In the age of fashion-forward social media, there is no denying that visual content has a profound impact on today’s shoppers. Fashion brands have thrived on visual-centric platforms and with this explosion of engagement, brands must pay special attention to audiences and determine the types of content that attract — and repel — shoppers.
And as women have emerged as a powerful demographic on social, they’ve made their preferences clear — Photoshopped models and staged photo shoots no longer resonate.
In the last year, there’s been a cry for authenticity across marketing channels. This past winter, Instagram personality Essena O’Neill made headlines for her decision to quit social media. Though 18-year-old O’Neill garnered a steady income from marketing products to her 612,000 followers on Instagram, she publicly bowed out of the social spotlight after growing frustrated with the facade, stating “social media is not real life.”
Similarly, shoppers have increasingly condemned brands for Photoshopped ads. In 2014, Aerie ceased digitally retouching their models, showcasing their dimples, tattoos and stretch marks, in an effort to promote more realistic body images for teens. This year, Aerie has broadened their push toward authenticity, including their first full-figure model in un-retouched swimwear ads.
As 43 percent of Millennials value authenticity over content, these efforts alone are not enough. Today’s brands need to showcase real women embracing their products to reach the powerful female demographic. Authenticity matters not only because it fosters content that genuinely embodies shopper sentiment, but because it’s proven to more effectively reach consumers — and at a lower cost than stock photos and branded content.
The Power of User-Generated Content
Social media has transformed the world into a sales floor. Whether a photo of the season’s hottest swimsuit on the sunny shores of the Cayman Islands or an Instagram post of friends modeling their favorite heels, user-generated images help consumers visualize themselves interacting with apparel, while eliminating the stigma often associated with more traditional marketing.
Having relatable content is essential to Millennial shoppers — nearly a third of Millennials said they’re more likely to buy a product if the brand’s content isn’t sales-y and instead feels authentic and truthful. In particular, female shoppers respond strongly to content shared by other women. By implementing user-generated images in marketing strategies, brands offer these consumers a more intimate understanding of fashion products, capturing everything from niche product uses to how a certain style looks on every hair color, eye color, skin tone and age group.
Compared to Baby Boomers, Millennials are 3.8-times more likely to use Facebook and Instagram to discover new products. Sharing user-generated content on these platforms provides prospective customers with a constant source of inspiration, demonstrating how shoppers can play up, dress down or accessorize different outfit while bolstering sales conversions and providing audiences with relatable content.
For fashion brands, user-generated content can serve as a powerful tool that transforms everyday consumers into influential brand advocates. Sharing fan content builds meaningful brand relationships. In fact, 62 percent of Millennials say if a brand engages with them on social, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. Seeing their photo shared on a favorite brand’s Instagram account, Web site or e-mail campaign is a source of excitement for fans. Not only does show that brands they admire are paying attention to them, but it places them in the spotlight. Instagram in particular has become a hub for amateur photographers and fashion enthusiasts — giving shoppers the opportunity to share their style can help a brand strengthen their loyalty and show their appreciation for fans’ individual personalities.
Consumer Trust and Explicit Permission
Sixty-two percent of Millennials agree that the content they engage with online from a company makes them feel more connected and loyal to the brand. In a world saturated with retailers yearning for a voice, it’s essential for fashion brands to include content that resonates with audiences, alerting them to how other consumers are embracing products. Supporting user-generated content is a great way for brands to receive authentic, visually stunning images from shoppers. While Instagram hashtags curate valuable fan content, it’s important brands take careful measures not to damage the relationship.
If a brand comes across a user-generated image it would like to use in a social media or e-commerce campaign, it must secure explicit consent to use that image from the owner. Reach out to the consumer in question, let them know you appreciate the image and would like their permission to use the content in future efforts. If a consumer declines, respect their decision and leave their photo be; after all, with 80 million posts uploaded to Instagram each day, there’s no shortage to choose from.
At the same time, strong marketing assets like these are especially important in the lengthy consumer purchase journey, with consumers engaging with 11.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase. Apparel brands like J. Crew successfully showcase clothes on e-commerce sites through glamorous UGC galleries. J. Crew’s #ShinyPony gallery invites fans to upload their favorite shoes with its hashtag for a chance to be featured on their site. In addition to uploading hashtagged photos to Instagram, there’s also an option to share photos directly onto the site, giving everyone a chance to contribute regardless of the social media accounts they have.
As social media’s influence continues to grow, user-generated content will help fashion brands heighten authenticity while fostering meaningful connections with their consumers. Brands utilizing fan content will not only bolster customer engagement but broaden their reach.
Pau Sabria is the founder and chief executive officer of Olapic, the world’s first visual marketing platform for collecting, curating and showcasing consumer photo and videos across marketing channels and in e-commerce experiences.