Offerpop sifts gold from UGC

The acronym of the moment is UGC. User-generated content is ubiquitous. From a marketing perspective, it’s also inexpensive, participatory, authentic–or strongly perceived as such; and trusted, especially by valuable demographics. But from that same marketing perspective, it can also be poor in quality, randomly distributed, and lacking in direction.

Here’s where Offerpop comes in, leveraging UGC, with a heavy emphasis on visuals, “for the entire customer journey.” Seems like a simple proffer, doesn’t it? If your customers are making nice about you on social media, harness that positivity and redirect it to prospects.  But chatting with two of the company’s co-founders, Wendell Lansford and Mark Cooper, in their sunny Park Avenue offices recently, I discovered that the proffer is both more complex and more intriguing.

One vital by-product of what Offerpop does, for example, is the aggregation of rich social data at the top end of the marketing funnel. But what exactly is it doing with UGC anyway? As with any marketing technology product, it’s important to understand what Offerpop does and doesn’t claim to do: where it sits in the stack, as it were. Although the product developed alongside social media, “we are not–and never will be–a social media management platform,” said Lansford, Offerpop’s CEO.

Founded in 2009, Offerpop seeks to be a single platform for UGC, irrespective of source. Its cloud-based software not only surfaces brand-relevant UGC from channels like Facebook or Twitter, as well as from mobile apps; it also seeds high quality UGC through engagement. One example is working with the National Hockey League to have fans submit Vine videos or images, with branded hashtags, showing enjoyment of all star games or play-off moments, in stadium or at home. From submitted videos (over 100,000 in the case of the NHL), brands can generate composites not only to be shown online, but for use in TV campaigns or arena/venue displays.

Competitions, sweepstakes, and other engagement-rich events serve both to encourage consumer participation and promote high quality UGC submissions. Offerpop’s Experience Studio tool (with drag-and-drop and responsive design functionality) serves as a blank canvas to create interactive environments ready to be pumped with consumer-created visuals. The best UGC can be surfaced on brand websites, or on event-specific webpages or microsites.

Brands can also introduce click-through or purchase buttons to link UGC direct to purchase inventory. According to Lansford, this bolsters conversion; it also, quite clearly, makes attribution easy, and can be used to optimize future content selection. Hosting UGC is a way of preserving perceived authenticity while lightly wrapping it with brand content: the best of both worlds in a consumer-driven marketplace. Offerpop highlights the #Scoutbags campaign as an example of using a branded hashtag to create a UGC-based image gallery which serves as a portal to a shoppable catalog.

Adding a third component to UGC management and campaign creation, Offerpop aggregates social data–readily offered up by user participation in publishing or submitting the content–and email identities (where available) with consumer affinity and behavioral data to generate consumer profiles. These can be used, within Offerpop, to segment audiences or add lookalikes to existing segments. The data can also be integrated with CRM profiles. “Our competitors,” Lansford told me, “don’t have all three of these pillars.”

Cooper, Offerpop’s SVP for business development, said: “User-generated content really lends itself well to awareness and discovery. Reviews of products occur nearer to the bottom of the funnel. We’re developing profiles at the top of the funnel, and it’s pretty new being able to do this without having to await a purchase. And we don’t stop there; we track (the customer journey) all the way down to conversion and link it all together.”

So prospects identify themselves, offer up at least basic social media data in doing so, and submit creative content for brands to use–the kind of content, what’s more, that other users really want to see (ask Mary Meeker). Who needs marketers? “Professional content isn’t going way,” said Lansford. He also confirmed that ideas for interactive campaigns usually originate with brands or agencies. “We can help with that, but it’s a very small part of our business.”

The part of the business Offerpop would like to grow is pushing UGC into the ad space. “Where we’re headed,” said Lansford, “is building an automation tool to create ad units for social networks. We already do this for websites, but we want to push into the ad space. It’s built for programmatic.” What’s more, it’s plausible to suppose that crowd-sourcing quality content to address the creative shortfall which threatens to be a drag on automation.

“Brand.com websites are becoming stale and irrelevant,” Lansford said. Let consumers do the creative heavy-lifting is the message. After all, UGC is what they want to see–and it just happens to come loaded with invaluable, voluntarily shared marketing data.

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