Mobile, Youtility

Websites Will Become the AM Radio of the Internet

Inspired by YoutilityIf your marketing is sufficiently useful, your audience will keep your brand close – on their home screen, in their inbox, in their Twitter and Facebook feeds – and, when they need you, they’ll access whatever it is you’re bringing to the information party. This is the great benefit of Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it (if asked). You don’t have to be “found” – at least not after initial discovery – because your customers and prospects already know where you are and what you offer. When they need you, they’ll engage.

There is no courtship, ramp up, or slow build with Youtility. You’re either sufficiently useful at any given moment, and thus can connect with the customer, or you’re not. It’s real-time relationship building. Once you have new eyeglasses, your ability to get questions about them answered by Warby Parker becomes a less-fulfilling proposition. Until, one day, you need new glasses again, and then you’ll know where to turn. Meanwhile, they have your money from the first purchase and are patiently waiting for your needs to re-align with their usefulness.

Like an endless game of informational hide and seek, Youtility consists of popping out from behind a tree to assist when necessary, then fading back into the woods waiting for the next opportunity.

The Fragmentation of Brand Value

The notion of “a brand is greater than the sum of its parts” is an anachronism. The branding ligaments that for decades created cohesive corporate attributes have been surgically removed. Brands have rushed to provide value (optimally) or promotions (typically) on every new communication platform, all of which are increasingly accessed through mobile devices, making customers’ relationships with brands solely a collection of micro-experiences. This is the “app-ification” of brand value.

For decades, the key question has been “how valuable is the brand?” The key question moving forward is “how valuable are your apps?” Apple, of course, started this trend with the introduction of the first iPhone, but distilling entire companies down to a collection of utilities is now pervasive, and that is where the vast majority of technology and marketing development is headed. When fully implemented, this atomization of brand value will make the Web far less valuable than it is today, and will make real-time relevancy via mobile Youtility the primary battleground for all companies.

App-ification is Your Future

George Colony, Chief Executive Officer of Forrester Research, has been sounding this alarm for years. He says:

“Websites will become the “AM radio of the Internet.” (click to tweet)

I agree.

Why would I (or you) wade through an entire website that must try to serve the disparate information needs of multiple audiences, when I could instead use a mobile app to do ONE thing exceedingly well, with a minimum of extraneous window dressing?

The winds are blowing strong in this direction. In an amazing 2012 study, Symphony IRI found that Americans in the Millennial generation are almost four times more likely than American consumers overall to have their purchases influenced by smartphone applications. The impact of these apps on their purchase decisions is greater than recommendations from blogs and social media, and from manufacturers’ websites or email.

Within a generation every customer and prospective customer of every company in every developed nation will have never known a world without the ability to access information at any time through a mobile device.

Are you over-valuing your website, and undervaluing your app strategy? Probably.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Great insights, Jay. I think one of the primary struggles here is figuring out how to provide value outside of the context of product ownership. Information used to be one way for brands to do this, since they could reasonably expect to have a monopoly on information. But obviously that battle is long lost. Now’s it’s about creating utility before, during, and after ownership. Ownership should remain the highest and best form of the utility your brand provides, but not the only form of value.

  2. says

    I disagree that Websites are becoming “AM radio”, but I do think they have to evolve away from being static, unpersonalized and unengaged digital portals.

    To start, Websites need to meet the needs of different users with top-notch messaging, design, UX and UI. This is table stakes.

    As well, I agree with Hubspot’s new mantra that context will be more important for brands looking to truly engage digitally with consumers. Bottom line is Websites will remain relevant but they do have to change.

  3. GradyLocklear says

    I think this is just about one form of owned content evolving into another. Websites are going to be useful for a long time, and single-purpose apps aren’t the solution for every brand.

    We need to be able to figure out which platform works best for owned content, and create the most engaging brand experience possible within that. And I think that could sometimes take the form of a website for years to come.

  4. Brian Clark says

    Flawed reasoning Jay. No one wants to be lost in a mess of apps on the publisher side, and no one wants to download an app to interact with content on the consumer side, especially upon first contact. The open web with HTML5 will have app-like capabilities that allow for the ease of use you mention, but it will be powered by websites.

    • says

      Correct. Noone wants to download an app solely to interact with content. But there are a lot of other reasons to interact with a brand in a hyper-focused way, where the app makes that interaction far easier and less burdensome.

      • Brian Clark says

        Agreed. But how does that make websites the AM radio of the Internet? Nothing against analysts, but they are more adept at hyperbole than the day-to-day reality of online publishing and marketing.

  5. says

    Billions of people searching every month are connected with the specific information they need at the time they need it because each web page is an entry point. Wading through and entire website isn’t necessary. Apps for certain business functions are growing of course, but not mutually exclusive to websites. As a consumer, why would I want a 100 apps on my phone for specific functions I use rarely when all I have to do is search Google?

