I said those very words in a meeting recently and half the marketers in the room laughed and rolled their eyes. Yeah, I like my acronyms. The other half got it; a UGC (user-generated content) hashtag campaign without ROI (return on investment) is indeed DOA (dead on arrival).
Is UGC just a trend? Are marketers piling on the UGC hashtag bandwagon because it has the “cool factor”? And if so, does that mean that at some point it will simply be replaced by the next shiny object?
Or, does the growing use of UGC imply there is increasing value for businesses? Certainly, it means there is growing perceived value. But, how does that translate into enterprise return on investment?
That’s a question that I believe marketing teams should be asking themselves more and more, as they consider how to best consider using UGC in their marketing efforts. At Thismoment, we see a lot of trends come and go. It kind of comes with the territory of being in a very hot part of the technology boom – content marketing. It’s buzz-worthy, to say the least. And it’s much more than a passing phase.
UGC, It’s More Than a Phase
When the world’s biggest brands adopt a marketing trend, it often moves from flash-in-the-pan to tried-and-true. For instance, over the past 3 years the use of hashtags in Super Bowl commercials has increased 38X. The marketers who make these ads are the best in the world, if they are doing it, we should watch. And learn.
UGC is a very powerful tool to incorporate authentic user-voice elements into your marketing and brand storytelling initiatives. What brand wouldn’t love photos of fans streaming in from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook? Or having them post entertaining videos from YouTube and Vine? Tweets? Posts? This type of brand advocacy is the stuff of which marketing dreams are made.
And, sometimes these efforts yield great value for brands looking to create fun, engaging and unique campaigns.
Like this one from Levi’s:
Or, this one from Intuit:
Or, this one from Dreamworks:
But, mostly, these are short-lived and ephemeral in nature. UGC hashtags are, after all, typically a “moment in time” captured as a photo or video or quick text. The ROI of these UGC efforts are mostly tied to the overall performance of the brand marketing campaign to which it was anchored.
- Increased number of views of campaign
- Increased reach of campaign within target audience
- (Loose correlation) between campaign air dates and product sales
Moving From Brand ROI TO Direct ROI
No doubt brands will continue to want to leverage UGC hashtags in their brand marketing campaigns. It helps to tell the story they want in a more fun, engaging and overall authentic manner. But, without proof that UGC is actually producing sustained value, I believe we will soon enter a phase where UGC ROI is questioned more. And rightly so.
As CMO, I ask the following questions about any of our investments:
- What’s the near-term benefit to the business, measured by early funnel indicators?
- What’s the longer-term value we’ll reap, measured by revenue?
- How does it make our overall organization stronger, through integrations?
- How does it make us more efficient at our jobs?
If I can’t answer these questions in a very real and material way, I think twice about making the investment. And, I’d expect the same of my cohorts at large brands who are considering leveraging UGC hashtag marketing.
A few companies indeed are considering the direct ROI of their UGC campaigns. They’re using UGC, which is traditionally considered to provide only ephemeral value, as a more “green field” and essential part of their marketing and merchandising strategy. Like Sephora:
Or, like ESPN is doing:
What started out as mostly experimental and loosely defined enterprise value, UGC is now proving to be much more than just a fad. But, like any other marketing channel, technology platform or tactic, if not applied strategically – with specific KPIs in mind – it can very well be a wasted effort. If treated as a strategic tool with more evergreen applications and enterprise benefits, UGC could very well be one of the most important arrows in your quiver.