Guest post by Jay Baer. Jay is a digital marketing strategist, speaker, bestselling author of Youtility , and founder of marketing services firm Convince & Convert. He is the host of next week’s Bricks and Feathers Content Marketing webinar with Vocus.
Stop trying to be amazing and start being useful.
I don’t mean in a Trojan horse, “infomercial that pretends to be useful but is actually a sales pitch” way. I mean a genuine, “how can we actually help you” way. This is Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it (if you asked them to).
Companies that practice Youtility and create marketing with so much intrinsic value that consumers actually want it, are followed, subscribed to, bookmarked, and kept on the home screen of mobile devices. Companies that don’t . . . aren’t. Not because they are worse companies, but because they are trying to create customer connections based on product and price, and customers are both tired of it and able to filter through it more than ever.
My family is useful. My friends are useful. Companies can be useful, too. Will yours?
Youtility That Keeps You Safe
One of my favorite (and most inherently useful) examples of this form of marketing is the Vanderbilt CoachSmart application. A collaboration out of Nashville between the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the app is becoming a must-have for youth sports coaches across the country. Available for Apple and Android devices, it provides an array of useful tools to keep players safe. Perhaps the most interesting is a lightning sensor. If lightning strikes nearby, the app sends an alert to the phone and tells coaches what to do next, recommending whether an outdoor practice should be immediately aborted.
The CoachSmart app was born from a legacy program where athletic trainers affiliated with Vanderbilt went to high school football practices in the Nashville area to let coaches know whether it was safe to practice based on the current heat index. However, according to Betsy Brandes, the director of Web and Creative Services for Vanderbilt, this is an intensely manual endeavor, with trainers having to use specialized monitoring equipment to evaluate safety on the field, since heat index can vary significantly within one mile.
The app has been so successful that Vanderbilt is working with the university tech transfer office to make the program revenue neutral by charging a nominal fee for the (heretofore free) app. Evidently, usage is so high the fees for accessing the lightning database are becoming costly, and in fact the app has been temporarily removed from app stores until the licensing is reconfigured.
Data and Insight are not the Same
Youtility examples like the CoachSmart app all spring from the same seed: customer insight. Understanding what your customers need and why can’t always be answered by looking at a spreadsheet, or hooking up an API.
A few years ago, I did some consulting for Claire Burke, a company that manufactures and sells a range of candles and scented air fresheners. Distributed in department stores, gift shops, and on their own website,
Claire Burke products were primarily purchased by women thirty-five to fifty-four years old. Research told us this, and it was interesting information that we used when purchasing different forms of media to communicate to that segment of the population. But, knowing that thirty-five- to fifty-four-year-old women buy your products isn’t particularly helpful in this age of information. Demographics provide the “who” but falls far short of “what” and “why.”
An effort led by my friend Susan Baier, a brilliant marketer who now has her own customer segmentation research company called Audience Audit, dug deeper into the motivations behind Claire Burke purchases. Of the five segments identified in the research, one group (approximately 15 percent) of customers purchased Claire Burke candles primarily because of the fragrance—the motivation the company was most familiar with.
However, two other groups bought them for very different reasons: Twenty-five percent bought the candles to decorate their homes, so color and design were more important to them than fragrance, and 21 percent purchased them primarily as gifts, and cared more about the upscale brand and packaging. Their customers were indeed most likely to be thirty-five- to fifty-four-year-old females, but their rationale for purchasing the products fell into three highly specific, wholly disparate segments. The more you know about your customers and prospects, the more useful your brand can become to them.
Beyond the amazing software available today (like Vocus), a terrific way to understand what your customers need is to simply ask them. Customer segmentation analysis of the type Baier and others provide is an excellent approach, but even unstructured, nonscientific conversations can yield outstanding results.
For example, the CoachSmart app was guided significantly by feedback Nashville-area coaches gave trainers from Vanderbilt Medical Center. “We sent our trainers out to talk to the coaches they work with and asked, ‘how would an app make your coaching life a little bit easier and keep the kids safer?’ and the number one thing that came back was lightning,” says Betsy Brandes from Vanderbilt. “We had already built the heat index function, but we met with our trainers and they had lots of ideas. Lightning was one we thought we could probably do.”[i]
Sitting down in a conference room with an agenda item of “let’s be useful” is 100 percent the wrong way to change your marketing mindset. True Youtility requires more understanding of the lives, desires, and fears of your customers and prospects than ever. Creating marketing so useful that people would pay for it isn’t a proactive exercise, it’s a reactive one. First, identify the problem, then find a way for your company to remove that problem.