In the age of infobesity, companies are struggling to separate themselves from the digital noise and to draw meaningful attention and interest from their current and potential customers.
This struggle happens mainly because internally there is a big struggle going on between marketers’ desire to plaster their product-centric messaging across all of their assets (after all, they need to justify that annual budget, right?) and their desire to create something truly amazing, something that will be used by customers time and again, gently reminding them about the brand that helped create that fantastic experience.
Which approach is better?
Chances are, as a customer, you are thinking the latter. But the problem for companies is that the latter means either putting the brand secondary to the customer experience or, Heaven help us, removing any reference to your product, services and, potentially, your brand altogether. Therein lies the dilemma. And so the marketers are ignoring the horrific statistics below and continue with the inferior marketing strategies.
According to Localytics, one in four mobile applications are never used again after being downloaded and 26% of applications are not used more than once. Nobody wants to see self-centered catalogs published by brands. People are looking for utility, something that will help make their lives easier, solve problems, and add value.
In the past year I’ve seen the rise in conversations about utilitarianism marketing. In his book Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends On It, Mitch Joel suggests that utilitarianism marketing is going to be the next great business disrupter. He says: "It’s not about advertising, it’s not about messaging, and it’s not about immediate conversions. It’s about providing a true value and utility: something consumers not only would want to use—constantly and consistently—but would derive so much value from it that it would be given front-and-center attention in their lives."
The Nationwide Mobile app is one example of great utility. It’s a useful step-by-step application offered by the insurance company that walks people through everything they need to know if they have just been in a car accident: from collecting accident information to taking pictures of the damaged vehicle to recording a location where the accident happened. The app has a flashlight built in (for the nighttime), and it helps initiate and expedite claims and locate towing services. You can even let company representatives know the best time for them to follow up with you. "Nationwide’s ability to deliver on a utilitarianism marketing initiative allows them to understand the pain points of the customer and to not only alleviate that pain, but also create a better customer experience," says Joel. It’s a win-win.
In his book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype, Jay Baer wisely states: "If you sell something, you make a customer today; if you help someone, you make a customer for life." Baer’s book is solely dedicated to utilitarianism marketing, or what he calls Youtility. He defines Youtility as "massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers."
He coined the term because he says that "utility" is a faceless commodity, whereas instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. And even though Youtility may not show your management immediate benefits or attractive numbers, it will undoubtedly pay long-term dividends. I cannot agree more!
Charmin is another brand that puts the needs of others ahead of its own. The brand created the Sit or Squat app for determining the relative suitability of public restrooms. All you have to do is type in your location and the app shows you the map with restroom options: The ones featuring green toilet paper rolls are sit-worthy, the ones that feature red paper rolls are a squat, and the gray rolls mean there isn’t sufficient data to make the determination.
The app works on both Apple and Android devices. The coolest thing about the app is it allows users to rate restrooms and upload photos, everything to help others identify the best restroom stops to make. As the app use increases and the public contributes, the app gets better with the increased participation. According to the company’s spokesperson, more than 170,000 restrooms have been added by consumers in just six months since the app’s recent relaunch in April 2012. Usage of the application keeps Charmin on top of mind and the app has been praised in multiple blogs and magazines. Who says utility doesn’t pay off?
"Youtility requires companies to intentionally promote less at the point of consumer interaction, and in so doing build trust capital that will be redeemed down the road," says Baer. Agreed! Wholeheartedly.
So how is it that this thinking doesn’t seem natural to most marketers (and their management)? Is it because they want to see immediate results and longer-term benefits are harder to measure? Whatever it is, this "sell more by selling less" principle should become every company’s marketing mantra. You can’t always expect to produce a viral hit or a great marketing campaign, but what you can count on is your ability to find customers’ pain points and do everything you can to help them find solutions, make their lives easier, and add value either through content, application, or real-time social response.
It’s not about us, brands, or marketers, it’s not about our brand ego and showing how awesome we are. It’s about them. Yes, them, as in our customers. Flip that perspective around and you will be guaranteed to be on top of mind way more often through utilitarianism marketing than you will be through a fancy TV commercial. So stop promoting, and start informing and helping. And do it authentically.
I would love to hear your best stories or examples of Youtility marketing. I invite you to please share them in the comments.
[Image: Flickr user Stéphane Magnenat]