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In a crowded market, it can seem harder than ever to grab your customers' fleeting attention.

Why would they pay attention to you when there are thousands of Instagram stories, Facebook photos, and YouTube videos to see?

Luckily, most everyone enjoys talking about themselves. That's why user-generated content (UGC) is so powerful. Fully 82% of shoppers say user-generated content is extremely valuable to them when making a purchase decision.

If you allow your customers to share their own style, opinions, and experiences with your products, they're far more likely to engage with your brand. Even better, it means you don't have to spend a lot of time coming up with the marketing materials yourself.

Brands have experienced an amazing 25% increase in the e-commerce conversion rate when they use user-generated photos instead of professional product shots, for example. And that's just one of the many ways user-generated content can help boost your e-commerce brand.

Here are five effective ways you can use UGC to your brand's benefit.

1. Promote your brand values

It's vital to define what your brand stands for and what your values are. Are you creating products that are friendly for the environment? Do you donate to charity along with every purchase?

Whatever your brand values, user-generated content is one way to connect with people who believe in the same values—and to do so in a meaningful way.

Consider the fashion industry. Many brands are famous for airbrushing size-zero models to unattainable beauty standards. That's why swimwear brand Aerie decided to stop retouching photos and use only unairbrushed models in its ads. But the brand didn't stop there. For every Instagram user who posted an unedited photo of themselves in swimwear using the hashtag #AerieReal, the company donates $1 to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).


A post shared by aerie (@aerie) on


The year after launching the campaign—which generated a lot of media attention—the retailer's sales grew 20%. Connecting with younger consumers on values is good for business!

Sports clothing, sports in general, is another industry that has issues around body image, especially in the case of female athletes. That's why sportswear retailer Under Armour launched the #unlikeany campaign, which challenges the idea that the brand is only for elite athletes. Instead, the company focused on products that are for all types of women.



The company also runs a campaign around the hashtag #WeWill: Users can share their pictures of how sports have inspired them and how sports can be a force for good, which is another value Under Armour prides itself on.


A post shared by Under Armour (@underarmour) on


All those campaigns encourage user participation and also align the brand with the values of the target market.

2. Showcase the benefits of your product

When the product you're selling is hard to show off on a visual platform like Instagram, you have to get creative with your user-generated content campaigns. Here, software companies have been a pioneering force: Instead of showing screenshots or stock photos, they've been letting users share their pictures using hashtags.

Buffer's platform is designed to allow its users to quickly and easily share social media content from anywhere in the world. With the #BufferSpaces hashtag, users can share pictures of their workspace (think exotic locations rather than cubicle farms) where they are using Buffer for social media.


A post shared by Buffer (@buffer) on


Software company Adobe also got in on the act. It uses the hashtag #Adobe_Perspective to let people share picturesque content they have created using their product. Users gain the bonus of having their work shared through Adobe's Instagram channel.


A post shared by Adobe (@adobe) on


The company also runs seasonal and monthly campaigns, using the hashtag #AdobeUnexpected, to highlight interesting and unusual visual works created by its customers.


A post shared by Adobe (@adobe) on


3. Create customer testimonials

One of the most basic forms of user-generated content is the testimonial. Simply taking the words from your customer reviews and highlighting them on your site can be incredibly powerful. Your buyers will love seeing their words in lights, and other users will be encouraged to write more reviews as well.

E-commerce home furniture brand Wayfair did exactly that when it asked its customers to post photos of their Wayfair furniture in their home, using the hashtag #WayfairAtHome to Twitter and Instagram.


A post shared by Wayfair (@wayfair) on


Instead of professionally taken product photos on the company website, consumers can see pictures of Wayfair's furniture in real homes—and get design inspiration at the same time. That approach also highlights happy customers who love the products they've purchased.

4. Use major events and holidays to gain exposure

To get more exposure and engagement, e-commerce brands can run campaigns that tie in with important national events and holidays.

M·A·C (Make-up Art Cosmetics) took advantage of the trend for ever more ambitious and creative Halloween costumes and make-up to create the #SeniorArtistsSlayHalloween hashtag. This campaign focused on getting make-up artists around the world to share their creations for Halloween.


A post shared by regan (@reganrabanal) on


By leveraging a popular holiday, M·A·C was able to gain even more attention and get fantastic photos of customers using its products to create elaborate costumes.

5. Offer something exclusive that creates a community

If you want users to create content for you, you can also motivate them by offering a prize. Your customers will love it even more if it's something exclusive they couldn't easily get from elsewhere.

Luxury fashion retailer Marc Jacobs decided to cast real people (i.e., nonprofessionals) in an upcoming modeling campaign. The designer came up with the #CastMeMarc hashtag to allow people to post selfies to "win" the opportunity to be a model in his next campaign.

The campaign generated a ton of buzz for the brand, highlighting customers and potential customers at the same time.


A post shared by M A X (@maxx.teen) on


* * *

If you're going to create a successful user-generated marketing campaign, you need to be certain of your goals, then you need to tie it to your brand and make it something actionable.

Just because it seems fun and creative doesn't mean it can't also be a metrics- and data-driven campaign that needs a return on investment. But with the right effort, you can drive serious engagement from your audience and get valuable content for your marketing at the same time.

Want more creative e-commerce B2C marketing ideas? Check out zaius.com/learn!

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Zaius combines a single customer view with real-time, cross-channel marketing and attribution, empowering marketers to drive more repeat purchases and maximize customer lifetime revenue. It's the first CRM built specifically for B2C marketers. To see how other top marketers drive repeat purchases and increase customer lifetime revenue, check out our latest podcast series, The Empowered Marketer.