Optimum back support for your brand


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)

Every company, no matter their sector, must think about how to reach new and existing customers today and in future constantly. User-Generated Content will always be part of the answer to this question. Video content in particular is playing an increasingly important role - currently nearly 300 hours of new video material are being uploaded every hour of every day of every week. My children, like everyone else in their age group, first turn to relevant forums to see how they can solve a problem or which product they may want to buy. They ask questions there and wait for the answers before talking to me, their father. All this user-generated content establishes trust among consumers, a familiarity almost, that no banner, video clip or other professional marketing channel is able to create.

But what is User-Generated Content (UGC) really? UGC is not an invention of our time. There were the letters to the editor before or the simple transmission of information from one user to the other. But since the digital transformation and the introduction of the Social Web in particular, this user-generated content has exploded. And it is growing daily, hourly even. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are the platforms users use today. Blog articles are published here, self-made videos displayed and presentations created. Simple entries such as comments, ratings (of articles, restaurants or reviews) or an encyclopedia like Wikipedia do not have the same influence they had a few years ago anymore compared to social networks. All this information is available to everyone and the more people are convinced of something online, the more people become aware of it. Google prioritises content that has received better ratings.

Companies have made use of this for a long time. Nike for example invited bloggers to a Spanish luxury hotel in 2013. They got a pair of running shoes for them to test. The resulting enthusiasm was voiced on the internet and resulted in an unparalleled response for Nike and ultimately turned them a considerable additional profit. Then a few years ago, British newspaper The Guardian launched a photo competition, asking readers to send a personal snapshot of the weekend, which was then sent out to the world via Twitter using the hashtag "Own the weekend". Today, "Own the weekend" is a Registered Trademark whose brand ambassador is no other than star actor Hugh Grant. Another example is the "Burger Battle", where fast-food lovers were allowed to create their own McDonald's burger and have the community vote on it. This list of examples can be continued easily.

Not only the user attracted by a good rating is a potential buyer. Also the user writing about the product is. The moment he/she takes the time and reports, he/she is either very convinced of the product, or the opposite, disappointed. In any case, the user wants to make a difference. Enthusiastic users need to be encouraged to stay enthusiastic. Those who speak negatively must be praised for their opinions and their ideas, suggestions and comments taken seriously. If these users feel they have been taken into account during development, they will feel even more part of the brand. And, if you feel you are
a part of something, then you stick with it.

You can speak of a cycle the customers are moving within. They start by discovering a product, perhaps through advertising, perhaps through UGC or through their own search. After that, research to see what meaning or benefit the product may have for one's life precedes the buying decision. Once this decision has been made, the purchase follows. Using the product then shows whether it meets the requirements as expected. Possibly questions arise for the user. If so, it is now very likely that he/she will ask them. Perhaps he/she has comments, criticism or praise as well thus adding their person here. If he/she is taken seriously and their efforts encouraged by the company, he/she will continue to use the product.

UGC is authentic and therefore more credible for consumers than conventional advertising. The customer develops a bond to the company and identifies with it and its products. UCG is also less expensive than other advertising campaigns. has found that on average, user-generated videos are viewed about ten times more often than official company videos. The opportunities to improve awareness and image through such campaigns are extremely good, but they can also create the opposite, the so-called shit storm. It is therefore crucial to monitor and control the campaigns closely. It requires the anticipation of a user's need on an elementary level to be able to lend support in the right place and at the right time with corresponding content. Above all, however, this content must be made available to the user in the required quality and quantity and in an accessible manner.

As always in the age of digital transformation, technology plays the decisive role here. More than ever before, its utilisation determines not only the marketing messages themselves but also their form, distribution and impact. The possibilities of content creation become better and more diverse with each passing day. Even creative laymen like me can create (almost) appealing 360° videos or other forms. Professionals complement this with virtual reality content, 3D representation and chat bots, among other things. The key technology here is artificial intelligence (AI). What may still look a bit like science fiction today has become a daily reality almost unnoticed. Every owner of a smartphone who uses Google Maps gets a message in the morning to learn how long it will take to get to work. At first you may be surprised that Google knows something like this, then you may oppose this for a little, and then you use it. The message is the result of a process of intensive learning of a deep learning network. It has "learned" our own behaviour and that of many colleagues, friends and neighbours over months and can now draw conclusions.

Such options help to qualify and analyse UGC and to possibly react very quickly or even automatically. Someone who immediately receives help with a problem concerning a product or service can become a fan, even if their direct contact with the brand was not perfect. AI is just beginning to change the world. Its effect on marketing, however, is becoming increasingly clear. Take the hackneyed marketing mantra of bringing the right message to the right customer at the right time, for example. While this has long been a goal of marketers, Brandon Purcell, senior analyst at Forrester, said at the Forrester AI Summit in New York that the traditional marketing machine could only identify the "right customer" and the "right time" but not the "right message". According to Purcell, companies and marketers should use these AI marketing innovations to now get the "right message" across.

Deep learning is used to gain insights from unstructured data such as image and video analysis, speech analysis, face recognition, and text analysis. Purcell believes these skills will change the way brands interact with consumers in future. "Deep learning will ultimately help automate and optimize the entire customer journey," Purcell said. "For brands and marketers, AI will provide the opportunity to get the right message to the right customer at the right time." For these deep learning networks to know everything about a brand, product or service, they need to be trained intensively. They must be taught everything and their learning success monitored constantly. I always explain these deep learning networks as follows: As soon as you switch them on, they behave like a newborn: they know how to breathe, how to eat and how to get rid of the rest. Everything else, a baby has to learn anew, day after day and step by step. It is exactly the same with the deep learning networks. We also have to teach them everything they should be able to do later. They too have to make their experiences and learn, constantly learn.

With this we are experiencing a kind of "revolution in content marketing". So far, a brand has addressed millions of users with one and the same message. With this technology, the AI, it becomes possible to convey individual content to the individual user, content related to his or her specific situation, at exactly the point in time at which he or she is being addressed. Content such as this is not only "information", it is more. It is an individual and therefore highly efficient "experience".

Yet to pour some cold water on the matter: For all this to become usable, basic services such as master data maintenance, PIM and MAM systems, i.e. all the systems providing the company's master data in high quality and up-to-date, must be available. These services are needed to train the deep learning networks. These require a large amount of data, and depending on the task at hand, this can be a very, very large amount.

Moreover, user-related content will soon be created automatically from these data and will consist of a combination of individual sequences. This means that in future, content will not have to comprise entire articles, videos, compositions or the like, but individual sequences, fragments or sections. These are then combined by the AI individually for the respective situation, the immediate location and other relevant data of the user. This places special demands on creative people; they learn to think in networked and systematic ways. Furthermore, this requires modern systems with optimal AI integration.

So if you are dealing with customers, you will not be able to avoid dealing with the topic of UGC if you want to bind them to you and your company. The UCG's dependence on the buying behaviour of current and future buyers should have become clear to everyone. This is not an issue that can be dealt with by a trainee who sometimes posts something on Instagram, but belongs in the hands of professionals who are familiar with the amount of data and who can manage them with the help of AI.

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Thomas Eusterholz is a consultant for marketing and master data processes. His area of expertise is the integration of AI technology in said environment.

Picture credit © skynesher/Getty Images

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