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Traditional vs. User Generated Content: Which is Better?

Content marketing is one of the fastest-growing subfields in marketing. Especially in a digital world, it’s critical to building brand voice, driving traffic, creating value, and ultimately, driving revenue. Every day, there are more and more innovative ways to source this content.  Beyo
Jenn Wang
November 13, 2020
April 11, 2024

Content marketing is one of the fastest-growing subfields in marketing. Especially in a digital world, it’s critical to building brand voice, driving traffic, creating value, and ultimately, driving revenue. Every day, there are more and more innovative ways to source this content. 

Beyond sourcing content traditionally, it’s becoming even more popular to integrate customer ideas into content in a practice called “user-generated content”, or “UGC”. 

That leaves content marketers with a choice: go with traditionally sourced content, or experiment with UGC. It’s a big decision because you don’t want to be leaving money or traffic on the table. It’s more important than ever to make data-driven decisions about which content is driving the best results across all your brand channels. 

What is Traditional Content? 

Traditional content, often just referred to plainly as “content”, is the default way of sourcing your brand’s content. It’s text, video, reviews, photos, etc that are researched, and created, by either your brand’s in-house team or your advertising agency. If you are a writer, designer, content marketer, or art director for your brand, chances are you use traditionally sourced content all the time. 

In practice, this looks like a blog article, where you’ve done your subject matter research and then you write a post based on that research, for your target audience. It could be a social media post where the photo was taken by your product photographer, and the caption written by your social team or copywriter. 

Key Features of Traditional Content

  • Has text, images, video, reviews, etc that are attributed to a brand, not a person
  • The content is usually not publicly credited to any one person, rather exists as a piece of the brand itself (the exception being some industry award shows where the content creators are publicly acknowledged.) 
  • This content is created by a professional, usually a creative by trade, who specializes in content marketing, copywriting, social media, design, photography, videography, or some combination of all
  • Traditional content is typically more polished and adheres to brand voice and style 

What is User Generated Content? 

This might leave you wondering, exactly what is UGC? At its core, user-generated content just means content that is created by your audience. This could include videos, photos, reviews, comments, social posts, or blogs written by your consumers. Then as a content marketer, you can take that material and repurpose it in your own content. 

In practice, this could look like asking a question on your brand’s Facebook page, and quoting the answers in your next blog article. It could be asking all your customers to share an image on social media with a hashtag and choosing a customer photo or two to share on your own social media account, maybe even with a quote from the customer as the caption. 

For some real-life examples of UGC, check out our 10 Examples of Top Brands Leveraging User Generated Content

Key Features of User Generated Content

  • Has text, images, video, reviews, etc that are attributed to a person, not a brand
  • The content is often publicly credited to the person who contributed
  • The content is created not by a professional in the brand’s industry, nor an influencer, but rather by an average customer
  • UGC is usually less polished, and perhaps more authentic, than traditionally sourced content, and likely does not use branded language 

Read about how we think about UGC.

Traditional vs. UGC

In reality, you can use a combination of both UGC and traditional content. But to pitch a strategy to your team, you need to be able to articulate the benefits and key metrics of both methods. 

Benefits of UGC

  • Cost: UGC is usually free or less expensive to produce since you’re spending less time and money on production and research. With a customer creating the content, you can repurpose it with less work than creating something from scratch. 
  • Quantity: When you’re testing out content, quantity matters. UGC can be produced and scaled out across multiple channels relatively quickly, especially compared to more labor-intensive traditional content. 
  • Variety: With anything crowd-sourced, you’ll get a bunch of ideas you’d never thought of. Two heads are better than one, after all. With UGC, you get a wide selection of content to incorporate, without drafting or coming up with all those ideas yourself. 
  • Trust and Credibility: UGC lends a sense of real-world authenticity that is crucial to reaching people in an age of general distrust of advertising. It shows that there are real people who value your product, and your brand cares about those people enough to feature them.  

Drawbacks of UGC

  • Control: You don’t have as much say over what someone writes in a review that you are quoting in your blog. A consumer might not use the same branded language as your professional copywriter would. You can choose which consumers to feature, but you can only pick from what is available. 
  • Quality: This drawback is actually a little bit of a content myth, but still worth mentioning. Yes, you are getting content created by everyday people, not by artists and craftspeople, so the quality won’t be as consistent. Your users did not go to art school. 

But you will also likely have some consumers who create beautiful, and truly personable content. iPhones can now shoot in 4K, and ring lights aren’t just for influencers or film students anymore. The tools for content creation are much more accessible than they were even 5 years ago. 

Benefits of Traditionally Sourced Content

  • Quality Control: Traditionally sourced content is created by creative professionals, that understand how this content should look for your brand. There is a level of quality that comes with the training and schooling these creatives have. 
  • Project Management: It’s easier to keep using the workflow you already have than to change it up. Likely, you are already creating traditionally sourced content. You know how long it will take, how much it will cost, what the ROI is, and have a good idea of what it will look like. You know how to budget for this workflow. 
  • Research: With traditionally sourced content, you know what type of research and informed opinion you are getting. You can control why type of information is included in the content, and most importantly, how accurate that information is. 
  • Brand Voice: Nobody knows your brand like you do, and traditional content leaves more space to weave in brand voice and perspective. You can control the language and presentation of your service or product. 

Drawbacks of Traditionally Sourced Content

  • Time: Traditional content takes longer to create. You need to organize your photographers, writers, video production team, what have you, and get everything cleared and approved by leadership. All this takes time. 
  • Cost: In the marketing world, it’s fair to say that time is money. For traditional content, you need to hire a team of creatives. Even small projects, like a blog post, need at the very least a writer. An Instagram post needs a poster and a photographer. These people are experts and their work requires compensation. The cost per piece of content goes up. 
  • Customer Relationship: Traditional content by its very nature, isn’t including a customer’s POV. It’s not building the same level of reciprocity, trust, and intimacy as UGC, because it’s not created by and for the user. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s definitely something to consider when choosing traditional content. 

Which is Better, Traditional or UGC Content? 

Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your brand and your goals. Both UGC and traditionally-sourced content have some major perks. So honestly? Worst case scenario isn’t that you’ve decided to go with one over the other. Both are viable and successful options. 

Worst case scenario is leaving money on the table because you don’t want to try something new. You could very well be missing out on potential revenue by not testing UGC vs. traditionally sourced content. 

The winning content sourcing strategy is whatever works better for each individual organization. But you won’t know what works best until you test and collect data on what performs best with your customers and your clients. Data and results speak to leadership teams, so test both these strategies out, and figure out which one will drive more revenue for your brand. 

How Cohley Can Help

Testing different content sourcing models can be really challenging. Not sure how to get started finding and using UGC to test against traditionally sourced content? Cohley allows brands to test the efficacy of UGC vs. traditionally sourced content at scale. Click the button below to request a demo with one of Cohley’s UGC specialists. We can help you collect the data you need, to build the best strategy for your brand.

Jenn Wang
VP of Enterprise Strategy
Jenn is all about challenging the status quo of content generation and creating a flawless system that works for Cohley's customers. Outside of work, Jenn can be found planning her next vacation, eating seafood, or patting every dog she sees.