User-generated content (UGC) in ecommerce email marketing: the why and how

unraveling roll of green tape to denote user generated content

Of the estimated 12-24 million ecommerce stores, a mere 110,000 generate “revenue of a meaningful scale on the internet.” That’s somewhere between 0.92 percent and 0.46 percent. Worse, even among that less than one percent, profit distribution is skewed with the biggest sites responsible for more than one-third of the total revenue.

What separates the top performers – especially those that have experienced exponential growth – from the rest?

When summarizing Amazon’s rise to supremacy, Jeff Bezos cited “three big ideas … that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful.” Number one on his list? “Put the customer first.” A cliche? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

As Bezos told Bloomberg News way back in 2004:

“We take those funds that might otherwise be used to shout about our service and put those funds instead into improving the service. That’s the philosophy we’ve taken from the beginning. If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.

There it is. Amazon – and the same is true of other top performers – doesn’t sell themselves. They let their customers sell them.

Naturally, this means investing in amazing customer service and brand-building relationships.

But there’s a secret weapon too, one that supercharges exactly what Bezos was talking about and puts the customer at the center of your ecommerce growth. It’s called user-generated content (UGC). Plenty of ecommerce sites use UGC for reviews, ratings, and social proof.

What very few do, however, is leverage it through email marketing. 

The why of user-generated content (UGC) in ecommerce email marketing

Unlike straight promotions and “branded” content, UGC is unpaid content created by existing customers. It is less an impersonal ad and more an authorization of a brand by the people who matter most: buyers, fans, and followers.

“If you are able to engage customers and generate authentic content that is transparent, socially-integrated, personalized, data-driven and insightful,” writes Tomer Tagrin, the co-founder and CEO of Yotpo, “you will lead your businesses into success.”

Through first-hand stories and experiences, UGC builds intimacy with your target audience, and the results have huge bottom line implications. Yotpo’s massive benchmark study of 559,276,000 online shoppers – The Future of User-Generated Content – discovered that the average conversion rate of visitors who saw UGC is 166 percent higher than those who didn’t.

Why this 166 percent uplift?

Part of the answer lies in social proof. But at a deeper level, it’s because online audiences want more than just a product: they want emotions, they want an experience; they want entertainment and to be part of something bigger than themselves.

UGC transforms your product from a packaged showpiece on a virtual shelf into a breathing tribute to your “tribe,” a genuine part of their lives.

What’s more, UGC also opens the communication channels between you and your audience. Instead of constantly pushing your products down their throats, you clear the virtual pathways for a two-way dialogue. UGC is more than a compilation of disconnected photos and testimonials.

For email, two stats in particular tower as solidifying evidence. Number one,

Number one, Olapic found that “retailers that use its user-generated content in email see a 43% increase in click-through rates and a 2-3X conversion rate.” And as if that isn’t strong enough, Salesforce reported that UGC “drives a 73% increase in email click-through rates” and “increases conversions by 10% when included in the online purchase path.”

Unfortunately, while many ecommerce stores know the power of UGC on-site and on social media, very few are utilizing it in their email marketing. Here’s how to fix that.

The how of user-generated content (UGC) in ecommerce email marketing

Solicit UGC as part of your order flow

Social hashtags surrounding your brand are powerful. But to get systematic about UGC, you have to get serious about making it an integrated part of your email strategy.

Thankfully, doing this is incredibly easy.

In fact, Klaviyo already has product review templates you can add to your customer’s order flow. These can be set to automatically arrive in your customer’s inbox after they’ve had a chance to get to know your product. Moreover, by tying Klaviyo into your ecommerce platform, you can personalize each message and populate them with the exact product images and titles they’ve purchased.

A word of warning, however.

Notice that the above email includes an upsell block at the end: “You might also like…”

You’ll have to test this with your audience, but as a general rule, every email you send should have a single goal and anything that gets in the way of that goal should be eliminated.

Far more powerful than an upsell box would be images or streams from your social hashtags.

This approach makes the main thing the main thing: if you want to get UGC, then just go after UGC. As soon as they submit a review, you can alway follow up with a custom thank you message…that includes the possibility of an upsell.

Invite UGC imagery through hashtags

Charming Charlie makes this a regular part of their ecommerce newsletter emails, both for customers and leads.

Two elements above deserve special attention.

One, images. More than 75% of customers prefer user-generated photos that bring a product to life. Branded photos are too perfect and look staged. Customer photos are not only more authentic and inexpensive, they tell a story and blend beautifully with social feeds. This email drives exactly that kind of visually dominated interaction.

Two, incentives. While Charming Charlie’s incentive is a bit weak – “a chance to be featured on our site”–  across the board incentives produce the highest response rate to requests for UGC. This is especially true with contests.

Fabletics follows a similar hashtag-and-imagery-driven approach:

Once collected, those images can then become instant email marketing collateral. Take Foot Locker’s #KICKSTAGRAM hashtag as a prime example. Rather than let the UGC lie dormant on social media or even onsite, Foot Locker sents our regular emails featuring a collage of recent customer posts.

Leverage UGC for direct recommendations

Images and social hashtags surrounding your brand are powerful. But UGC should also be a regular part of your copywriting as well. Notice how Rent the Runway does this in their wryly titled “That’s What She Said” email:

What follows in the rest of the email are three more UGC-lead recommendations. Likewise, Dollar Shave Club uses verbatim reviews to rescue lost customers:

And Thrive Market takes this approach with their in-house charity program Thrive Gives:

All three examples follow the advice of Sujan Patel: “Let Your Customers Write Your Marketing Copy.” While Sujan’s experiment revolved more around on-site copy, the very same lessons are true of simply adding up your reviews, feedback, and testimonials into email itself.

Ecommerce email for your customer by your customer

While the term is new, user-generated content is an age-old concept.

Before Internet took over our lives, people passed along recommendations naturally. And they still do. As Jeff Bezos put it, “That’s the philosophy we’ve taken from the beginning [at Amazon]. If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

Technology has just made it easier for customers to make their opinions count. And it’s made it easier for your ecommerce store to collect and feature those opinions.

Leveraging user-generated content is the best way to regularly deliver creative, relevant, fresh and high-converting email marketing.

So, how are you going to get your audience talking?

 

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