We are all bombarded by media. So much so that we easily tune it out. The more interruptive it is, the more absurd we find it and the more likely we are to disregard it.
So what’s a company to do when it needs to continuously bring in new customers, but nobody pays any attention to ads?
User-generated content , which is any content voluntarily produced by customers, is making waves in the eCommerce world as a top form of permission marketing. It allows brands to leverage social proof to reach consumers in a way that is authentic, scalable and personalized.
Consumers are overwhelmed with the content they have to encounter all day, every day.
It’s gotten to the point that we don’t even realize how much media we are consuming. Whether online or offline, each advertisement, each branded label, each piece of sponsored content just blends into our surroundings.
In the last decade, the number of branded messages we are exposed to per day has nearly tripled , from 3,500 in 2005, to 10,000 in early 2016.
This information overload, along with our mobile lifestyle and waning attention spans, makes achieving consumer awareness increasingly difficult for businesses.
This puts businesses in a predicament. They need to sell to customers, but customers don’t want to be sold to–or at least not so overtly.
The skyrocketing success and subsequent closure of ad blocker Peace after just two days in the App Store perfectly ecompasses this challenge.
While Peace was helping tons of consumers steer clear of advertisements, the entrepreneur behind the app, Marco Arment, was uncomfortable achieving success at the expense of other businesses.
Arment pulled Peace from the market after it was the number one paid app on the U.S. App Store for nearly 36 hours.
On one hand, customers don’t want their experiences interrupted. On the other hand, they want to discover new products and and learn how to address existing pain points.
The good news is that there is a happy medium between content overload and effectively communicating with customers.
Enter the ultimate form of permission marketing for online businesses: user-generated content (UGC).
Consumers Look For Social Proof
While consumers are actively avoiding advertisements, everybody is looking at user-generated content.
Just think about how much time people spend on social media every day looking at pictures, opinions and spontaneous thoughts of their friends and people like them. Mark Zuckerberg said users spend an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.
Consumers today are interested in–and are being inspired by–what their peers are saying, doing and purchasing. And the reason is social proof.
Social proof is a socio-psychological principle so ingrained in our behavior that many of us don’t even realize its impact.
The idea is that we are influenced by other people’s experiences. If we see someone get burned by a hot pan, we are not going to touch that pan ourselves.
Applied to consumerism, if we see a friend or someone we relate to wearing a cool pair of sunglasses, we might want to buy that cool pair of sunglasses too.
User-generated content lets you shine a spotlight on your customers’ good experiences with your brand, which then piques shoppers’ interest and influences their behavior throughout the buyer journey.
It hits just the right notes for both consumers and businesses because shoppers trust past buyers way more than they trust branded content. So UGC is something that shoppers are actively looking for, and that businesses can use to capture the attention of their target audience.
Shoppers Trust Authentic Content
UGC is real content from real people about real experience with real products.
People ignore interruptive marketing because it feels forced and disingenuous. UGC on the other hand sparks an emotional reaction from the viewer because they can imagine themselves in a similar situation and identify with the experience of fellow shoppers they trust.
Whether with customer reviews, Instagram photos, customer Q&A or another form of UGC, social proof is a key pillar of marketing for online businesses because shoppers with similar taste, needs and purchasing preferences are able to influence each other.
We’ve all been there: a barista tip jar with just $1 in it will fill up faster than an empty tip jar; a packed restaurant is more enticing than an empty one; a product with five positive reviews and five negative reviews is more alluring than a product with zero reviews.
This is because the motive for writing a review, posting a picture or answering a question is not to sell, but to genuinely inform fellow consumers.
An effective way to leverage this in eCommerce is with a best sellers section, as seen on the Uniqlo page shown below.
Without outrightly saying so, they are communicating to shoppers that these are the products that people with similar interests bought, and the social proof draws them in.
The Gap also does a great job of leveraging authentic customer reviews to communicate with interested shoppers.
A professionally photographed picture of several numbered products appears on their homepage, but when shoppers roll over the numbers they are pleasantly surprised to see a customer review instead of a product name.