Is Youtility the Future of Marketing?

October 16th, 2011

NOTE: This blog post became a book! And that book is now a New York Times best seller. Get a free excerpt and more here: http://youtilitybook.com

Ever since the first caveman tried to sell a rock to another caveman, we’ve been relying upon some variation of the same marketing song and dance. It doesn’t matter if the message is conveyed via smoke signal, carrier pigeon, direct mail, TV, or flashy banner ad, the plea is the same:

“We’ve got good stuff, wanna buy some?”

What we’re trying to do with all forms of marketing is tie interests to actions. We assume that some percentage of the people seeing your smoke signal are indeed in the market for a new horse, and when we link interest and action to create a prospective customer, we call that “filling the top of the funnel.”

There are 3 ways to fill the top of that funnel, to tie interest to action to create a potential customer.

Top of Mind Awareness

The first way has been around forever, and is called “top of mind awareness.” The premise is that you maintain a consistent presence in the marketplace of messaging, with ongoing advertising and promotions so that customers think of you first when they are ready to purchase whatever it is that you sell.

This system is of course expensive, because it requires always-on marketing. It’s also a system that’s getting far more difficult, as our highly fractured media landscape makes it harder to consistently reach audiences. And there’s also rising suspicion of the integrity of marketing messages, especially among desirable, young consumers.

Frame of Mind Awareness

The second way to fill the top of that funnel has been around since the invention of the Yellow Pages, but really took off with the advent of Yahoo!, and then Google. I call it “frame of mind awareness.” In this approach – which we now often call “inbound marketing” – the premise is that when they’re ready, the potential customer will find you. You create content that makes it easier for your company to be found via search and social media, and wait for the leads to roll in.

While frame of mind awareness is more efficient than top of mind awareness because you’re only interacting with self-determinant hand-raisers, your upside is capped. You don’t create demand with inbound marketing, you just fulfill demand that exists organically.

Friend of Mine Awareness

There is also third system. A new way to fill the funnel that may be the best of both worlds. I call it “friend of mine awareness.”

With friend of mine awareness, you seek to have the prospective customer allow you inside their circle of trust, where you become more than just a purveyor, but rather a valuable resource.

Then, when the customer is ready to buy, they don’t have to go find you, because you’re already there.

Be a YOUtility

The difference between helping and selling is just 2 letters. But those letters make all the difference. Your company needs to become a YOUtility. Sell something, and you make a customer. Help someone, and you make a customer for life.

Geek Squad understands YOUtility.

YOUtility Geek SquadI was at a conference a couple years ago where Robert Stephens, the founder of Geek Squad, was speaking. He showcased their YouTube channel which has hundreds of instructional videos on how to set your DVR, swap out a hard drive, and tasks of that nature.

Someone asked him a great question: “Let me get this straight Robert. You’re in the business of fixing things?” “yes” he nodded. “But yet, you have all these videos showing people how to fix things themselves. How does that make business sense?” “Well, our best customers are the people that think they can do it themselves. But even if they can, someday they’ll be over their head, and who will they call for help? We’re betting it’s the company whose logo they looked at for 8 minutes when we gave them free video help.”

Vanderbilt University Medical Center understands YOUtility.

YOUtility VanderbiltThey provide free of charge for expectant mothers a Baby Time mobile app. It includes a contraction timer, a phone book to list contact information for people to call when the baby is on the way, a checklist of items to bring to the hospital, and driving directions.

Taxi Mike understands YOUtility.

Mike drives a cab for Banff Taxi in Alberta, and to stand out from the rest of the drivers, he produces an online and offline guide to the local hotspots. Taxi Mike’s Dining Guide is a simple, 8.5×11, tri-fold rack brochure, printed on bright yellow paper, and available for free just about everywhere in town.
YOUtility Taxi Mike
In his guide, Mike tells you the best BBQ places, clubs, happy hours, patios, places for kids, and other insider info. Wisely, he also includes a map of the downtown area on the front. The portable size and map make it perfectly logical to bring Mike’s Dining Guide with you when out on the town in Banff. And then, when you’re blurry-eyed at 12:30am, you pull out the guide and there is Mike’s phone number in big, bold letters.

Your Company Can Do This

In a world where every prospective customer is facing an invitation avalanche, where every business is asking people to follow their tweets, read their blog, or watch their videos, you must resist the temptation to communicate solely and endlessly about your company, hoping for a quick sale.

Helping can replace selling, or at the very least reduce the friction within that sales transaction. And you can do this. You can help your customers learn – like Geeksquad. You can help them plan – like Vanderbilt. You can help them enjoy – like Mike the Taxi Driver.

If you want to succeed in a world where the balance of marketing power has swung dramatically in favor of the customer, you need to become a YOUtility.

Will you? Is this the future of modern marketing?

(I’m not sure if he coined it per se, but Jay Deragon – whose blog is one of the best anywhere – used this YOUtility phrase two and a half years ago.)

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