Learning to love user-generated content

It’s unpolished and raw, but UGC is a powerful tool for today’s brands.

Russell Holmes, 03.06.2021

Thrown-together footage from an earlier-generation mobile phone; unboxing demonstrations; hyperbolic reviews with scrappily added captions… the branding professional’s typical view of user-generated content is at best bemusement, at worst, disdain. After all, it’s produced by happy-go-lucky amateurs and doesn’t do justice to the great purpose of the brand that they’ve tirelessly crafted… or does it?

What if we pause for a moment, park our preconceptions and look at what user-generated content is actually saying?
Customer reviews become part of the brand

One of the (often underplayed) goals of branding is to form a deep, true connection with the customer, be she the CFO of a global tech business or a millennial teen beauty consumer. To make her a fan, an advocate… the person who proudly peels the free in-box sticker and slaps it on her MacBook. At this level the brand hasn’t lost control of its appearance — it’s taken on another level of meaning, something intangible and unsaid.

I believe that at this point it’s not become a diluted version of itself. It’s revealing itself as a truly powerful brand, going beyond the level of ‘controlled’ applications and placing itself in the lives and consciousnesses of the customers. Brands aren’t simply created, they are built over time by people, products, events, opportunities, mistakes learned, and happy accidents.

Four years ago, together with a couple of amazingly energetic founders, we created the brand for BURST, a D2C oral care company that has rapidly become one of the US’s fastest-growing eCommerce companies. Even before the consumer launch, the brand had become incredibly popular with dental professionals. At launch it began to evolve a second life on hygienists’ Facebook groups as this audience took BURST to their heart.

Fast forward two years, and when the time came to evolve the brand, we made the decision to embrace the attitude and excitement of the hygienist community. The most appropriate way to do this was by using the content they created, telling their stories.

Among the content that had emerged was the ‘corn test’ — showing how the BURST brush cleans coffee grounds from a corn cob. This simple visual metaphor was developed by a hygienist, and said so much about the brush’s effectiveness. It’s oddness and simplicity spoke directly to the customer, and went viral — eventually even Chrissy Teigen did the corn test.

We redesigned the BURST website to put content such as this front and centre, resulting in a dynamic combination of brand lifestyle imagery, light-hearted GIFs that bring the product features to life, UGC, and reviews. Together the overarching message is one of inclusion and transparency. It’s not simply the company claiming how good their brush is, it’s a platform that allows users to tell their stories.

There is a certain joy to accepting a brand’s place in the world beyond the studio — that the brands we create go on to have their own ‘lives’. Nowhere was this more visible than when we first met a group of BURST’s ambassadors and saw that they’d expressed their love for the brand by getting permanent tattoos of the logo. That’s when you know a brand has created the type of connection that’s impossible to define in words.