Big Ideas

Our Brand Could Be Your Life

by Kate Pavao

Smart marketers focus on media that improves customers’ lives

, July 2013 Marketing is more difficult than it has ever been, according to Jay Baer, social media and content strategist and author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype. And it is going to get even harder.
jay baer

“Everything is media and the competition for attention is unbelievable,” he tells Profit. “Executives aren’t just competing for attention against other companies that sell the same stuff. They are competing for attention against everything. Every cute cat video is competition.”

Here, Baer explains more about the new realities of marketing, how smart executives can get the right kind of attention, and how to know if efforts are working.

Profit: What do executives need to know about their customers’ changing expectations of sales and marketing?

Baer: Executives tend to believe the relationship the company has with its customer must be product or service specific. They think the relationship has to be focused on the transaction. I get that and that’s how we’ve been trained, but that’s not necessarily true.

They also think that most of their customers will identify themselves through some sort of behavior, like filling out a form. But studies show, especially in B2B, that 70 percent of decisions are made before anyone ever contacts the company. This means the vast majority of perspective customers are invisible. Executives need to know their customers are secret shopping them right under their noses.

I gave a speech a couple a months ago at a conference with 3,000 owners of car dealerships. They told me that now people routinely come knowing more about the car than the guy trying to sell it to them. That same dynamic is going to occur in a lot of industries; by the time somebody gets in touch with a salesperson they already will have the basics figured out. So executives have to understand that marketing is now really involved in sales, and the sales organization really has to embrace marketing.

Profit: What role does “Youtility” play?

Baer: Youtility is marketing so useful that people would pay for it. The first thing that I want people do is take one step back, audit their existing marketing and ask themselves, “Is any of it so intrinsically useful that people kick in a couple of bucks for this?”

book cover

Typically the answer is going to be no, so then, you need to start to make some. Turn your attention towards the customer insight generation that is really the seed of all good Youtility. Ask yourself, how can we help improve our customers' lives?

Profit: What are some ideas for getting started?

Baer: You need to give your company permission to make the story bigger. The best most successful Youtilities are from companies that have relationships with customers and perspective customers that transcend transactions. They have relationships that are still related and relevant but aren’t necessarily reliant on the product itself.

Take a look at Columbia Sportswear, which makes outdoor gear like jackets and hats. They have a mobile application called “What Knot to Do (in the Greater Outdoors).” Through animated demos on your phone, the app shows you how to tie knots, which is useful if you’re camping or hanging off the side of a cliff. But Columbia doesn’t sell rope. And that’s the first big breakthrough: Your marketing is not necessarily about your business. It’s about customers and giving them something of value.

Profit: What about measuring ROI?

Baer: You really have to understand what you are tracking and measuring before you start your Youtility program. Trying to figure out what‘s working after you launch is like pinstriping a car while it’s moving. It’s possible, but awfully hard to do.

First ask yourself: Is it even possible to track ROI? If you have the right software, you can figure out whether someone has read your blog or downloaded your ebook before they became a customer.

If you are a Columbia Sportwear executive, you can’t tell if someone who used your app bought a jacket unless you do a random sample survey of customers. Sometimes, it’s not worth the trouble frankly. So, you might fall back on correlation studies: If revenue, average order size, and positive social mentions went up at the same time people were consuming this Youtility, you might feel like it was a contributing factor.

Profit: On a slightly different note, what can executives gain from recent stories about bad customer service that have gone viral on social media?

Baer: Now that every customer is a reporter, you can’t solve that problem. Because it’s not really a problem. If your company sucks, social media is the least of your worries, Fix your actual problem and then social media, which is a manifestation of that problem, will get fixed at the same time.

You can’t call a committee meeting every time someone sends a mean Tweet about your company. By the time the meeting notice goes out, it’s over. It’s too late. To prepare for this new reality, you have to be faster. You have to change your culture and processes, and empower people to make the right decision, right now.

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