There’s no deny­ing that social media has dras­ti­cal­ly changed the way peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate, shop and expe­ri­ence the world. But as con­sumers look to social media and oth­er dig­i­tal chan­nels to dis­cov­er prod­ucts, make pur­chas­ing deci­sions and inter­act with brands, what types of con­tent do they seek and trust most?

As it turns out, it’s not the con­tent brands are spend­ing lots of mon­ey to pro­duce, but the con­tent con­sumers them­selves are cre­at­ing and shar­ing online every day — user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent (UGC).

Stack­la recent­ly sur­veyed 1,590 con­sumers and 150 B2C mar­keters from the U.S., UK, and Aus­tralia, to uncov­er the gaps that exist between the con­tent con­sumers want and what mar­keters believe they’re pro­vid­ing — the results of which should serve as both a warn­ing and an oppor­tu­ni­ty for mar­keters every­where.

Authenticity has never been more important

Though it prob­a­bly won’t come as a big sur­prise, ad-exhaust­ed audi­ences are increas­ing­ly look­ing for authen­tic­i­ty.

A whop­ping 90% of con­sumers said that authen­tic­i­ty is impor­tant when decid­ing which brands they like and sup­port — up from 86% in 2017. And mar­keters under­stand how much authen­tic­i­ty mat­ters, with 83% say­ing authen­tic­i­ty is very impor­tant to their brands, and 61% believ­ing authen­tic­i­ty is the most impor­tant com­po­nent of impact­ful con­tent.

So just how authen­tic and effec­tive is the con­tent brands are pro­duc­ing? That depends on who you ask.

An over­whelm­ing 92% of mar­keters believe that most or all of the con­tent they cre­ate res­onates as authen­tic with con­sumers. Yet the major­i­ty of con­sumers dis­agree, with 51% say­ing less than half of brands cre­ate con­tent that res­onates as authen­tic.

How can mar­keters be so off-base when they clear­ly rec­og­nize that authen­tic­i­ty is what con­sumers seek? The answer can be found in the types of con­tent mar­keters view as authen­tic.

Marketers underestimate the authenticity and influence of UGC

User-gen­er­at­ed con­tent is viewed as the most authen­tic form of con­tent by con­sumers glob­al­ly, with 58% of con­sumers agree­ing. Mar­keters are on a dif­fer­ent page.

While con­sumers are 2.4x more like­ly to say UGC is most authen­tic, when com­pared to brand-cre­at­ed con­tent, mar­keters are 2.1x more like­ly to say brand-cre­at­ed con­tent is most authen­tic in com­par­i­son to UGC.

Here­in lies a cru­cial issue for mar­keters — they believe that authen­tic­i­ty is the most impor­tant com­po­nent of effec­tive con­tent, yet the con­tent they per­ceive to be most authen­tic — brand-cre­at­ed con­tent — is not the con­tent their audi­ences view as most authen­tic.

Beyond being seen as the most authen­tic, user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent is also the most influ­en­tial con­tent con­sumers ref­er­ence when mak­ing pur­chas­ing deci­sions. Most con­sumers say that they’ve made pur­chas­ing deci­sions based on user-gen­er­at­ed visu­als — 57% have made plans to dine at a par­tic­u­lar restau­rant, 54% have pur­chased a con­sumer pack­aged good and 52% have made plans to trav­el to a spe­cif­ic des­ti­na­tion based on a con­sumer-cre­at­ed image or video.

Glob­al­ly, 79% of peo­ple say user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent high­ly impacts their pur­chas­ing deci­sions — up from 60% in 2017 — while only 13% say con­tent from a brand is impact­ful, and a mere 8% say influ­encer-cre­at­ed con­tent would high­ly impact their pur­chas­ing deci­sions.

The wan­ing influ­ence of celebri­ty and/or influ­encer con­tent is an indi­ca­tor that every­day con­sumers’ trust in social media influ­encers has been shak­en in the wake of numer­ous reports of fake and fraud­u­lent influ­encer behav­ior (we’ve all seen at least one of the doc­u­men­taries on the Fyre Fes­ti­val at this point, right?).

But although con­sumers find user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent 9.8x more impact­ful than influ­encer con­tent, near­ly half of mar­keters (49%) are plan­ning to increase their invest­ment in influ­encer mar­ket­ing in 2019.

See­ing as the cost of influ­encer mar­ket­ing can range any­where from $250 per Insta­gram post to upwards of $500,000 per YouTube video accord­ing to Digi­day, this may not be the most effec­tive use of brands’ mar­ket­ing dol­lars.

Marketers feel pressure to produce more content, but aren’t investing in the content consumers seek

The pun­ish­ing pace of today’s news and tech­nol­o­gy cycle has deep­ened the con­tent chal­lenges of mod­ern mar­keters. Now, not only do you need to pro­duce more com­pelling and visu­al con­tent to break through in an increas­ing­ly clut­tered land­scape, but you also need to ensure that con­tent is always fresh.

Half of the mar­keters say pro­duc­ing or sourc­ing enough engag­ing visu­als is a top con­tent chal­lenge, and 63% feel pres­sure to con­tin­u­al­ly pro­duce greater amounts of con­tent at a high­er fre­quen­cy. But the greater the demand, the more cru­cial it is to pri­or­i­tize the con­tent that’s going to be most effec­tive at attract­ing and moti­vat­ing audi­ences — yet, 67% of mar­keters are plan­ning to increase their use of brand-cre­at­ed pho­tos and videos in 2019, although only 15% of con­sumers say that’s the type of con­tent they most want to see from brands.

So what type of con­tent do con­sumers want from brands? You guessed it: UGC.

Fifty-six per­cent of con­sumers say the types of con­tent they most want to see from brands are user-gen­er­at­ed pho­tos and videos — and they’re con­stant­ly cre­at­ing them.

Consumers create the content they seek from brands

While mar­keters are increas­ing­ly strug­gling to cre­ate enough con­tent, every­day peo­ple have become the world’s great­est con­tent cre­ators. The major­i­ty of peo­ple say they would post about a wide vari­ety of pos­i­tive brand and prod­uct expe­ri­ences — trav­el to a des­ti­na­tion, din­ing at a restau­rant, using a new health and beau­ty prod­uct or pur­chas­ing a new car.

And most are shar­ing these expe­ri­ences with the hopes that brands will notice, say­ing they would not only wel­come but reward brands for using the con­tent they cre­ate. In fact, 51% of peo­ple say they’d be more like­ly to con­tin­ue engag­ing with and/or pur­chas­ing from a brand if it shared their pho­to, video or post through­out its mar­ket­ing.

How marketers can bridge the content gap

In order to bridge these gaps in per­cep­tion, mar­keters need to move away from the expen­sive and time-con­sum­ing pro­fes­sion­al con­tent they cur­rent­ly pri­or­i­tize and lis­ten to what glob­al con­sumers have repeat­ed­ly declared through­out this report — the authen­tic­i­ty and influ­ence of user-gen­er­at­ed visu­als are what peo­ple seek, trust and act on most.

By strate­gi­cal­ly tap­ping into the con­tent con­sumers freely crave and cre­ate, mar­keters can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly solve their con­tent pro­duc­tion and authen­tic­i­ty chal­lenges, while also reduc­ing their costs and deliv­er­ing more rel­e­vant, engag­ing and influ­en­tial con­tent expe­ri­ences for their audi­ences.