The concept of using free gifts as part of your marketing strategy is absolutely genius. But, did you know you can offer free gifts as a means to encourage UGC (user-generated content) that amounts to free advertising for your brand.
It’s a very easy-to-understand idea: whenever a customer makes a purchase, you send them a little free gift with the package. This generates dual benefits from a marketing perspective. Firstly, it enhances your brand in the eye of the customer. They appreciate the free gift, making them more likely to recommend you to friends or return for more business. Secondly, if you choose the right free gifts, your customers will start advertising your business for you by generating posts showing their free gifts that act to amplify your other marketing efforts.
That brings us to the focus of today’s post; three free gifts that encourage UGC and lead to free advertising:
User-generated content (also known as UGC or consumer-generated content) is original, brand-specific content created by customers and published on social media or other channels. UGC comes in many forms, including images, videos, reviews, a testimonial, or even a podcast. [source]
UGC is important because it has a huge impact when consumers see this content, much more than when they see content produced by the brands themselves. Consider the following from a recent study of UGC,
- Nearly a quarter of female shoppers (24 percent) consider UGC to be the most influential marketing tool.
- Shoppers under 30 report a greater influence of UGC in purchasing decisions versus older respondents. Of those aged 18-29, 97 percent report UGC has an extreme influence.
- Nearly two-thirds of shoppers (63 percent) believe UGC creates a more authentic shopping experience.
- Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say UGC increases their purchasing confidence.
- Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) report UGC encourages them to engage with brands.
The believability of UGC comes from our experience with the tricks brands use to make their products look better than they are (see the image below). Photoshop, wide-angle lenses, and other tricks can make anything look better. But, we believe other users because they have no skin in the game and we think they’re more likely to show the product as it really is–warts and all.
Now that you have an appreciation for UGC, let’s turn our attention to how to encourage UGC.
Recognize that UGC doesn’t just happen. Sure, a small number of consumers will share about their purchases but to encourage UGC on a massive scale necessary, you need a proactive strategy.
If you have a large enough budget, you can use influencer marketing to generate UGC through sponsored content or brand mentions. But, that strategy takes a lot of money and it means finding the right influencer for your brand. For instance, Kim Kardashian charges as much as $500,000 for a sponsored post to her 100+ million followers. Obviously, influencers come in all shapes and sizes so you might find an influencer you can afford.
The rest of us must encourage UGC more organically. And, the most reliable way to encourage UGC is by delighting customers. Delight comes from over-delivering value to customers in the form of above-average performance. For instance, you might deliver much faster than promised, offer exceptional service, build products that provide superior benefits, or offer recognition of the value the customer represents to your brand. I once got a handwritten thank you note with an online delivery from a store I frequent. I shared this note ubiquitously since it showed the company really valued me as a customer, which made me feel good (and increased my tendency to purchase there again).
Gifts are another way to delight customers. Here are some gifts you can add to a purchase without breaking the bank while you encourage UGC with something sharable.
Giving people free tote bags or reusable shopping bags with your branding is a masterstroke. This is a product that people use every single day, allowing everyone who encounters them to see your brand. You’ve made their lives easier, and that means hundreds of people will see your brand logo. Think about it, a customer goes to work on the train, carrying stuff in this free bag. Instantly, you’ve got eyes on your brand. Now, imagine the impact when loads of customers do the same thing!
Even more beneficial to your brand is when users post images of themselves with your bag in the image.
Stickers also work really well and are pretty cost-effective for your business. Here, the idea is you hand out custom stickers to every person who visits your store or shops with you online. Some big brands do this already – for instance, if you buy Apple products, you get Apple stickers in the package when it arrives. As a result, you’re able to put these stickers on anything you own. Some people might put them on their laptop or their bags, others may stick them to their coffee cups – some even put them on their cars. The opportunities are endless, and it means you generate more brand exposure whenever a sticker is seen.
Speaking of coffee cups, I did consider putting mugs on this list. However, there’s an even better free gift idea in reusable cups. The world is definitely more eco-conscious now than it used to be. People want to cut down on things like plastic waste, which is why reusable cups are so popular. Your customers can take your cup to their favorite coffee shop to get it filled up every day. Or, they put their own drink inside the cup before heading out. Cups like the ones above are even collapsable to make them easier to carry when empty.
In either case, they carry your branded product wherever they go. Everyone in their office sees it, everyone they walk passed sees it, and all the people in the coffee shop see it. Plus, every time they post a selfie, the cup is right there in their hand. This strategy worked well for Starbucks, which didn’t pay for advertising for years, instead relying on celebrities holding their cups when photographed on the streets. Think about how many eyes are on your brand!
The key to free gifts that encourage UGC is making them something the customer uses as part of their daily activities so others see the brand. That’s why all three of these options work really well. You give them free products that are easy for them to use. In fact, with the bag and reusable cup, you actively make life better for them.
You should definitely consider free gifts as part of your marketing strategy. Yes, they require some investment, but they make up for this by basically providing free advertising across the country. It’s also a smart idea to automatically provide free gifts to new customers, then give existing ones an option to select one or not. This way, you don’t annoy returning customers by giving them loads of the same free gifts over and over again.
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