This is a guest post from Megan DeGruttola at Stackla.
For as much as our digital landscape has evolved over the last couple decades, email remains one of the most effective channels for marketers across all industries.
Yet every year people’s inboxes get more crowded and their brand expectations continue to grow. Not to mention that companies send more and more emails annually—and more emails means more they need more images to support that scale.
Since 65% of marketers struggle to consistently create engaging or well-designed visuals and it’s often expensive and time-consuming to do so, many have begun turning to the abundance and influence of user-generated content (UGC).
What is user-generated content?
Although you may not have heard of it, you’ve most likely created it. You know that photo you shared on Instagram from your latest trip, the unboxing video you posted on YouTube, or that picture you tweeted during the last event you attended? Those were all user-generated content.
Simply put, user-generated content is any form of content—posts, images, videos, reviews, etc.—that consumers create on social networks.
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Everything you’ve been sharing on sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Weibo, and more is UGC. And you’re not the only one.
It’s estimated that 3.2 billion images are shared on social media every day—making user-generated content a goldmine of authentic and visually engaging customer experiences for brands to tap into.
Why is user-generated content so impactful?
So what is it that makes this wealth of content so valuable to marketers? UGC has proven to be the most trusted, memorable, influential, and scalable form of content.
At the end of the day, people trust other people more than they trust brands. This simple fact is the reason word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of marketing.
In today’s internet age, user-generated content serves as a digital form of word of mouth—reaching exponentially more people with the ubiquity of social networks. And, according to Nielsen Research, 92% of consumers trust earned media, like UGC, more than any other form of content.
Marketing is a constant battle for consumers’ attention.
Since it’s more challenging than ever to grab and hold people’s attention, visuals have become a crucial way for brands to cut through the online noise. Not only does content featuring relevant visuals tend to get 94% more views, but studies have also concluded that ads containing user-generated content are 31% more memorable than ads with traditional content.
Engaging people is one thing, but motivating them to take a desired action is often the ultimate goal of any marketing campaign. When it comes to influencing people’s purchasing decisions, UGC is proven to be the most effective form of content.
Providing a trusted source of visual social proof, 79% of consumers say their purchasing decisions are highly influenced by user-generated content—up from 60% in 2017 (and 9.8 times more influential than social media influencers).
While creating compelling visuals is a persistent challenge for marketers, the volume and velocity needed to keep pace with an “always on,” omni-channel strategy helps to compound the issue—particularly if you’re also trying to deliver increasingly personalized customer experiences.
Meanwhile, consumers have become the world’s greatest content creators.
As I mentioned above, there are literally billions of pieces of unique consumer-created content across the dozens and dozens of popular social sites people visit every day. And consumers are adding fresh visuals to these sites daily—making UGC a self-replenishing source of authentic, trusted, and influential content.
So how can marketers begin leveraging this content to boost the performance of their email campaigns? Here are five creative ways to infuse your emails with the power of user-generated content.
1. Provide some visual inspiration.
Because visuals are so effective at breaking through the noise and staying at the front of people’s minds, they’re an incredibly effective form of inspiration for consumers. And what’s more inspirational than a beautiful travel photo?
Popular Australian airline, Jetstar, taps into the inspirational value of authentic travel visuals in their destination email campaigns, showcasing UGC from places like Singapore to help audiences discover the many attractions these countries have to offer.
Highlighting genuine and compelling photos from other Jetstar customers serves as a powerful way to spark interest and a bit of FOMO into the minds of potential travelers.
2. Bring people power to promotional emails.
There are seemingly endless kinds of promotional email campaigns marketers can run to re-engage audiences and drive sales. Yet the average person receives 121 emails per day. So how can you start setting your promotional emails apart? By tapping into the power of people.
U River Cruises, a subsidiary of Uniworld, regularly runs promotional email campaigns advertising their eight-day cruise packages. Sometimes, that means offering discounted prices, but U River Cruises doesn’t stop there.
To help bring those trips to life for potential passengers, they also show—through user-generated photos and testimonials—other cruisers enjoying the scenery, food, and cultural adventures that specific trip has to offer.
3. Turn abandoned shopping carts into realized sales.
Shopping cart abandonment is a problem that plagues most online retailers. People visit your site, add some items to their online cart, then exit your site before completing their purchase.
In cases where the shopper is known, email is often the most effective way to keep those items top of mind and bring that person back to complete their purchase. But, if you’re only featuring the same old images from your product page in those emails, you could be squandering a prime opportunity to make a sale.
What if the reason they never followed through on the purchase was because your branded product images weren’t convincing enough or left them with unanswered questions about the quality or usefulness for your product?
To remedy this issue, consider pairing fresh copy with authentic user-generated content.
4. Conjure more excitement with transactional emails.
While promotional marketing emails afford a lot of space for creativity, the inherent function of transactional emails tend to favor information over flash.
But what if your transactional emails could provide customers with necessary information while also including visually appealing (and personalized) content experiences?
As one of the most trusted names in travel, Expedia is continually working to further personalize their customer communications—and UGC has been the perfect tool to help them do so.
To make their personalized travel itineraries more visually engaging and unique, Expedia Hong Kong dynamically displays relevant user-generated images alongside each of the destinations on customers’ tailor-made travel emails.
By showing real photos other travelers have taken at each of the stops on the customer’s planned itinerary, Expedia provides a deeply personal email experience that helps to build excitement for the customer’s impending trip.
5. Celebrate your community of passionate fans.
Social networks have become the go-to place for people to post about the brands they love. But, to amplify the collective enthusiasm of your customers’ social posts, you need to start cultivating that community beyond social platforms.
Kmart Australia recently started “Loved by YOU,” a marketing initiative and email campaign that recognizes and celebrates their customers and the Kmart products they love.
Not only does the retailer encourage customers to share their favorite Kmart finds with the hashtag #Kmartaus, but they also then use their emails to shine a spotlight on the great content those customers create—while helping others to purchase these loved items as well.
Email is still one of the most powerful tools in marketers’ tool box, helping to educate, engage, promote, and sell to new and existing audiences.
Yet email marketers face a lot of the same challenges as broader digital marketing roles: a lack of compelling and unique content, an inability to create truly personalized experiences, and trouble creating meaningful connections with audiences.
User-generated content has been proven to help marketers overcome all of these email challenges in a way that’s scalable and sustainable.
On average, Stackla customers who leverage UGC throughout their email campaigns have seen a 13% average increase in email click-through rates and a 35% average increase in email conversion rates.
What would those kind of email results mean for your brand’s bottom line?
Megan DeGruttola is the Head of Global Content & Communications at Stackla, the world’s smartest visual content engine. Stackla helps marketers save time and money by fueling all their marketing activities with authentic user-generated visuals. As a marketing and social media enthusiast, Megan has a passion for telling compelling stories that educate, engage and motivate audiences.