Turning your audience into brand ambassadors

When it comes to content marketing, there’s a fine line between a brand knocking one out of the park and whiffing at the pitch. Sticking with the baseball analogy, as a brand steps up to the plate, simply making contact is not enough. The goal is nailing that sweet spot, making a perfect connection–not with a leather ball–but with the audience. However, fans of a brand want to do more than observe from beyond a fence. Brilliantly, brands today are recognizing that great content marketing campaigns often stem from creative ways of boosting audience involvement. To truly feel engaged with a brand, sometimes a fan needs to be the one gripping the bat.

User-Generated Content Selling the Nike Look

I first witnessed this type of role-reversal marketing strategy via Instagram. A friend of mine had posted a stunning image of a pair of Nike Flyknit running shoes marching atop a steamy Manhattan manhole cover with the caption “steam state of mind.” The idea coincided with Nike’s budding technology, which implements a steam machine to mold a shoe’s shape around the unique contours of a runner’s foot. In the photo’s comments, Nike’s official Instagram reached out–via #FlyKnit hashtag–asking to use the image in a “Flyknit is for Winners” marketing campaign. It was refreshing to see a brand on social media operating without a blatant motive to sell-sell-sell, but rather to high-five a loyal consumer for contributing great content in the social sphere. Ever since, I’ve been interested in how brands are creatively engaging with their audiences, particularly those choosing to curate and publish user-generated content, effectively turning common fans into notable brand ambassadors.

Fans and Pros Take the Wheel with Mercedes-Benz

A la Nike, Mercedes-Benz developed a fantastic method of creating audience involvement with their “Take the Wheel” competition this summer. After selecting five of Instagram’s “top” photographers, the group was given five days behind the wheel (of the new Mercedes-Benz CLA) to snap pics of anything life on the road inspired. The total number of “likes” accumulated decided the winner of which photographer got to keep their new set of wheels. Despite how awesome it would be to win a free car for taking photos, you could argue that Mercedes-Benz was the real winner. Newfound fans flocked to its social media account in droves through the #CLATakeTheWheel tag, benefiting both the reach of the participants and brand itself. The campaign curated and published the best images on its website, bringing in great brand exposure from a much younger age demographic that high-end luxury automobiles don’t naturally cater toward.

Curating a Following on Etsy’s Pages

However, not all user-centric campaigns are as easy as creating hashtags for fans to filter content through, which makes for a simple everything in one place curation process. Take Etsy’s freshly launched “Pages” for example. With a very Pinterest-esque feel to it, select users (more notable than the average fan) are able to curate both personal and user-generated content on pages organized by creative themes such as vintage, typography, gifts, or even specific color schemes like “red.” Although the launch seems like a surefire hit, Gigaom writer Laura Owen questions the long-term sustainability of such a feature, due an increasing deluge in an over-flooding marketplace, coupled with the concern of potential “curation fatigue.” With many Etsy Pages contributors already owning Pinterest boards and other various social media outlets, discovering new content to feature in real-time can get overwhelming and time-consuming. Unlike Nike and Mercedes-Benz, the curators are the ones mining for gold, not the audience.

Though there are many noticeable distinctions between Nike, Mercedes-Benz and Etsy’s content marketing strategies, the three tend to revolve around a familiar theme: harnessing a recognition of one’s audience and acknowledging the value regular consumers can provide for a brand on the creative front. User-generated content data will continue its rapid growth in today’s evolving digital age and, back to the baseball analogy, they should be seen as ducks on the pond…

It’s up the brand to drive them home.


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