Driving brand awareness and conversions through user-generated content isn’t a new tactic for digital marketers, but those methods are finding new levels of success during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, Canadian manufacturer Calego, maker of iFLY luggage and accessories, has leveraged UGC to help it sell over 250 million face masks during the pandemic.
Their success in capturing and distributing customer reviews has also resulted in them selling approximately 8 million iFLY Smart Kits — low-cost bundles containing rubber gloves, wipes and other items that aid in the safety and comfort of air travelers.
The company developed the concept of the Smart Kit back in 2017 in a much different climate for travel-related safety gear.
“We were able to collect ratings and reviews on this item before COVID-19,” said David Rapps, President of Calego. “It really wasn’t selling well. We knew nothing was wrong with the product, and it received high ratings from anyone who bought it.”
Even though it wasn’t selling pre-COVID, the user-generated reviews let Calego know what customers liked and disliked, Rapps said. They had enough positive feedback to know that it would be worth the investment to make more iFLY Smart Kits available in a time of high demand for protective equipment and comfort accessories.
All of this comes as new places for UGC have multiplied. Google and Amazon are giants but other retail marketplaces for big-box retailers like Walmart and Target are driving considerable reviews for brands like Calego. Social media platforms generate a continuous stream of UGC about products and brands, and new platforms (Hello, TikTok) and content formats like Stories create even more options that users can leverage.
The result? A wider top of the funnel than ever before.
A world online
Managing content and messaging on social, where audiences and buyers have long been found, isn’t new, but the global pandemic made online pretty much the only outlet for these important segments for marketers. With more time online came more engagement with UGC like reviews.
In fact, 2020 engagement with reviews, which includes searching for, filtering, and clicking to expand and read reviews, was up 50% on average in 2020, according to an analysis by Power Reviews, a platform for UGC management and analytics.
The increase is also driving higher conversions, Power Reviews found. About 5.3% of shoppers who interacted with reviews converted, compared to 4.25% pre-pandemic. At one point in the year, the conversion rate topped 7%.
Leveraging what they’d built
Rapps said that he’d seen e-commerce beginning to scale for direct-to-consumer brands more than five years ago and his company was at the time looking for a way to scale awareness around iFLY. With Google and Facebook ad rates climbing, Rapps was determined to build awareness on a slim marketing budget by harnessing reviews, ratings and other content that iFLY customers were sharing. In 2015, the company drafted shopper engagement platform and UGC specialist Bazaarvoice to help them implement the strategy.
“We have so many shoppers and customers who buy in stores or on walmart.com, and why not figure out how to communicate with them?” Rapps explained. “We invited them to rate and review. By 2016 that was the mission, to become the number one rated and reviewed luggage brand, even though we were sold through a third-party retailer.”
According to Rapps, Calego became very effective at gathering ratings and reviews. Through syndication they have approximately 250,000 displayable reviews just on their luggage products.
Calego uses the platform to contact customers and prompt them to write reviews of the product they purchased. Bazaarvoice then enables the company to syndicate those reviews on third-party sites elsewhere on the web so others can see them and be influenced.
A full-funnel strategy
“If you think about e-commerce up to 2005, all product details pages were filled with brand editorial content,” said Keith Nealon, CEO of Bazaarvoice. “And then, originally, UGC began appearing on the product detail page in the form of ratings and reviews. Consumers trust what consumers say more than anything else. People want to know what others are feeling and experiencing about a product,” he said.
Today, brands have exported their product-page experiences to social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest, where buying has been made easier down-funnel. Essentially, the buying cycle has been shortened because social media exposes consumers to products that they can buy easier and quicker online, where they’re first discovering the product.
“All these places where consumers bounce around, brands want to show up where they are,” said Nealon. “This is how you manage the consumer journey and navigate through this change in buyer behavior.”
Part of that success comes from having the right strategy and tools to leverage UGC. “You have to have a tech stack that helps with conversion through all those stages, for the awareness, conversion and purchase phases. You need them all,” Nealon added.
For Calego and its iFLY brand, UGC is also about authenticity. Actual customer feedback is not only appealing to brands, but also catches the attention of big retail partners. Calego products have been sold in Walmart since 2013.
“UGC is bigger today than it ever was,” David Rapps said. “There’s so much emphasis at retail to get better content. The reason why retailers love ‘first-party content’ is because organic content works.”
As video content becomes more popular on social, Rapps is particularly interested in tagged posts of customers showing off their travel stories while using their products, he said.