For brand marketers, user-generated content (UGC) has been all the rage for the past couple of years. From Doritos' famous annual million-dollar "Crash the Super Bowl" to Sephora's Beauty Board, to the inordinate number of hashtag-infused "media walls," brands have piled on in growing numbers.

UGC-enabled marketing is no longer a trend; it's a core part of any modern marketer's toolkit. And, by all measures, it's only growing.

However, there's an interesting gap between the UGC from B2C and the UGC from B2B marketers: Some 70% of B2C companies say they will make use of UGC in their 2015 marketing strategies, compared with 48% of B2B who say so, according to the 2015 Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends report from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute.

But a closer look into UGC benefits, how they apply to B2B, and a few key examples from major brands should put to rest any question about the validity of B2B UGC.

The Benefits of UGC

The reasons behind the growth in UGC popularity are many. Based on work over the past year with some major brands, I've boiled down the main benefits of UGC to the following five:

  1. Quantity: An exponentially higher amount of content can be (and is being) produced by consumers than a single marketing team could ever produce itself.
  2. Authenticity: Although only a small percentage of UGC content is of high quality, the content that is good is REALLY good and connects with consumers in a completely different—and more authentic—way than anything company-produced.
  3. Diversity: From photos on Instagram to videos on YouTube to customer reviews on Twitter, the variety of UGC formats and styles available will push your brand to new heights.
  4. Performance: When harnessed for strategic marketing purposes with clear objectives, UGC can far outperform professional content, as measured by engagement and conversion rates. But when UGC is used merely as a quick-hit novelty... well, the ROI will be just that—a novelty.
  5. Versatility: A great piece of UGC has legs. When smart companies find a compelling photo or video or tweet, they squeeze as much value out of it as possible—on the website, in social channels, in-store, on billboards, in commercials. You get the point.

Why UGC Works for B2B

The large majority of hype and overall activity around UGC marketing has been centered on household consumer brands, such as Bud Light, Coca-Cola, and Disney, but B2B marketers are the ones really pushing UGC to new heights.

As a member of the B2B marketing tribe, I know we're always looking for ways to differentiate in crowded markets, sway advocates to help tell our story, and possibly most important, find ways to create efficiencies in our content marketing programs by improving the utilization and lifetime value of our marketing assets.

UGC answers the call.

With all the benefits of UGC, it only makes sense that B2B marketers would potentially be the biggest benefactors of the power of UGC:

  1. Quantity: B2B marketers have less staffing and less budget, on average, than their B2C counterparts, and so they are looking for more ways to create more content and stories for the same budget.
  2. Authenticity: At heart, we're brand storytellers—constantly looking for ways to visually tell our story in a way that engages our customers and helps them to understand our value proposition. A collection of UGC is a smart way to get others to tell our story in a more real and authentic way.
  3. Diversity: Great B2B marketers are skilled at focusing on an important topic (e.g., "The importance of UGC"), and turning it into all different kinds of collateral, programs, and campaigns. UGC curation offers a way to quickly search for and publish a variety of content types from different content sources in a quick and easy, yet very powerful, way.
  4. Performance: Modern B2B marketers are keenly aware of the ROI of their marketing efforts; that is to say, they are always looking for programs and channels that are trackable, including with data that make attribution possible. UGC is structurally rich with native-source meta data, and lends itself well to being part of a B2B marketer's performance-laden programs.
  5. And, finally the fifth benefit, versatility, which really makes UGC attractive to B2B marketers.

    As CMO of a software company, I've got a lot of content requirements from various parts of the organization. Top-of-funnel marketers need great, authentic content to fuel their social media, PR, and content marketing programs. My demand-generation team needs effective content for its digital marketing and email nurture programs. Product Marketing is possibly the biggest content users of all, having to supply the field with on-demand stories they can give to prospects and customers to meet any situation.

    Then there are the groups outside of the marketing organization that want to use UGC: HR and Recruiting want UGC to build the employment brand and recruit new talent on the corporate website, social channels, and corporate intranets; Customer Success/Support wants UGC to address customer needs by serving them with video and other content that is more informative, more detailed, and often more effective than what they have at their disposal. And so on.

    It's the versatility of user-generated content that really answers the need at B2B organizations, where content requirements are so diverse and ongoing, where budgets are so challenged and buyers are so fickle, that it's just the answer.

Three UGC Success Stories

What's most exciting about B2B UGC is the clever ways it has been incorporated into campaigns. These examples of companies are using UGC in ways that should make most B2B marketers excited about bringing UGC to their organization:

  1. Intuit: In 2014, Intuit was looking for a meaningful way to engage with small business customers. Intuit knew that the one thing a small business never has enough of is resources—or, in this case, advertising budget. With that in mind, it decided to hold a contest that would help a small business make a very big splash through advertising. And not just any advertising: Intuit was going to give away a Super Bowl Ad.

    Brands were asked to submit a video telling their story as their entry to the contest. Thousands of companies participated. Millions voted. In the end, the winner, GoldieBlocks, won the big ad.

    Intuit knew that it could create a unique marketing opportunity both for its customers and its own brand by engaging UGC into its marketing, and it worked—amazingly well.
  2. ESPN Be Here:  ESPN is indeed a consumer media brand, but its use of UGC is truly business-focused. It uses UGC for recruiting.

    You see, it has a tricky task when hiring new team members, because they need to get excited about moving to Bristol, CT. To engage potential employees and show them how awesome living in Bristol is, the company looks to its own employees to submit content about the town, its people, and activities.

    ESPN knows that the best way to get prospective employees excited about the town, and the company, is to let the people who live and work there tell the story in a truly authentic way.
  3. Salesforce MVP: Salesforce has a long history of engaging customers through forums, message boards, and peer help, but the development of its MVP program is what shows its true mastery of engaging users to supply both content and product expertise.

    The program goes a step further than a standard customer advisory board by instituting membership prequalification, creating exclusivity, and engendering a club-like atmosphere that serves to engage and help other users. MVP members receive special previews of products and an annual event, with gifts, based on their hours of service engaging with non-MVP members. Salesforce's multipurpose use of UGC both engages and educates.

UGC is alluring, and it makes a lot of sense for marketers looking for new and authentic connections with their customers—so much so that the world's biggest brands are jumping on the wagon.

Though B2C marketers seem to have fully embraced the concept, B2B marketers are just getting started. So far, B2B UGC has exhibited truly out-of-the box thinking.

I can't wait to see what other clever campaign ideas are developed in the coming year.

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image of Dan Kimball

Dan Kimball is chief marketing officer of marketing technology company Thismoment; its digital storytelling platform enables content curation and digital experience creation and sharing.

LinkedIn: Dan Kimball