finding photos that represent a diverse audience by tracking relevant hashtags like #brownpeoplecamping or #gaytravel. Gain permission by first asking if you can reshare the photo on your own feed or using a rights management tool. Additionally, encourage your customers to tag you, making it easy to find them and repost to your Instagram Stories.
If you’re short on diverse UGC, try inviting underrepresented members of your community to events or to try out your products or services, and encourage them to post about their experience on social media. Just like in real life, reaching out to a new community can create new connections and build lasting relationships.
Once you’ve collected a more diverse range of UGC imagery, use it anywhere you’d use your branded photography, such as social media, brochures, billboards or your website -- the sky’s the limit!
It’s never been easier for brands to reflect diverse customer groups in their marketing. In an era where visuals are the most influential type of content we consume, consider using diverse UGC imagery in your brand’s marketing to reflect the customers you wish to serve.