I've just finished reading an advance copy of a new book with the snappy title: "YOUTILITY: Why Smart Marketing is about Help not Hype." The premise of the book is that brands can "create a customer for life by through marketing that is truly, inherently useful". Author Jay Baer goes as far as saying that "Youtility is marketing so useful, people would pay for it."
- The @HiltonSuggests program that tweets useful travel tips for anyone, Hilton guest or not
- Clorox's free myStain app that gives away self-serve stain solution information
- Geek Squad's free online self-help videos to solve IT problems
Here's my take on Youtility, in terms of what I agree with and what I don't.
Jay suggests you don't have to "win hearts and minds with knock-your-socks off service, or fundamental changes to corporate culture." Instead, he proposes, you can grow by being useful. Now, this isn't revolutionary, but it is a point that can be forgotten, in a world where we are all urged to "innovate or die". I posted earlier here on the idea of incremental product and service improvements to be "simply better".
YES: be found when people search
The book reveals that we need more and more information to make a purchase decision. In 2010 shoppers needed 5.3 sources of information, whereas in 2011 they needed 10.4! This is sad in a way, showing how we are becoming addicted to technology and seemingly incapable of acting without it. But there you go.
The implication of this trend is the need to be found when people search. This is more relevant in high value categories where people take time to decide what to buy (e.g. cars, holidays and white/brown goods) than it is for everyday grocery items that we buy on autopilot.
One way to be found is of course simply paying to appear following a Google search. An alternative is to create content that people find, that will then lead them onto your brand. For example, River Pools and Spas created a blog with useful tips on fibreglass pool maintenance, which helped the brand appear when people searched for help online. The owner was able to increase sales by 10% whilst decreasing ad spend from $250,000 to $20,000. Type in "Fibreglass pool installation" to Google, and River Pools Youtube video pops up as the top non-paid-for result (below).
This can also work for consumer goods brands, by getting your brand's content to appear when people search for help online. For example, Knorr is creating recipes to try and appear when millions of people search each day for help on "What to cook for dinner tonight?".
A couple fo tips here: i) Youtube is one of the main ways people search, so it's a good home for useful branded content, ii) use "native" search terms that people type into Google or Youtube, such as "What to cook tonight?", rather than brand messages such as "Knorr's new Dinner Delights range".
NO: expect no immediate return
My fundamental problem with Youtility is the suggestion that you should "Make your company useful without expectation of an immediate return." This is where Youtility risks becoming a charitable offer, rather than a new and cost effective way to "SMS" (sell more stuff).
Indeed, the book contains few examples with proven ROI. The killer quote comes in the very last paragraph of the book, from the person running the @HiltonSuggests program: "The program has almost zero immediate value to the company." Hmmm. Jay does make a valiant attempt to help assess ROI, but has to resort to a theoretical "thought experiment" to make the point.
The other problem here, as covered in previous posts on social media, is that most consumer goods brands don't sell online. This means that online Youtility services are at best a new way of creating brand awareness. So, we are asked to hope that by using Charmin's "Sit or squat" app to find a local public lavatory, we are more likely to choose that brand of toilet tissue the next time we visit the supermarket. In contrast, online brands such as Expedia, Amazon and little old River Spas have more to gain, as they can make a direct link from online Youtility apps and content to lead generation.
In conclusion, I heartily applaud the idea of harnessing digital technology to be useful, rather than spewing out irrelevant social media messages. However, I would be reluctant to spend too much time and effort on Youtility where you can't make a direct, measurable link to direct sales.