How user-generated content (UGC) affects consumers’ perception of brands

Over 100 years ago in 1901 the then new nation of Australia solved the problem of finding its visual symbol by running a public competition to design its flag. Culture jamming had its foundations in 1979 when an Australian group calling itself Billboard Utilising Graffiti Artists against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA-UP) started altering slogans on tobacco and alcohol advertising billboards.

Talkback radio continues to be popular across the world, just as more recently YouTube has become one of the fastest-growing web phenomena. Consumers have rarely been passive, unthinking recipients of advertising messages, and user-generated content (UGC) is the most recent manifestation of this.

Developed in response to the new challenges of the social web, the Department of Marketing at Monash University is undertaking a study to investigate how involvement with brand-related UGC affects consumers’ perceptions of brands. We define user-generated content as consumers making and publishing creative brand-related content for free.

What are you working on?

A conceptual model was developed and tested by Dr Colin Jevons from the Department of Marketing at Monash University and Dr George Christodoulides from the University of Birmingham, UK, that provided new insights by exploring links between drivers of UGC creation, involvement and consumer-based brand equity.

We gained opinions from expert industry people in New York, and further tested the model through an online survey of 202 consumers.

A second article reviewed the marketing-related factors that gave rise to UGC, tracing the relevant development of market orientation, social interaction, word of mouth, brand relationships, consumer creativity, co-creation and customization over the last 40 years or so. The article then discusses the characteristic features of UGC and how they differ from these concepts. The insights thus gained will help practitioners and researchers understand what UGC is and how it should be used.

Why did you see the necessity for the study in the marketing industry?

The fundamental principles of human communication have not changed, but the way in which that communication is operationalised has changed markedly in the past and is continuing to change now. 

In the 20th century consumers benefited from the price reductions that arose from mass production and communication; consumers are now benefiting from better customisation of products and messages, customisation that is enabled through consumer voices being published through mechanisms such as UGC.

Access to distribution infrastructure has been democratised through technology and is now available to anyone with an internet connection, just as the basic technology to create UGC is available at trivial cost. Gone are the days of rigid branding characterized by narcissism, protectionism, censorship and introversion.  Consumers now demand to be actively involved in decision making concerning their favourite brands.

What kinds of results have emerged so far?

The results indicate that consumer perceptions of co-creation, community and self-concept have a positive impact on UGC involvement.  Interestingly, the results also show that UGC involvement has a positive impact on consumer-based brand equity. These empirical results have significant implications for avoiding problems and building deeper relationships between consumers and brands in the age of social media.

What does this mean for the future of brands?

The greatest challenge for brands is how to reinvent their approach to marketing to be attractive and engaging for consumers both individually and collectively.  UGC provides tangible evidence that the power asymmetry between consumers and organisations is reversing in favour of consumers. 

Good marketers, in tune with their markets, will welcome and benefit greatly from this; those who cling to the old paradigms of the twentieth century will suffer and fail. 

Brands wishing to be pro-active with UGC need to understand the different consumer motivations for UGC creation so as to design campaigns accordingly.  Even if brands decide not to pursue an active UGC strategy they have no means to control non-endorsed UGC creation, so still need to keep a watching brief.

UGC is an important feedback mechanism for brands as it yields rich insights into particular consumers’ perceptions of the brand and for this reason it should be closely monitored and analysed.

Sponsored UGC campaigns should be aligned with the key values of the brand.  A theme for a sponsored UGC campaign that is incongruent with the brand message may confuse consumers and damage the brand.

Organizations that foster a community around their brand, create a brand identity that consumers wish to identify with, and develop brands that are customizable with the direct input of consumers are more likely to see their brands receive more attention from creative consumers.

The research team is keen to collaborate with an industry partner to maximise the practical benefit of the next stage of the project.  Interested companies with a commitment to significant research can get in touch with Dr Colin Jevons at +61 3 9903 2304 or colin.jevons@monash.edu.