How SuitShop boosted top-of-funnel ad results by 50%
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Top-of-funnel (TOF) advertising creates brand awareness and educates customers, but it doesn’t necessarily drive sales. As a result, it’s often difficult for B2C marketers to see a significant ROI. With shorter sales cycles, many B2C marketers usually try to go right for the sale rather than taking the time to nurture their leads.
However, some brands are trying to maximize their top-of-funnel marketing. Several marketers in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) space are reimagining what top of funnel ad content should look like, experimenting with user-generated content (UGC) along with their editorial content.
User-generated content has become a massive asset for eCommerce marketers. In fact, UGC ads see a whopping 4X more clicks at a 50% drop in CPC because user-generated content offers powerful social proof. While user-generated content can take many forms, it’s primarily any media or content created by a consumer of a product, including on-site reviews or photos shared to social media.
The brands that think of their customers as more than just individuals who purchase products will see the best results.
The CEO of social media marketing platform Curalate, Apu Gupta, told the Horton Group in an interview, “Today’s smartest brands view their customers as co-creators. They actively encourage their customers to share their brand-oriented experiences and amplify those experiences by weaving them into their own marketing initiatives.”
One such marketer is Kristen Jones, the director of marketing at The Groomsman Suit (TGS), now simply "SuitShop". She has reinvigorated her top-of-funnel ads with strategic use of UGC.
How a top-of-funnel content experiment led to a strategy rehaul
SuitShop was founded in 2016 as a DTC brand offering inclusive suiting options at accessible price points. Their suits start below $200, which is cheaper than most rentals. Their styles are meant to fit and flatter a variety of bodies. The brand currently operates showrooms in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Denver, though they offer virtual appointments in any location.
SuitShop primary focus for 2021 is to make their brand as inclusive as possible. When they say “suiting for all,” they mean all people, not just the traditional cis-male customer. For Kristen and the SuitShop marketing team, that means ensuring their top-of-funnel marketing content reaches as broad an audience as possible.
Mission in mind, Kristen set to work in the second half of 2020. She had already had experience working with more than 500 eCommerce brands and immediately saw an opportunity for TGS’s top-of-funnel ads: user-generated content. TGS had not yet used any user-generated content on their social media accounts or digital ads, even though their main top-of-funnel channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest) were ripe for UGC ads.
So, one of Kristen’s very first tests was to create a UGC-style ad. For the first test, she made a TikTok from the customer’s perspective that shows newly engaged couples how to shop for suits with TGS. Within a few hours, the ad had 60k views on TikTok and increased website traffic by 20%. This ad is still running and is responsible for driving most of TGS’s top-of-funnel brand awareness.
With that success under her belt, Kristen made user-generated content a high priority for TGS’s paid social strategy. While she does use a mix of content types for the top-of-funnel strategy, UGC or UGC-style content takes the lead. These UGC ads also provide the best ROI, thanks to their cost-effective nature.
A note on utilizing user-generated content: Just because a non-professional content creator shared a photo of your product doesn’t mean you can immediately use it in your marketing efforts.
If they have shared content with your products on a platform you don’t own, make sure to reach out and ask for permission to use the content. (If it’s a photo they’ve posted to your site, such as in a review, you’re free to use that without express permission.)
You need permission from the original creator to use their content. If you want to use a piece of content in more than one campaign, it’s worth asking the author to transfer their copyright entirely to you, so you don’t need to continually ask permission.
Why does UGC work so well?
Kristen says there are many reasons UGC works so well for top-of-funnel ad campaigns.
First, user-generated content is excellent for the primary purpose of top-of-funnel content: education. Customers don’t typically make videos to sell an item but rather explain why and how a product or brand worked for them.
What’s more, a UGC creator will do so in a way your audience understands and uses rather than in marketing jargon. And most importantly, viewers find UGC explainer videos more trustworthy than any type of branded content.
Second, user-generated content, like wedding photos and videos, increases representation in the SuitShop ads. Having real customers discuss real problems relatable to TGS’s audience makes the content all that more relatable.
“Combining this representation with the educational aspect of UGC is helpful in converting them into actual customers,” explains Kristen.
Finally, user-generated content looks “native” to the social platform it's promoted on, creating authenticity. This is a critical component in capturing the trust of TGS’s target market, younger millennials and Gen Z.
By amplifying the voices of real people, user-generated content is able to overcome the perception that your content is strategically chosen to take money from the consumer. Also, according to a study by Stackla, 60% of consumers think user-generated content is the most authentic content to see from brands.
