Love it or hate it, we are living in the age of the influencer. Just look at the ongoing phenomenon of Love Island. With 1 million viewers tuning in to the recent Love Island All Stars final, the show’s impact extends far beyond the screen, turning many contestants into household names with up to six-figure brand partnership deals.

Last year’s winner Jess Harding signed a six-figure deal with In The Style, while 2022 winner Ekin-Su landed a contract with Oh Polly, which has been called the “largest apparel contract in Love Island history”. However, whilst many of us love watching the cast on screen, should brands really be scrambling to win their endorsement once the cameras cut?

Fundamentally, all shoppers want to see images of people just like them using products, with unrealistic, airbrushed model shots calling the authenticity of influencers into question. So, where should brands be focusing their efforts — influencer marketing strategies or user generated content (UGC)?

The rise of authentic UGC

Finding a brand you can trust is no easy feat. Question marks around product quality, reliability of dupes, and brand reputation have made reviews one of the go-to ways for us to tap ‘buy now’. In fact, 87% of consumers suggest that real-life customer reviews have a greater impact on purchasing decisions compared to influencer or celebrity reviews (50%), with content made by the public 9.8x more impactful than influencer content.

This UGC allows brands to harness existing user testimonials to build credibility and increase online sales. The authenticity of this content connects with all generations, with it simply being human nature to trust UGC more than an airbrushed ad. It also cuts through the noise of ads-based advertising that younger audiences have trained themselves to scroll past, with Gen Z more likely to look to influencers and real people than other traditional advertising.

With marketing teams trying to do more with ever-depleting resources, lower-cost content has never been so appealing. With unboxings, product reviews, and ‘get ready with me’ videos continuing to increase in popularity, there is a wealth of relatable, authentic content already available. And when 77% of people are willing to grant permission for brands to use their content, UGC can be a marketing gold mine.

The power of influencer marketing

So, why do brands keep investing in costly influencer brand deals instead of utilising tools like User Generated Content (UGC) to generate sales? As the high Love Island ratings show, we’re not ready to call time on influencers just yet in favour of a purely UGC-focused strategy. However, with the public ready to cancel any influencer who appears to mislead their followers, like the recent Mikayla controversy

Influencers still carry a lot of weight and a rightful place in the marketing mix, with the market size of influencer marketing expected to reach $24 billion in 2024, almost doubling 2021 figures. What is key here is ensuring that influencer content carries the same authenticity as UGC. It’s all about finding the right influencer. Collaborations with influencers who have a genuine interest in your product and alignment with your brand values is key. Don’t splurge on the largest influencer or someone who you think your audience might resonate with. Use audience analytics to ensure that the influencer fits your campaign and will bring the most value. Remember, the larger the influencer, the less frequently they share sponsored content on Instagram, so opting for micro-influencers with 1-10k followers can prove a far more effective way of tapping into highly engaged audiences and building a community of brand ambassadors. This relevance goes both ways. Budget is not the only factor for influencers selecting a brand to collaborate with; personal interest in the brand and shared values typically carry more weight with creators.

Getting the best from both worlds

Ultimately, influencer marketing and UGC should be parts of your marketing mix. For reaching broader audiences and tapping into new markets the benefits of influencers are unrivalled. If your current strategy doesn’t include influencer marketing, you could be missing out on reaching and engaging with new audiences that other marketing methods avoid. For solidifying your fanbase, engaging with your existing community, and showing new audiences that you are a brand they can trust, UGC can prove a vital part of marketing strategies. But building this marketing mix can be easier said than done.

UGC relies on real people to create their own content, so can be tricky to guarantee the quality and quantity. A good way of encouraging customers to create content is by including QR codes in brick-and-mortar stores to upload videos or using polls and question stickers on Instagram Stories to prompt customers to shout about their favourite products. Marketers must also ensure that they are catering to different age groups in their UGC and influencer marketing strategies. A one-size-fits-all approach is only set to fail, and brands must look to different ways to engage audiences. 

For instance, when exploring new influencer partnerships or looking to expand current ones, short-form videos should always remain top-of-mind — especially important when Instagram Reels usage has skyrocketed 241% year-over-year, a great way to tap into a wide audience. However, while content like TikTok reviews might win over younger consumers, the benefits of these marketing tactics will be less impactful with other key audiences that respond well to more traditional marketing approaches. 

Final thoughts

Influencer partnerships and interactive digital campaigns will be less effective in reaching Boomers who prefer traditional brick-and-mortar marketing such as in-store displays, while digital native Millennials and Gen Z respond more to targeted digital marketing strategies, welcoming UGC and online reviews to influence purchasing decisions. Influencer and user-generated content (UGC) both have a rightful place in the marketing mix — marketers just need to make sure they work for the right audiences.

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