Big data gathered through social and other sources are full of insights and trends to help businesses make smarter choices in a rapidly changing market. The most predictive content for what’s coming and what consumers will want next comes straight from the shopper’s mouth in the form of user-generated content.

UGC leads to product improvements and new product development.

Gone are the days when brands could innovate in a vacuum. Customer data removes the guesswork from innovation, revealing exactly what product owners want through their own words. Looking for trends in what consumers say helps brands innovate more quickly and with less risk, says UTA Co-Founder & Chief Branding Officer Laurence Vincent:

“The technology moves so quickly that if you’re listening and understanding how people are using the product, you can rapidly iterate and move on.”

Even large, established companies with a multitude of products find UGC gives them more ideas and makes them more nimble, says 3M Vice President, Global eTransfomation Raj Rao:

“Being a company known for innovation, the ultimate metric that we’re held to is how many new products we’re able to deliver to the marketplace. And when R&D embraces digital and starts looking at multi-touch technologies and digital health, I think it gets very exciting when we see a pipeline of innovation… It’s just those insights that we’re able to get from connecting with customers. That’s the ultimate metric.”

Gathering UGC is one thing; effectively analyzing it is another. An obvious place to look for product improvement ideas is in one- and two-star reviews, where people explicitly say what they disliked about the purchase. It’s one good reason to embrace negative feedback, says Gap, Inc.’s Christina Thorpe:

“We sell over 20,000 products on our website. So there are bad products in there, and we learn things about fit or quality or material through the reviews. We need to take those lumps and make those products better.”

It’s not only the bad reviews that offer constructive feedback, though. Many three- and four-star reviews contain recommendations for modifications that could push the product to five stars. America First Credit Union Service Quality Manger Lisette Thurgood suggests searching for specific keywords to find those suggestions:

“We have a list probably of 25 keywords that we go through and look at every single month out of the feedback that we’re getting… stuff like ‘I wish’ or ‘I want’ … looking for those keywords I think is probably your best bet.”

This post is an excerpt from The Social Trends Report 2014. Download the full report here to learn 2014s top trends from the world’s foremost marketers, social strategists, and business thinkers shaping the digital marketplace.

Consumer words power authentic, effective marketing messages.

In addition to improving products themselves, UGC is an excellent source of content to inform marketing content, such as product pages, email messaging, and more. The Home Depot’s Syndey Katz agrees:

“If the customers are telling us that there are certain specifications on the product pages that are incorrect, or we’re missing information, or they’re asking questions about the same thing over and over again that seems to be absent from the content that we already have, we reach out to our digital content partners. We ask them to consider putting those pieces of information that are missing onto the product pages so that future customers will benefit from that.”

Businesses can both quote customer-written content directly in their marketing content and use the trends to guide how they talk about their brand. The most-used words in positive feedback are the attributes the business should tout in its marketing of that product.

UGC can also reveal great aspects of a product or brand that the business didn’t even know customers cared about. The Container Store‘s Brandy Rinehart shares a story of one of its products, a small moving trolley, as an example. Feedback revealed that product owners were most excited about how small the trolley folds up for storage – something the brand hadn’t even considered, and hadn’t included in the product copy. The Container Store rewrote the copy to match those positive reviews, and shot new product photos to show how small the trolley can get.

This post is an excerpt from The Social Trends Report 2014. Download the full report here to learn 2014s top trends from the world’s foremost marketers, social strategists, and business thinkers shaping the digital marketplace.