Interview: gets real with user-generated content

Furniture e-tailer was an early adopter of leveraging user-generated content (UGC) for marketing, but the way it deploys UGC has evolved.

In summer 2014, the company – which describes itself as a tech firm as much as it is a retailer – launched its own social network, Made Unboxed, encouraging consumers to share images of products in situ in their own homes.

Part online showcase for how its furniture and furnishings could look in a real home and part networking site, it was an opportunity for the retailer to break down that common digital retailing challenge of providing product context. It was also a way of fostering a community of like-minded individuals – a form of tribal marketing, where the brand became the point of exchange between its customer base.

But the growing popularity of Instagram and the advent of social sharing tools in the years since have effectively rendered the separate Made-run platform superfluous. It no longer needs to run its own social site – it just needs to be creative in the way in uses third-party platforms.

Chief creative officer (CCO), Jo Jackson, tells Essential Retail: “Unboxed was restricted in visibility in that someone needed to know it was there on before uploading their imagery.

“But if you base the concept of sharing imagery on tagging and hashtagging via existing social networks, your pool of participants gets automatically wider.”

And that is exactly what has happened at the furniture retailer. So much so, that it is part way through a multi-country marketing campaign which utilises real-life imagery from its influencers and customers, and it is mapping out more for spring/summer 2020.

UGC-powered marketing

At the start of October, the ‘Design your happy place’ campaign was launched, where fans of the brand were encouraged to upload images of Made products in their home to Instagram with the #MADEdesign hashtag for a chance to appear in marketing material.

Before the campaign began, Made already had 38,000 pieces of UGC tagged with @madedotcom or #MADEdesign – and that has swelled over the last few weeks. These images have been filtered down to six key hero images and 40 pictures that can be used over digital media, while 15,000 approved images have been banked to support the marketing drive across multiple channels.

“It’s significantly different to anything we’ve done before and comes from our fans,” Jackson notes.

“UGC is part of contemporary marketing for direct to consumer brands. We need to show our product in context when you can’t see it in real life. It’s a really important part of the user journey.”

German TV presenter Rabea Schif is one of the influencers taking part in the campaign
German TV presenter Rabea Schif is one of the influencers taking part in the campaign

UGC and social listening tool Olapic helps harvest the content, hosting it on a dashboard that Made uses to select the best material. The software company’s platform then automatically requests and verifies usage for marketing campaigns.

“We have a great database of what we know has been pre-approved,” Jackson explains, adding that around 90% of the consumers issued with a request give their permission to use imagery.

Photo pixel quality can be an issue when the images are enlarged, acknowledges the CCO, and that has led to Made reshooting some of the UGC.

Influencers taking part in the campaign alongside consumers with a smaller social following, include interior design duo Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead @2lgstudio, French model and body positive Youtuber @coucoulesgirls, and German TV presenter @rabeaschif.

The campaign content is visible across 11 European markets, on TV, in print and across digital out of home, digital banners, fly posting, and social, as well as in Made’s showroom windows.

New concepts

Made Unboxed has morphed into Shop Instagram, a webpage with a selection of customer images that have been tagged #MADEdesign.

Customers keen to have a chance of getting their interior shots displayed on the site can upload them via the website or mention @madedotcom in their Instagram photos – and if Made approves them, other consumers can shop the look.

Meanwhile, the retailer’s new physical concept, ‘Made Spaces’, is turning apartments, boathouses and treehouses into mobile showrooms, where customers are invited to meet the people behind the brand, and touch and feel products in a unique environment.

“Made Spaces is our version of pop-ups,” Jackson explains, adding that just opening a location for a closed period of time can create an ongoing online audience in that particular geographical region.

“We’re a homeware brand so why not do it in houses, homes and other living spaces, where we can invite people to parties and do something a bit differently?”

Made opened an apartment above its Amsterdam showroom in October, which will be used by the company for customer events, photoshoots, talks and workshops. Jackson calls the space, which is entirely kitted out with Made products, “the most Instagrammable apartment ever”.

Asked what Made would do without Instagram, Jackson talks up the platform’s power but says there are plenty of other ways the company is reaching new audiences and retaining its shoppers.

“Instagram is a great tool but not our only one – we have some awesome projects coming up with Pinterest, using pins for visual search,” she explains.

That initiative is awaiting Pinterest approval, but it’s full steam ahead for the UGC marketing. Big billboards displaying the content will be appearing in high footfall London locations like Waterloo station over the coming weeks, as Made continues to put its brand among the people – and attach people to its brand.