Today’s consumers are in full control of the buyers’ journey. From awareness and research to purchase and loyalty, consumers dictate when and where they’re ready to engage. As the power shift from marketer to consumer becomes more prevalent, brands are forced to find new ways to integrate themselves into consumers’ daily lives—instead of molding consumers into established sales cycles. One way to do that is through user-generated content.
“For us, [user-generated content is] really about creating that lifestyle experience,” says Barbara Ross Miller, head of Sony Direct at Sony Electronics. “If you look at the consumer and you look at how the consumer is using the product to enhance their life, user-generated content tells that story. And through that story, you bring other consumers into the conversation.”
But it’s not enough for brands to simply fuse themselves into their core customers’ lives. They have to become part of their customers’ peers’ lives, too. Why? The explosion of social media and visual content enables consumers to see what their circles are doing at all times—making the task of keeping up with the Joneses an entirely different feat.
To show consumers how current customers use Sony Electronics’ products, and ultimately, to drive conversion, the electronics retailer implemented Bazaarvoice’s Curations platform this past October.
Curations aggregates customers’ social posts, pictures, and videos from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To ensure that the content aligns with Sony Electronics’ objectives, Bazaarvoice works with the brand to establish guidelines for how the content should be moderated, tagged, and filtered. Then, Bazaarvoice uses automatic filters, powered by language detection and processing, to identify posts featuring particular hashtags, keywords, or brand mentions, explains Brian Luskey, group product manager for Bazaarvoice. This type of filtration also helps brands dodge competitor mentions.
After the automatic filtration process, Bazaarvoice’s human moderator team sifts through the content and flags posts that include inappropriate messaging or imagery. Then, the team tags the content so that it’s associated with a particular product or campaign. Finally, Sony Electronics leverages Bazaarvoice’s Rights Management solution to automatically send “rights requests” to producers of the user-generated content via the channel in which they shared it. Customers can give brands permission to use their content by responding with a specific hashtag.
Including this consent piece was important from a consumer perspective, Miller says, because consumers often assume that they own whatever content they post online.
“As a consumer and not just a marketer, I would want to know if somebody was using content that I had created and for what purpose to make sure that, from an intent perspective, they’re using it the way that I intended it to be out there and the way that I intended it to be seen,” she says.
Once the permission is obtained, the user-generated content is transported to Sony Electronics’ content repository for the brand to use for marketing purposes. For example, the brand relies on user-generated imagery for its cameras. The retailer might feature pictures on its in-store TV display that customers took with its cameras. Not only will the brand highlight the images and camera models, but it will also include the lenses and settings used to snap the photos. In addition, the company shows user-generated content on the reviews and “Fan Favorite” sections of its online product pages. And to ensure that the experience is truly multichannel, Sony Electronics includes customer-created videos and photographs in its emails. If the brand is promoting a highly rated camera, for instance, it will include a link to a user-generated image or video right in the email, Miller explains. When clicked on, that link will then take subscribers to that products’ review page online.
Sony Electronics also relies on email to coax people into posting user-generated content. After customers purchase a product, the retailer sends them a triggered message encouraging them to write a review or create content about the product they just bought. Along with email, Sony Electronics relies on social and in-store activities to drive engagement.
Although Miller says that Sony Electronics didn’t intend to launch the platform right before the holidays, she says that the timing enables the company to test and learn before the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rush. Running the platform throughout the holidays will also give the brand greater visibility into the technology’s performance—given that the holiday season is the most popular shopping time of the year. The company will then optimize in 2015.
In terms of results, Miller says that it’s still too early to report any measurable outcomes. However, Bazaarvoice’s research shows that, on average, featuring visual content from social networks on product pages spurs a 25 to 40% increase in engagement and a 3 to 9% lift in conversion. Miller did disclose that she hopes to expand from primarily promoting user-generated content tied around cameras to other product categories, as well.
So what’s the secret to leveraging user-generated content effectively? Luskey says it’s getting the content as far down the purchase funnel as possible.
“We’ve seen content, in general, living too far away from the ‘buy now’ button,” he says. “It becomes very clear once you start looking at the metrics that the closer you can get that rich content to the point of purchase, the more value that you’re going to get from it because the more purchases are going to get made.”
Miller discourages marketers from pigeonholing social and user-generated content as a strictly millennial thing. “When [marketers] look at social in general, it just gets bucketed into the digital, native, millennial consumer, and in some cases that’s not true—at least in our case it doesn’t seem to be the case,” she says, adding that the brand’s camera enthusiasts span across a wide age range.
And although relinquishing some control over a brand’s marketing can be scary, Miller says that it’s “scary in a good way.”
“Consumers help to spark that creativity in marketing, as well,” she adds. “That’s why I don’t think it’s a scary thing. I think it’s actually something that marketers need to embrace.”