#NoFilter is now mainstream opinion. Embracing imperfect marketing can amplify your performance

Done correctly, User Generated Content (UGC) answers a lot of questions that define how a modern marketer can set up a strategy and succeed in the digital space. You only have to look at the rise in influencer, micro influencer and even nano influencer strategies to see there’s a pointed shift away from solely trusting businesses, and seeking out ‘real’ recommendations and opinions. Far from it being a new revelation, this has been a gradual progression I’ve been seeing in the past decade (and Nielsen has been tracking) across the marketing landscape. 

That isn’t to say traditional marketing doesn’t still work, but there is a weariness to openly trusting what has been said by a business. Cynicism from the fake news era has crept into marketing – we as consumers now question what’s behind the shiny branding before making our decisions.

It’s something very prevalent in the university sector as well with students using a mix of channels to conduct their research before settling on their ultimate decision. What really stood out for me was the opportunity it presented universities to better assist the decision-making process from within their marketing ecosystem.

Students search beyond a university’s marketing to understand the real story.
Source: UCAS December 2020.

The visual age of decision-making

That UCAS graph is really interesting. Taking a look at the top four leading factors in the decision-making process, there’s a clear inner circle of influence in solidifying interest into action. 

A missing factor in the UCAS research is how much of that searching forums and discussions with existing students is via more visual methods. With video on track to make up 82% of all traffic by 2022 and the rise of YouTube, Instagram and even Facebook as alternative search engines, there’s a noticeable shift towards more visual search that needs to be catered for. 

Any concept or notion of visual search becoming the predominant form of research can be taken with a pinch of salt, I do think the university that can produce the most in-depth information about life at their uni will come out as a winner. 

Video in particular is unrivalled in getting – and retaining – engagement if deployed at the right points of a marketing funnel strategy. From attention-grabbing first touch points through to that deep research phase of a decision-making process, video for me has been a go-to in improving bottom-line performance. 

Can No Filter Marketing build trust in your messaging?

For me, this is where UGC comes into its own. If a university could embrace user generated content as a supplement to their brand-heavy marketing strategy, you could actually build overall trust in your marketing channels.

As an example, I recently worked for a foodtech startup where we were very visually focused in our product and marketing approach. Good looking food sells, right? After user feedback and interviews we found a recurring theme – they didn’t believe that what they were seeing is what they’d get. Was well-branded, stylised imagery negatively impacting our performance?

We quickly tested the theory in our social ads campaigns, pitching the same dishes against each other but one set being taken professionally and the other being a phone shot from one of the team. 

The theory held up. Over the testing period we saw a 41% increase in our average click through rates when we used amateur photography.

It was a real a-ha! moment that led us down an avenue of exploring what ‘no filter’ marketing could achieve from a performance perspective. Where it led was to UGC video. We could still control quality through proper editing but the amateur feel; the relatable, approachable style of the content really resonated with the audience. And that translated to our CPA halving for certain campaigns and proved a real accelerator in our growth strategy. 

Taking it back to a university setting, I can see a lot of potential in a university owning a UGC strategy. Taking a proactive approach to what students are researching offsite and creating a user generated content strategy that looks to answer those questions through the eyes of their students is going to not only offer new engagement opportunities during their research and decision-making phase, but it can also enable you to build their trust in your university. 

Deeper Personalisation improves their research

UGC’s costs are also a massive opportunity for marketers. Whilst professional filming can become quite costly – preventing you from creating all the different films you might want to – user generated content is much less cost-prohibitive, allowing you to greater personalise your videos throughout your site. 

Where as that level of granularity would usually take a professional film crew weeks to film, with tools like our h10 studio app, we can have the whole content filmed within a day and be working on editing by day 2, increasing flexibility and control over UGC and reducing turnaround time and cost.