When you do a search for a stock photo of the term “marketing”, what kind of images do you get? I’m 99.999% certain that your results will include at least one megaphone.

While you probably don’t want to be using a cheesy stock photo of a megaphone, this icon indicates a fundamental weakness of traditional marketing. Historically, a marketer’s job has been to develop messages that will resonate with a brand’s target audience and then distribute those messages using a variety of channels. Once we’ve done that, we sit back and wait, hoping that someone will take the initiative to buy from us.

The problem is that this type of interaction goes against the way we operate in most other areas of life. For example, we tend to withhold some level of confidence from people until we’ve talked to them enough to know whether they’re trustworthy. We want to know who it is we’re dealing with before we open ourselves up to them. And yet, brands ask consumers to take a leap of faith and to trust that what they say about themselves is true. It’s like agreeing to go on vacation with someone you only know from their Tinder profile.

Brands have started to address this disconnect in their marketing tactics, and platforms like social networks and review sites have opened up the opportunity for consumers to start to talk back to brands. No longer is marketing a one-way monologue; now, it’s a two-way conversation.

Unfortunately, our marketing content seems to be lagging behind. Most of the content we create is still pushed out in one direction without engaging anyone in a dialog that we can use to build a real relationship. There are two recent trends that are starting to change that, though: User-Generated Content (UGC) and personalized content consumption.

Let’s explore how these two trends are transforming static content into a collaborative conversation between brands and customers.

UGC: Enabling Active Participation in Brand Storytelling

Both consumer and B2B brands are learning how to leverage content created by their fans to drive active participation in the stories they’re telling. A few ways brands are sourcing UGC include:

1. Contests

A contest can be a great way to generate content for your brand to re-use on your social media accounts, blog, and website.

Red Bull Instagram Contest

Source: Red Bull

2. Account Takeovers

Letting your employees, customers, or partners take over your social media accounts for a day can be a great way to cross-promote your company while generating exciting new content for your channels.

Instagram Account Takeover

Source: Food52

3. Customer Spotlights

There’s no better way to show off your own products or services than to let your customers do it for you. Brands are starting to come up with strategic campaigns that put their customers in the spotlight—while also making them look great.

Customer Spotlight - Pinterest

Source: Canva

4. Collaborations

A collaboration between you and your audience can lead to some highly unique content for your brand. One example of this is Burberry’s Acoustic project, which features original music from songwriters in the UK.

Customer Collaborations

Source: Burberry

Personalized Content Consumption

Traditional content marketing involves building one static piece of content that you share with all of your prospects and customers. Today, we now have advanced technology that allows us to personalize the content consumption experience for our viewers. There are three primary ways that brands are personalizing their content programs:

1. Personalized Distribution

Using CRM, marketing automation, and other personalization programs, marketers can now distribute content in a smarter way. Instead of pushing the same assets to the same people, you can now choose which content to share with specific people at specific times.

Personalized Content Delivery

2. Content Personalization

With the technology mentioned above, you can also personalize the content you serve up by pulling in demographic, geographic, and firmographic data to provide a highly relevant experience.

Geotargeted Content

Source: xAd

3. Interactive Content

Using quizzes, assessments, and interactive versions of the traditional content types you know and love (think whitepapers, eBooks, infographics, and case studies), viewers are invited to actively participate in the story being told. The end user controls what content they see and how deeply they want to explore. To close the loop, every interaction is tracked and reported back to you so you can gain insight into which portions of your content are most engaging.

Source: Contently

How UGC and Personalization Drive More Conversation

Both user-generated content and a personalized content experience can drive conversations between your brand and your audience.

  • User-generated content automatically drives conversation between the content providers (your followers) and your brand. By asking your audience to share with you, and then re-sharing their content with your community, you provide a catalyst for back-and-forth dialog. This type of exchange can drive a continued uplift in engagement as long as your brand responds to comments and feedback in a timely manner.
  • Personalized content consumption takes long-form content out of the black box of one-way communication and allows you to discover your viewers’ preferences. With the right tracking in place, you can learn what people are interested in and where they’re investing time. You can also learn more about how your audience explores your stories so you can tailor your content in the future.

The Bottom Line

The future of content marketing is two-way conversation and collaborative creation between brands and their audiences. UGC and personalization are just the beginning of this evolution.

For even more content tips, check out our interactive guide: