"What if instead of trying to be amazing you just focused on being useful?" This is the central principle behind Jay Baer's new book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype.
At any one time, there are only a few companies for whom consumers choose to support because they are, in fact, amazing. So if being amazing isn't your current competitive advantage, how can your company compete? According to Jay Baer, you should really consider trying to be more useful.
Perhaps, this is a classic case of intentionally choosing reading material that supports, rather than challenges my already held beliefs about a particular topic. Youtility demonstrates the things that I love about the marketing profession and admonishes the parts of the industry that I find distasteful. Being useful is another way of saying, be helpful. And who doesn't like being helpful?
Just imagine if one day people referred to marketing as one of those helpful professions like counselors, journalists, or doctors. What would that be like?
In the book, Baer argues (successfully, I think) that we can no longer reach an audience by shouting louder than our competitors. He sites traditional interruption marketing as anachronistic and out of touch with reality. Due to the myriad ways that people consume information and entertainment, usefulness as a marketing strategy is not just one of the options, it's necessary for most companies to survive.
In true Youtility fashion, Baer provides cliff notes to his own book as an appendix. What a great way for a book to be useful for the long term. He sums up the book's key points and supporting data chapter by chapter. I'm sure I'll come back to this section again and again in the future when I want to review the concepts he's outlined. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Steinbeck could have made high school much easier for me had they done the same with their books.
First, Baer defines Youtility as "marketing so useful that people would gladly pay for it" (p.187). That's really what I love about marketing. Be valuable. Be helpful. And you won't need the marketing magic fairy dust that most marketers fear has eluded them. Youtility takes the mystery out of marketing. With this concept in mind, marketing becomes more of a discipline where those who work hard at listening to customers, creating more value, and telling their story will consistently be rewarded.
Second, Baer argues that a company that makes itself truly useful to people, even when there is no immediate benefit to the company itself, will win the word-of-mouth race. Baer calls it, Friend-of-Mine Awareness and contrasts it to traditional Top-of-Mind and Frame-of-Mind marketing concepts. Social media has created an environment where brands have to compete not just with other brands for a consumer's attention, but with the consumer's high school friends, Crazy Uncle Larry, and grandkids. Why would I watch a toothpaste ad when I could watch my nephew roller skate for the first time on Youtube? Businesses that make themselves useful to people will create more brand advocates.
Finally, Baer outlines what it takes for a company to develop Youtility: Create ways for people to find information on their own, become radically transparent to customers, and deliver real-time relevancy.
If you're looking for a specific formula that will work every time in any given situation [a² + b² = c² and plug in your own data], you won't find it here. Jay Baer makes a persuasive argument that lays out his theory, provides compelling evidence to support the theory, and talks about the companies that have used the theory to do great things for people.
Youtility isn't easy. It's work. But that's what appeals to me. You still have to think, and you still have to do the work. But I'm comfortable with the idea that I can build an effective marketing strategy by really thinking about my customers and devoting myself to being useful to them.
So go buy the book and start thinking about how you could be more useful to your customers. They'll reward you for it.