How Luxury Brands Can Unlock the Power of User-Generated Content

    We interviewed three experts in the UGC field who provide suggestions on how brands can take advantage of the growing desire of Chinese consumers to share content.
    Photo: Farfetch/WeChat
    Ruonan ZhengAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    Nowadays, many luxury brands in China are still hesitant about the ramifications of user-generated content (UGC) in social media and digital campaigns they produce. However, because of the soaring popularity of social media in China, many luxury shoppers find themselves wanting a more elevated relationship with brands—they want to be viewed as more than just a consumer. Luxury shoppers now seek opportunities where they too can be a producer of content.

    This notion of consumers shifting from buyers to being producers of content is confirmed by the latest report by Kantar Media, which examines the evolution of Chinese social media over the past five years. According to Kantar, content creation is no longer led by mainstream media or KOLs alone. Consumers are increasingly taking a core role in generating original content on Weibo and WeChat.

    How, then, can luxury marketers take advantage of this growing desire of Chinese consumers to share content? To answer this question, we interviewed three experts in the field who provide suggestions on how brands can unlock the power of UGC.

    Weibo vs. WeChat: Which Channel is More Effective for UGC?#

    While brands are free to select either Weibo or WeChat depending on the objective of their campaigns, all three experts agree that brands must understand the various characteristics of the two platforms and choose the one that ensures the best campaign results.

    Weibo has a significantly more transparent ecosystem for users as anyone can like, share, and comment on content. This transparency factor can help a UGC campaign gain exposure and increase virality potential. Comparatively, WeChat is built as a platform that favors seclusion. Users on WeChat must first search and subscribe to a brand's WeChat account in order to comment. However, that has made in-depth interaction possible.

    "The level of engagement on WeChat is much deeper, and can trigger emotional connections," said Charlie Gu, the Director of China Luxury Advisors. "The demographic on Weibo and WeChat is different too," he further noted, "you can attract people from diverse ages on WeChat, but Weibo is better to drive engagement of millennials."

    Photo: NARS/Weibo
    Photo: NARS/Weibo

    For example, French cosmetic brand NARS ran a campaign that encouraged fans to come up with Chinese names for its classic lipstick 'Orgasm' in July of this year. The post quickly went viral on Weibo, attracting 13,033 replies and 10,026 reposts by the time of this publication.

    "A good strategy is to make complementary use of Weibo and WeChat," said Remi Blanchard, a Strategic Planning Manager at Mazarine Asia Pacific. According to Blanchard, brands can first spread the word of the campaign on Weibo and then invite fans to participate in actual the campaigns on WeChat. By announcing the campaign on Weibo and then interacting with followers on WeChat, brands are able to identify their fans, assuming that the most loyal fans would interact with the campaign on WeChat as they are willing to take one more step of action to participate.

    What Type of Content Should Brands Post?#

    From our observations, most UGC campaigns that brands have initiated require minimal effort and are visually-oriented, encouraging consumers to send a short text or a picture. According to Blanchard, this type of content is effective because it is easy for consumers to participate, requiring minimal skills for them to complete, and most importantly, it's very easy to share. The rule of thumb of content type, suggested by China Luxury Advisor's Gu, is that “brands should have some control, to the extend not to hinder creativity."

    He also suggested brands to tap into consumers' motivation to create a campaign that's playful and entertaining, which is more likely to trigger organic engagement among millennial consumers.

    Besides leaving room for creativity, brands should also determine the type of content they post publicly based on the goal of their campaign. London-based fashion retailer Farfetch launched a WeChat HTML5 campaign in April this year where fans were able to mix and match clothes and create their own looks. The campaign gained 8,000 clicks within a week of its launch and directed traffic to its e-commerce site where all displayed clothes from the UGC campaign were available for purchase.

    Longchamp UGC mini-program.
    Longchamp UGC mini-program.

    French luxury brand Longchamp developed a mini-program in April specifically dedicated to UGC. The program was designed in a map format where followers were able to check in and share their in-store pictures, which eventually directed more foot traffic to the retail stores.

    In a September Weibo campaign, German luxury brand MCM asked followers to take pictures at a high-end shopping mall in Hangzhou with its signature rabbit sculpture and share the photos with the account. This type of UGC serves as a check-in function, a common strategy that helps brands spread the word about new items, retail locations, and upcoming events.

    What are some common pitfalls of UGC?

    No clear instructions

    "On social media, it's all about generating attention within a very short amount of time," said Chenyin Pan, China Manager at the digital agency Fireworks. "A vague and unclear UGC campaign is the first pitfall [that] brands should learn to avoid." Under several comment sections of luxury brands' Weibo UGC campaigns, we noticed that consumers were confused and asked questions like 'how they should submit their pictures' and 'how long the promotion event lasts'.

    Campaign launch right before a holiday

    Holidays or important commercial events (such as Singles' Day) are a key opportunity for brands to encourage consumer engagement. This, though, is also a saturated period as every brand is attempting to win the spread-thin attention of consumers. "The key to capture the crowd is to post UGC campaigns before the holiday," said Blanchard. In that way, it gives fans enough time to respond, and brands can then collect more data, allowing them to gain more valuable insights in return.

    Exposure as the only measure of success

    It is not always the case that the more followers a campaign attracts, the better it is for the brands. There are situations where fans participate in campaigns only for the incentives and they are likely to unsubscribe once the campaign finishes. To avoid this from happening, Blanchard suggests that brands make the campaigns more educational and offer users the chance to learn new things about the brands and products.

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