Social media can be much more rewarding if marketers use it to provide helpful information to consumers, according to Jay Baer, who has been active in digital marketing for almost 20 years and has just published a new book, ”Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype.” (Portfolio/Penguin; $24.95)
The thesis is that being truly useful can transcend the transactional and revolutionize the relationship between companies and customers. Youtility, as Baer defines it, is marketing that is so useful that consumers would pay for it. That is the bar marketers should have to clear – especially in travel where so much information is available for free.
The way to break through, according to Baer’s thesis, is to be truly and inherently useful in ways that are non-obvious and that transcend the transactional. That is what will accrue attention, sales, loyalty and advocacy. Travel sellers would be much better off over the short and long terms if they spent more of their social media time being useful and less time saying how awesome they are. For instance Hilton hotels has an @HiltonSuggest program that tweets local travel tips for anyone, Hilton guest or not.
Baer offers three categories of youtility. First is self-serve information – taking things that would have been difficult for consumers to find or would have required speaking to an expert – and making it free. Second is answering every customer question and making that public. There’s a pool company in Virginia that has a blog with 1,000 questions and answers, and that blog almost overnight made them the largest pool website. And finally, there is real-time relevancy where you provide information that might be useful at any time. An example there is Columbia, the outdoor clothing company that has an app called What Knot To Do – with videos about tying many kinds of knots. They provide useful information of value to the people who buy their products, although they do not sell rope.
Baer says marketers are “now competing with everyone.” He explains that if you look at social networks, you will have messages from people you actually know and love, as well as companies you follow or subscribe to. How do you possibly compete against somebody’s wife or mother? Some think the best approach way is to be wacky in the hopes of going viral. The other is to be massively useful, which is what Youtility is about. Clorox, for one, has an app about stain removal that actually says Clorox is the worst product for certain kinds of stains.
Baer says youtility works no matter the size of the company. Smaller companies often have an easier time at first because they are closer to customers and can better understand and anticipate their needs, and create youtility to address those needs. Once you free your mind from thinking you can only talk about yourself, the number of options becomes almost limitless.
First step toward youtility: Think about making your story bigger. How do your customers live their lives? What would make those lives better, easier and more fulfilling? Now what could you provide that would do that? It’s probably not your products and services per se, but something on a related, higher plane. That’s your youtility.