There probably isn’t one person who hasn’t heard of the ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ series of books. You may not have read all of them (or even one of them), but you’re bound to have come across these books decorating bookshelves in airport lounges, cafes, even remote stores on the highway. You can’t miss these books. They’re everywhere!
For those who’ve picked up the book and read it, we’ve identified with at least one story from this book. From cringey teenage love bytes, funny pets, and awkward family gatherings to true motherhood, lifting friendships, and vulnerable relationships – this is a book of myriad experiences. It’s no wonder then that this brand has become a phenomenon in itself, with a massive fan following across the globe. Ranked #1 New York Best Seller from 1994-1998, it sold more than 500 million copies worldwide and got translated into 43 languages in over 100 countries.
Well, it’s no secret, really. All they did was use one of the best and most reliable tactics known to marketers around the world – User Generated Content (UGC).
So what exactly is user-generated content, you ask? It is essentially any form of content created by consumers. It can include anything from pictures and videos, to blog posts or even testimonials, which is usually created or uploaded online, so that it can be easily shared. This failsafe marketing tool allows you to directly engage with your consumers, build a community of fans, and strengthen the brand’s identity.
UGC is a more new-age digital marketing tactic but (and here’s what’s incredible about this book!) Chicken Soup For The Soul used UGC all the way back in 1994, much before the Internet had become basic sustenance for humankind. You could probably fact check me, but UGC was probably not even a hot concept to be reckoned with back then, but Chicken Soup managed to make it work for them, and how!
As a digital marketing professional, I’ve always been intrigued by the Chicken Soup for the Soul and what it has managed to achieve. These days, all that most companies have to do to curate UGC for their social media pages is scroll through the photos and tweets shared with them by their followers. Like this photo? Great, share it on your company’s Facebook page. Think that boomerang video is cute? Regram it on your Insta profile. Love that tweet? Just retweet it with a mention or a shout out to your follower. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!
But imagine sifting through hundreds of thousands of submissions to curate 250,000 stories from real people spread all over the planet. And with each story being so beautiful and heartwarming, the editorial team really did a kick-ass job of selecting the best of the lot and bringing it to us in a neatly organized series of books. The effort that went into it just boggles my mind. And, in addition to the life lessons the book imparts, there’s plenty that marketers like you and me can pick up if we looked at this book like a case study.
At the core of any successful venture is the consumer base. When the brand shifts from being brand-centric to customer-centric, it perks the audience’s curiosity. And in all the Chicken Soup books, the customer is at front and centre of everything.
All the two founders of Chicken Soup did was ask their fans to send them their own stories, and they came pouring in from all corners of the earth. And with each book that was published, they attracted not just the audience’s attention, but also their interest. Because all their stories came from the experiences of people, they were stories that people could connect to. Eventually, they became a brand that was of the people, by the people, for the people.
This, I feel, is a classic example of passive marketing getting an active response. Unlike traditional marketing tactics that force a brand or a product in the faces of their audience, Chicken Soup was built on a connection. They weren’t aggressive, they were relatable, and this became a strong identity for the brand itself, making it a name that 88.7% of the U.S. public recognized.
One would imagine that so many people, so many stories, and so many soulful entries would be the perfect recipe for chaos or disaster, or both. But for Chicken Soup this meant one thing – authenticity, uniqueness and a personal touch – (Okay, so three things, but you get what I’m saying, right?). And that was a recipe for ‘success soup’.
In vast numbers lie the magic of variety, and this is especially true when it comes to user-generated content. To cite a more modern example, when Micromax held a contest for its logo redesign, it received a huge response. Apart from creating a buzz and gaining free publicity, the more important thing they had was a plethora of unique designs to choose from instead of a few similar ones from an agency.
The Chicken Soup book speaks to almost every soul – the dog lover, the mother, the hopeful, the courageous and more! And this was only possible because all these stories were not from one person or a team of 4 people but from the massive community of fans and followers of the book.
The more the merrier is what I’m trying to say. Too many cooks don’t always spoil the broth. In fact, in this particular case, they ended up serving us a bowl of delicious, heartwarming, and inspiring chicken soup!
That’s User Generated Content for you – a win-win for everybody involved—the brand gets what it wants, the consumer gets attention and everybody is happy. It works because people are given a chance to participate in the making of a brand. Come to think of it, I’d love to have some mildly interesting episodes of my life in their chapters too. Who wouldn’t, right? And thanks to dreamers like us (and doers like the one who actually sent in their stories!), Chicken Soup has become the go-to choice for our comfort-craving souls. If that isn’t an achievement in marketing, what is?