Customer Experience, Content Marketing,Today's Publishers: A Look at How Branded + User-Generated Content is Changing Marketing It wasn't very long ago that publishers were responsible for the creation, curation and distribution of content. They held the keys to what was said about brands, products, trends and more.

But with the rise of the digital age came entire platforms available for new voices, new influencers and a gigantic publishing mechanism for both brands and the consumers they are trying to reach. In today’s marketing landscape, brands have become media machines -- hiring former journalists and writers and producing, publishing and sharing vast amounts of their own content as a means to show thought leadership, increase awareness and find and retain new customers.

In addition, with online, mobile and social platforms making publishing easy, consumers can easily publish photos, share thoughts and curate their own audiences. This has given everyday consumers the ability to influence and connect with large audiences without necessarily having the platform of a traditional publication.

With so many digital properties and platforms -- blogs, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, etc. -- available as outlets for unique and shared content, today’s consumers are more influential and integral to brand marketing campaigns than ever.

In fact, it has become essential for brands to account for and then capitalize on the voices of their audience to amplify and lend credibility to their campaigns.

Not only does a brand’s content, advertising and marketing materials have to connect with your audience, it has to inspire them to share it, talk about it and in some cases, even participate in the campaign.

Many of today’s marketers have been asking: does a campaign become more credible and authentic once the consumer is involved?

It seems the resounding answer has been yes.

Creating Inherently Social Campaigns

Many of today’s leading brands realize the need to provide tools for the consumer to take action and participate in their campaigns. It’s not enough to simply promote your own message and creative, you have to get your target consumers to also contribute their content, thoughts and ideas to the campaign in order for it to be truly successful.

It’s essential to keep in mind that amplifying marketing messages and campaigns involves designing your marketing activities to have an inherently social motivator that inspires broader engagement and sharing.

This means much more than planning a marketing campaign and then thinking that “let’s do something social.” In today’s marketing landscape, simply uploading a television commercial to YouTube is not enough.

Designing consumer-led and driven campaigns that are inherently social means that the core concepts for campaigns must invite customers to share and participate in an experience. This provides the opportunity for the consumer to extend the campaign by joining a conversation with the brand, product, fellow users and other enthusiasts. By offering experiences that customers WANT to participate in, brands have the opportunity to greatly expand the reach of their own marketing efforts -- without spending additional budget on media buys and spend.

As brands incorporate social content into all aspects of marketing campaigns this has created an environment where digital marketing has evolved into a customer-led conversation. The fact is, consumers are more likely to believe the review or online endorsement of another consumer over a brand-released marketing message.

As a result, brands have realized that listening to online conversation and continually monitoring what people are posting and saying about their brand -- and then using that information to fuel and inspire their own efforts -- is essential.

The Modern Marketing Manifesto, published by Econsultancy and Marketing Week aptly states: “We believe the internet has forced transparency upon brands and businesses. Brands no longer control the message, consumers do."

Giving Brand Control Back Over to Consumers – The Rise of Consumer-Led Marketing

In the marketing and advertising world, it has long been touted that your brand is not what you say about yourself, but rather what people say about you when you’re not in the room. With this in mind, third-party validation communicated through third-party content (often via social and digital channels) can help reinforce messaging and extend the reach, virality and impact of a given campaign.

Applying this concept to incorporating consumer conversations into marketing strategies is the new requisite. Now, integrating user-generated content back into campaigns is an important part of brand building.

This means, unlike traditional marketing communications, where brands and marketing managers previously had a high degree of control, today’s marketers have to learn how to best leverage and shape consumer discussions and generated media.

In fact, many major brands are not only incorporating consumer content into their websites, billboards and television commercials, but are also using it on ecommerce pages and in retail displays.

High Profile Campaigns Featuring User-Generated Content

Ben & Jerry’s - Capture Euphoria

Ben & Jerry’s got creative with an Instagram hashtag campaign used to source user-generated content from their fans and community. Ben & Jerry’s invited fans to post Instagram photos tagged #captureeuphoria that depicted intense feelings of joy elicited by eating their ice cream.

All of the tagged images are being displayed at the Capture Euphoria online gallery, which is hosted on a campaign microsite. In addition, Ben & Jerry’s used the digitally submitted photos from the Instagram campaign as the main creative element in print and billboard advertisements.

Ben & Jerry’s picked 20 of the best fan photos and ran advertisements featuring those photos in the area where the photographer lived. The ads were placed in print, billboards and various outdoor venues.

Pepsi - Pepsi Pulse

Pepsi unveiled its global, multi-year campaign Live for Now in 2012, and made social media, and the use of hashtags, a core component of the large campaign.

The campaign includes TV, radio, cinema and outdoor advertising and Pepsi partnered with Twitter to organize a series of exclusive pop-up concerts. In conjunction with the roll out of the Live for Now marketing initiative, Pepsi also debuted Pepsi Pulse, a social media-driven interactive dashboard for everything pop culture.

The real-time platform lives at and curates trending pop culture and entertainment news. You’ll also find original content, such as deals and celebrity challenges. The dashboard also highlights celebrity Twitter messages and user-generated content, displaying tweets from fans and follower using the hashtags #NOW or #LiveForNow.

Title image courtesy of Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For another take on getting customer involvement with brands, read Matt Goddard's Incorporating the Customer Voice in Content