“This style of ad [user-generated content] often doesn't look like an "ad,” says Kristen. “It looks as if it natively belongs in the viewer’s feeds or stories.”
Because of this, user-generated content enables SuitShop to effectively capture the viewer’s attention to entertain and educate, which then allows the viewer to choose whether they want to click on the ad or not.
SuitShop's top of funnel playbook
Now that she knows what works best for SuitShop's top-of-funnel advertising, Kristen has established a playbook.
Rule one: The SuitShop team needs to be immersed in current social media content within the wedding space.
“Not consuming enough content to understand what's trending and being received is one of the biggest mistakes brands make when creating top-of-funnel content,” says Kristen.
She sets aside 30-60 minutes daily to scroll through her feeds so that she’s able to know what her audience is talking about and how they’re using content to address those issues. Social media, after all, is a zeitgeist at its core, and you cannot tap into that without being a part of the community.
Rule two: One thing Kristen sees many brands failing at is to keep content customer-centric. Top-of-funnel content is not about making the sale; it’s about educating your audience and providing solutions to their problems.
Kristen goes beyond scrolling through her feeds to learn what questions her audience is asking. She’s gone so far as to set up automated emails to offer help and answer frequently asked questions from a customer support team member.
Kristen uses the responses from those emails and the questions people leave on TGS’s paid ads to identify ways to improve their content.
“By knowing these commonly asked questions, you can answer them right in the ad creative!” says Kristen.
Rule three: The ABCs of top-of-funnel ads are Always Be (Sourcing) Content. Kristen looks for user-generated content everywhere—beyond what she sees from TGS customers.
She’s partnered with influencers and TGS website models for content. She’s created her own UGC-style content. She’s even rallied her friends and partner to help her create content.
Rule four: Iterate, experiment, and never stop testing. Kristen has tried out all kinds of UGC-style ads by now.
For example, she’s used real wedding photos from customers to create Instagram Story ads. Those ads perform up to 50% better on average than their editorial ads. Kristen’s also replicated her TikTok-style UGC ad for mid-funnel campaigns and has found success in driving showroom appointments. UGC may become more important for their mid-funnel ads if the success continues.
Kristen’s recommendations for top of funnel content
Kristen has plenty of recommendations for her fellow marketers when it comes to creating top-of-funnel content. She’s learned a lot through trial and error, and other marketers should take a page from her experience.
1. Don’t try to make the sale
Don’t forget that top-of-funnel content is meant to be educational. Kristen says to save the dynamic product content for the bottom of the funnel creative. Even mid-funnel customer actions, like booking appointments, are not the point behind TOF ads. Top-of-funnel ads are primarily for driving first-time traffic.
So instead, focusing on presenting your customers with information on how your brand as a whole solves their problems. For TGS, this means creating top-of-funnel ads that communicate how SuitShop takes the hassle out of buying a suit.
Once that baseline knowledge has been established, Kristen uses ads that promote some of TGS’s solutions, like their free at-home trial.
2. Make your own UGC
Finding good user-generated content can be difficult. Some brands need to run campaigns for months to encourage customers to create and share content that can be reused in the desired way.
If you’re having a hard time sourcing good user-generated content, Kristen suggests you make some “U” GC yourself. UGC-style content is both easy and cost-effective.
“If you have a physical product, you can probably just use a cute corner of your house with natural lighting and your iPhone to take some nice shots that look as if your customer did it. Use your own social feeds to inspire the angles and aesthetic as a guide,” says Kristen.
The key is to be immersed in your target audience that aligns with the content they’re already creating. UGC-style content shouldn’t stand out; it should fit in.
3. Pay for your UGC
Lacking the inspiration or time to create your own UGC? Pay for it, Kristen says.
There are plenty of creator networks with individuals looking to get paid to create UGC for brands. Kristen herself participates in one of these networks as a side hobby.
Consider providing your brand’s models with additional compensation to provide you with content they create about your brand. You could even send your friends and family items in exchange for them making and sharing content about the products.
Trying out UGC in top of funnel campaigns
Nowadays, there’s so much content out there that viewers have become discerning about what kind of content they consume—and trust.
So while a UGC-style ad may grant a few seconds of watch time before the viewer notices they’re watching paid content, it’s still the content of the video that will make or break your success.
Keeping your customer at the center of your ads by answering questions, educating, and creating content that resonates with them is ultimately what will make your ads connect with your audience.