Photos taken by consumers are popping up all over brand channels as marketers leverage user-generated content (UGC) to signal authenticity and resonate with consumers. Research has found that a majority of consumers — especially Millennials — trust customer photos more than brand or professional imagery. But many brands fall short by positioning UGC at the top of the funnel to boost brand equity rather than employing it along the path to purchase in order to drive conversion. While UGC can play an important role in conversion, often consumer-generated images are not shoppable
. The eight brands here are among the more adept in integrating content from users.

1. Starwood

Starwood’s brands leverage the power of UGC across platforms and integrate guest Instagram photos directly into property pages on each brand site. The “Guest Gallery” is property-specific and pulls from Instagram but keeps users on the brand site by not linking back to the original posts. Each post is tagged under Dining, Hotel, Rooms or #SPGLife, and all images can be filtered to match user interests. The gallery also expertly integrates content and commerce — a large “Book Now” button next to each image links directly to the Room Selection element of the booking process.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.02.29 AM2. Target

Last November, Target enhanced its popular iPad app to incorporate its highly used brand hashtag #TargetStyle as a standalone tab. Within the tab, fans are encouraged to post photos with the hashtag, and products are then linked to below the image for e-commerce hand-off. The brand found that guests who visited the #TargetStyle page in November and December 2014 were twice as likely as guests overall to convert .

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.04.32 AM3. Benefit Cosmetics

Digitally savvy brands are beginning to incorporate UGC into all consumer touchpoints, not just the product page. A global leader in UGC, Benefit frequently integrates user-generated snaps into product launch campaigns. In one campaign, Benefit asked customers to post Instagram photos of themselves wearing “they’re real!” mascara, tagged with #realsies, for a chance to win a year’s worth
of mascara. Submissions were streamed to populate a dynamic on-site gallery and also used to generate retargeted display ad units. The campaign generated more than 11,000 submissions. On Benefit’s brand site, within the “Glam Gallery,” the marketer provides instructions for appearing on 
the product page and an option to upload photos directly to the site.

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4. Free People

Embracing UGC earlier than most brands, Free People launched the online community FPMe in 2013. An in-house hybrid of Instagram and Pinterest, FPMe features a scrapbook-style feed of user images where brand fans can like, comment, follow or shop the substantial body of content. Individual product pages feature relevant UGC images. Shoppers are invited to add their own images to listings, either directly or by granting access to their Instagram accounts. Free People’s dedication to UGC reached new heights in September with “#FPSelfieEdition,” a look-book sourced entirely from customers. Featured prominently on the brand’s home page, it rewarded user loyalty and participation.

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5. Sephora

Sephora redefined UGC marketing last year when it launched Beauty Board, a searchable “social shopping platform” that’s explicitly commerce-oriented. Consumers upload photos of their beauty looks and tag them using an intuitive upload interface with auto-complete functionality. Viewers can then click through to buy the products, down to the shade level. By tapping into its robust Beauty Insiders community, Sephora has achieved unprecedented levels of engagement and upload volume, averaging 50-plus unique photos a day on Beauty Board. The retailer maximizes the initiative by promoting UGC looks on relevant product pages

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6. West Elm

West Elm started weaving Instagram into its e-commerce experience 
in late 2013 with a shoppable UGC gallery and feeds from local Instagram accounts added to store-locator pages. A year ago, the retailer started placing UGC images on product pages, and it is now leveraging UGC in its digital advertising to tell rich consumer-powered stories. Based on the conversion rates achieved by these photos, West Elm repurposes images for Facebook-sponsored posts and retargeted banner ads.

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7. Timberland

Timberland has experienced accelerated sales growth in every category and market following a massive rebranding last year under new parent VF Corporation. The new initiative has shifted brand advertising to a lifestyle rather than a product focus. To this end, the #InMyElement page on Timberland’s brand site encourages fans to upload photos of favorite moments in their daily lives that incorporate Timberland products. The site also features Instagram images bearing that hashtag, along with #Timberland-tagged images.

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8. Hyatt Hotels

Hyatt partnered with Movable Ink and Olapic to create a targeted email campaign matching recipients’ interests to user-generated images from specific properties. The brand pulled in images via location tags at Hyatt’s Hawaii properties, as well as those from its boutique luxury brand, Andaz. In the trial, customers who signed up for Hyatt email and indicated an interest in Hawaii or Andaz properties received emails featuring appropriate UGC images, updated in real time.

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