User-Generated Content: Marketing is Not a Spectator Sport

It’s still the peak of summer here in Georgia. That means scathing temperatures and creative attempts to stay cool – trips to the pool, dips in the lake and the ever-present cooler full of frosty beverages. The next time someone reaches for their cooler, take note of the brand. If your friend owns a Yeti, there’s a good chance they’re a devoted fan and passionate brand ambassador. Your friend is not alone. Yeti has legions of fans, many of them using the $300 cooler as “equipment” for fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities. And, many of them are documenting their adventures along the way, encouraged and rewarded by Yeti for including the luxury cooler in their social media circles.

Yeti cooler


So, how did this ice chest (think Louis Vuitton for keeping things cold) achieve $100 million in sales seven years since inception and a cult-like following? Part of their success can be attributed to one of the hottest topics in marketing today, User-Generated Content (UGC). What is UGC? Basically, it is content created, shared and delivered by end-users. It’s real, it’s authentic and it’s when a brand and a consumer celebrate a product together. Think of it as a user review on steroids. But, why did Yeti decide on a UGC approach? In the words of Sara Kenton, Yeti’s Director of e-Commerce, “we weren’t part of the conversation; we were merely spectators…it became a storytelling platform for our most passionate customers.” And, how did Yeti put UGC into practice? For starters, they combed through the data amassed from user ratings and reviews. This information was a goldmine of content related to product benefits and features. This data was used to steer product development and to validate product launches. Secondly, Yeti tapped into their social channels, creating photo contests that encouraged users to tag their “epic” photos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for chances to win Yeti coolers and other merchandise. And, tag they have. Their monthly photo contests regularly receive more than 600 entries. Yeti’s Facebook page has been described as “an online outdoors camp for people who love fishing, hunting and the outdoors.” The #BuiltForTheWild Instagram account is a massive gallery of fandom and fun with more than 14,000 user-generated images. For the record, UGC has not been Yeti’s only investment in marketing (they also have a robust apparel line to help spread the word) but as a customer-fueled engine, it has proven itself to be a unique way to engage with consumers on the product playing field.

What about other brands who aren’t marketing a true luxury item? Brands like Whirlpool, Starbucks and Target have engaged consumers to create real, original UGC, simply by tapping into their customers’ personal lives and passion. And, what do some of the experts say? From the team at Forrester, here is an excerpt from an executive summary on UGC, “User-generated content offers a rich new storytelling opportunity for marketers…consumers trust content from their peers more than they do any other form of marketing communication. Harnessing UGC’s storytelling power can help build brand trust and ultimately brand resonance.”

User-generated content is exciting for many reasons, but a recent Forbes article really drives home a key reason to consider the approach, “in a world where anyone can say anything about your brand with a push of a button, you can only benefit by making consumers your advocates.”

These are just some of the brands I’m admiring for their co-marketing efforts with consumers. What are yours?