Akira Suzuki currently serves as head of X Design Center at TikTok Ads Japan. An MBA graduate of Hitotsubashi University, Suzuki joined Dentsu and began his career as a strategic planner in 2007.As a creative leader, he has directed many marketing campaigns for global and Japanese clients. His work has been recognized at over 170 international awards including Cannes Lions, D&AD, OneShow, Clio and so on.
All of which puts him in a very good position to comment on the current state of affairs in the UGC market.
It doesn’t take a seasoned marketer to know that UGC is huge in content marketing right now. Not all brands however, know how to leverage it effectively. In fact, knowing how to use UGC properly is becoming more challenging, exacerbated by two ‘competing’ definitions of quality, according to Suzuki.
“The first definition of quality focuses on the ‘craft’, as people in the advertising industry calls. It’s a about whether images and videos are beautifully produced and done. The second definition focuses on whether a piece of content works or not—in other words, whether it raises brand awareness or results in leads.”
Suzuki thinks digital natives don’t care about ‘craft’ as much as older generations. “They skip the professionally created videos as it’s obvious to them that they are advertising content”. As such, the success of UGC needs to be judged by whether they work or not, he says.
What makes a successful UGC campaign? Here, UGC works in similar ways to a traditional ad campaign. The most important thing is having a focused message. “If you have five or six messages to you want to send to the audience, which would ultimately result in a 15-minute-long TV commercial, it’s like asking your viewers to go through an entire catalogue. You should focus on one message or theme, and create effective content around it. UGC works in the same way. If you give influencers or users a definitive brief, they’d be able to send a clearer message to their followers and fans.”
Another thing that advertisers have to look out for is “to balance rules of a campaign and giving influencers or users enough space to create their own content”, says Suzuki.
Advertisers who don’t believe in the power of UGC will try to restrict creators with all sorts of ‘rules’, which might easily result in content that looks and sounds the same.
The important thing is to set restriction but also enough space for content creators to exercise their originality. Suzuki gives the example of # Mode runway, a campaign he worked on. A collaboration with Tokyo Mode Gakeun, “# Mode runway’s only rule to dress up according to one’s personal style and strike poses around town. Over 20,000 videos were created, with the number of views reaching 120 million.
How could brands better communicate with their target audiences? First, they need to truly understand the platform they’re working with, which often means understanding the kind of people who are using the platform and the kind of content they find interesting.
“One topic that came up at ad:tech Tokyo 2019 was, ‘should our bosses in the company use TikTok or not?’. People need to download the app and try it out on their own. The experience would open their eyes”.
Some say that young people use social media to fulfil their desire for recognition. “I don’t think that is the reason. They simply want to have a good time. It brings them joy to share what they think is interesting with friends and in their community. ”
Advertisers also need to recalibrate the ‘we pay for this, so we have the right to place ads anywhere, anytime we like to’ old way of thinking.
“That is the worst way to think. The most unpopular posts are those which make users feel that advertisers are intruding on the good time they’re having on the platform. Now, more than ever, when ads are easily skippable, it is crucial for brands to understand the community they’re speaking to and come up with effective communication strategies.”
Suzuki also emphasises the importance of interacting directly with digital-native users. “For instance, young people who were born in mid-90s already work at your company as freshmen. You should talk to them, start by having lunch to get their thoughts.”
What does he think the marketing will be like the future? How will the rise of omnichannel marketing impact the industry?
“People in the advertising industry often use the expression ‘from 360 to 365’. That means the style of the marketing is shifting from ‘360 degrees marketing’ which sends information to the audience using all kinds of media, to marketing that accompanies consumers for 365 days a year. This way of thinking is closer to omnichannel marketing. The concept of ‘funnel’ is falling apart; all the elements such as service, communication and consumption are going to be integrated. From now on, the most successful marketers are those know how to integrate all the touch points—across online and offline.”