I wasn’t much of a Boy Scout. In fact, even though my Mom was the “den mother” for most of it, the entirety of my scouting career spanned about three years. I wasn’t anti-kerchief per se, but let’s just say my career as an avid indoorsman began at an early age. Which is why as a middle-aged adult, I am so delighted to be able to partially compensate for my lack of outdoor aptitude with useful marketing from Columbia Sportswear.
Columbia is a Portland, Oregon-based manufacturer and retailer of outdoor wear and gear, has a circumstantially useful free app called “What Knot to Do in the Greater Outdoors.” As you’ve probably guessed, it provides detailed instructions for how to tie dozens of knots, including which to use when. The app has the best ratings of any mentioned in this book, with 48 five-star reviews out of 53 total reviews in the Apple iTunes Store. With little marketing support, it’s been downloaded 351,000 times in approximately 20 months.
The company conducted research and found it is very common for outdoor enthusiasts to carry smartphones on excursions.
It makes perfect sense. If you need to remember how to tie a knot, being able to recall that information with the assistance of a mobile device is far more practical and reasonable than accessing that information through other methods. It’s a great example of Youtility, marketing so useful customers and prospects would pay for it, if you asked them.
But what form your helpful Youtility should take isn’t always as obvious and tidy. One of the most difficult aspects of this type of marketing is effectively and appropriately translating customer needs into appropriate executions. Part of the problem is that many companies get excited and jump the gun. Instead of saying “we need to help customers figure out this problem,” they go further and say, “we need a blog to help customers figure out this problem.” This combines the symptom and the cure, and can yield disappointing results.
Determining which is the optimal Youtility conveyance requires a level of research beyond understanding customer needs. You have to understand not just what your customers need, but how and where they prefer to access information.
Atomize Your Marketing to Reach a Larger Audience
In many instances, it’s not only possible to create Youtility in several formats, but doing so can also increase efficiency and exposure. In the excellent book Content Rules that she co-authored with C.C. Chapman, Ann Handley writes about taking one big idea or customer need and creating multiple executions out of it.
“We recommend that businesses reimagine their content, but that they don’t recycle it,” says Handley. “It’s not about taking a blog post and just putting it on Pinterest and on Facebook and on Linkedin. You’re just filling links that way. It’s important to reimagine it completely. Take something and create something new out of it .”
Todd Defren, of the public relations firm SHIFT Communications, calls this premise “atomizing” your marketing. Not only does creating more variations of your usefulness help reach customers with a variety of information consumption habits, but this type of diffuse approach can more effectively and strategically target prospects in different stages of the research process.
Smart companies take their core informational value proposition and package it in ways that appeal to more than one prospective customer segment. Handley particularly appreciates the recent efforts of the global technology company Cisco in this area. The company’s Global Cloud Index report forecasts data center and cloud computing traffic and related trends for 2011 through 2016, and highlights workload transitions from traditional information technology (IT) to cloud solutions as well. It is not light reading. But Cisco didn’t just create this massive report, release it, and say “we hope you like it.” They were smart enough to create a spoonful of sugar to help the informational medicine go down, including a super short, one-and-a-half minute video to describe how big cloud computing will be.
Regardless of how many times you reimagine the ways you can fulfill customer and prospective customer needs, remember that to be true Youtility, this fulfillment must be free. Says Joe Chernov, Vice President of Marketing for the mobile technology provider Kinvey (and 2012’s Content Marketing Visionary of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute), keeping your marketing free increases its exposure. “If you create something that somebody would pay for, but you give it away, not only are you building trust and a debt of gratitude but you shock them into sharing it,” says Chernov. “They share not only the asset itself, which is inherently valuable to the brand, but they share the fact that they are surprised that a brand would just give it to them and not try to sell them along the way.”
Jay Baer is a hype-free social media and content strategist & speaker, and author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype. Jay is the founder of Convince and Convert and host of the Social Pros podcast. Catch an excerpt of his book below:
Disclosure: SHIFT did not receive compensation from Jay Baer, nor do we represent him yet.