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User-generated content has become a buzzword in our industry, especially in advertising. Marketers often integrate UGC as an add-on and think people will participate if rewards are good, but often they have not fully understand how it really works as a whole. They have not yet grasped the power it can generate for brands.

Going back to the essentials, UGC refers to any content or media that is created by consumers or followers of the brands – rather than created by the brand company itself. It resonates with fans because it feels more authentic and is done with the pure love of the brand, rather than promotion. It’s a reflection of the true feeling of the fans who use the product or service. 

The real power of UGC is actually transforming our passive viewers or consumers into active advocates of the brand. As a result of that, the outcome and ROI of the successful campaigns have been effective and promising. Marketing budgets are, in fact, starting to shift to integrate social media and its users into their campaigns.

The market shift and the rise of TikTok

Traditionally media like television, magazines and newspapers have had the lion-share of control over the content that goes out into the world. However, with the rise of social media, that grip has been loosened.

Now, it’s much easier for anyone to get their message out with platforms like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. But even with this new avenue, unfairness and limitations still exist. Only those with a lot of followers can create buzz and get their message out, regardless of whether they are an expert on the subject or not.

Truly interesting content should naturally create buzz though. That’s why TikTok is moving towards a new method that incorporates an intelligent content recommendation system to serve diverse content to our audience. For us, going ‘viral’ isn’t about how many followers you have; it’s based instead on the quality and engagement level of the content itself. This is the ‘democratisation of the content’ we all speak about. 

And it is profoundly impacting how brands communicate with the audience. The unfair advantage does persist where brands with unlimited resources and a big ad spend have an overwhelming advantage over their competitors. However, tech-savvy brands are beginning to incorporate unorthodox but highly focused methods into their strategies. Some are winning against the giants, as a result.

Influencer marketing 2.0 = creators

 Over the years, influencer marketing has been evolving and the new generation of influencers is upon us. Currently, an influencer’s value is based on the number of followers they have. Basically, we utilise them to help amplify our message with their followers. With the new era of influencer marketing 2.0, we now collaborate with influencers – almost like a partnership – and they become our co-creator. 

These influencers are actually called creators. They are the creators of music, dances, films, animation and so on. Because of this, we need to be very selective about who we work with and we genuinely need to understand what they stand for. With their creative power, we can create a campaign to engage our audience and to create a movement. 

So, in other words, to create an impact in the world, it’s not sufficient to find influencers with a lot of followers. It’s about finding the right creators to collaborate with, in order to create reach in a meaningful and authentic way. 

Another part of this narrative takes us back to UGC. We are unlocking the creativity of our audience to break through the noise. Since they are not creators in the traditional sense, we need to guide them by creating rules and steps to lead them in the right direction. 

As you can imagine, creating content from nothing is a complicated process for our users. You need simple rules. You also need to show fun examples of how best to gain confidence, and momentum. Although, if the rules are too constrained the UGC will be too uniform and, well, less fun. Striking the right balance is the key to a successful campaign. 

In a past global challenge for Uniqlo called ‘#UTPlayYourWorld,’ the rules were simple but allowed for creativity. We allowed our fans to use their home or street as a runway to display ‘UT Fashion’. It was a runaway success. This campaign achieved roughly 190,000 user submission posts, some 43 million likes and 353 million views across five markets worldwide.

Marketing disruption via UGC

One of the most innovative and successful features that we have is the ‘Branded Effects’ or what we sometimes call ‘Stamps’. This utilises innovative imaging technology where it detects multiple touchpoints in your face, hair, or your hands. With that, it produces very realistic natural looking make-up on your face or even changes the colour of your hair in an instant. So that means a beauty client can get people to experience and have fun with a product virtually within TikTok and then help drive them to purchase.

In one of our recent campaigns in Japan for Listerine, we created a branded effect that turns your teeth sparkling white when you smile. This campaign was successful in the sense that it clearly communicated the brand value and product benefits by showing how it can keep your teeth nice and clean – all in a very lighthearted way. 

Listerine’s campaign achieved roughly 13 million views, 3,700 posts and 215,000 user engagements. Interestingly, the branded effect was utilised to unposted content where it was applied 1.4 million times to 170,000 individuals. Even with that, it significantly impacted sales. Indeed, it contributed to an increase in sales of more than 30%.

This is the power of UGC. Now agency partners and brands must find a way to replicate this success result and take it to the next level. This is how we are disrupting the traditional marketing method – simply by utilising the power of UGC.

UGC advocate Ichikawa

Norio Ichikawa is creative director at TikTok’s X Design Centre – he is based in Tokyo, Japan, and will be speaking at the Mumbrella360 Asia conference in Singapore this November (5-7)

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