    • says

      I think you underrate the hassle of being dropped into a random, third-level Web page on a mobile device, and then being able to do what you need to do on that site.

        • says

          The cause of the inadequacy is immaterial. And just because your site might be well-designed doesn’t mean the other 99% will be. Take a step back from your own empire and look around at the rest of the world. Websites largely suck, and are getting worse, not better in terms of UX, UI, random multi-media, download speeds, et al.

          • Brian Clark says

            I disagree. Cutting edge, mobile-responsive, HTML5 websites are faster than ever. And with that a webpage can be made to perform any action an app can.

            On the other hand, putting your content in a true app means:

            Your content is invisible to search engines.

            Your content is blocked from social sharing.

            You’re adding an unnecessary step to the conversion process, which will sharply diminish audience building.

            The solution is to stick with the open web and make better content marketing websites. That’s the business I’m in, granted, but if I though a content app was a smart solution, I’d be in that business (and using them myself).

          • says

            Agreed! Mobile is huge, but the way to master it is not through telling everyone to install an app.

            What I hate more about being dropped into a webpage is when then a popup comes up and says “please install our app”! I just want to get the info ASAP and installing and app is way slower and a complete pain.

            Great mobile experience does not equal a mobile app.

  6. says

    I only came here to confirm what some chap called Singer said about the headline being a flawed analogy. I read up to the part about brand ligaments and remembered why I passed up the chance to study physiology.

    Great advert for Youtility, though.

    • says

      Ha! I know what you mean about physiology. I thought long and hard about being an astronomy major, until I got the low down on how much physics and math was necessary.

  7. says

    I think I would replace “AM” with “FM”–which is where I would anticipate backlash on this article from people who only read headlines. Saying “AM Radio,” to me, implies “obsolete” (and I wonder if that was, indeed, Colony’s implication.) FM says “viable platform that needs to be all things to all people” (or most things to most people”) to remain viable, sometimes to its detriment. And I think that’s what you are saying about websites?

    • says

      Good point, Tom. I think you’re right. FM would be the more apt description, as would “local newspaper”. Indeed, the biggest issue is sites having to serve multiple masters, which makes them inherently less efficient and purposeful than apps.

  8. temafrank says

    “Why would I (or you) wade through an entire website that must try to serve the disparate information needs of multiple audiences, when I could instead use a mobile app to do ONE thing exceedingly well, with a minimum of extraneous window dressing?”

    ANSWER: Because you (or I) don’t want to wade through pages of iPhone screens to find the app! Unless the app is for something you will want to use frequently (like email, Facebook, calendar, weather, etc), why would you want an app? And how likely are you to remember it at the time when it actually could be useful?

    • says

      Don’t get caught up on the navigation among apps issue. That will become far more predictive and push-oriented based on location and context. As soon as the next iOS, I’ll wager. And in terms of how likely are you to remember, how likely are you to remember a TV channel, a recipe, where you fulfill your prescriptions, the kind of oil your car takes, your blood type or anything else? Relevancy results in remembering.

      • temafrank says

        Interesting point about push apps.

        As to the relevancy argument, yes, if it is something major, important, or frequent you will remember. But I’m sure I’m not alone in periodically reviewing my apps and discovering a whole bunch that I had downloaded thinking they’d be useful but then completely forgot I had. (Even travel and restaurant location apps, which you’d think would be relevant when I’m tackling either of those issues.)

        (By the way, I love your work! Even if I don’t fully agree with you on this one!)

        • says

          I know what you mean. I purposefully have blocked out that damn Candy Crush, because it was ruining my life!

          And don’t worry about disagreeing. Lots of folks seems to on this one. It’s okay. If people agree with you 100%, you’re not trying hard enough.

  9. says

    What is your definition of a website? Couldn’t an app be considered a micro web site? Both are hosted on a server somewhere (perhaps on your own device) and deliver digital messages to and from the end user. This really isn’t a technology issue. Branding is not platform dependent. It is just important that wherever the brand shows up (hopefully on the platform of choice by the customer) it creates a unique message that helps the customer identify and want to do business with them more than their competitor. Remember Thomas Watson of IBM thought that no one would ever want a computer in their home… and maybe eventually he will be right when the next wave of technology comes out that doesn’t look like a computer, a website or even an app.

  10. Mark Salke says


    Perhaps we are approaching the point at which access to the info we desire is device-program- and hardware platform-agnostic. Where the distinction between ‘App’ and ‘Website’ is blurred. Where we focus on the outcome and result, not the journey. Some people call that ‘intimacy’, or predictive analysis. Whatever we call it, it’s the nexus of relating our situation or need to the relevance of an offered solution. And timing is everything.

  11. says

    I agree that mobile is growing and is huge and will be huge-er. I also agree that marketing and business should focus on a great customer experience no matter what devices or channels the customer is using.

    But won’t mobile apps will become the AM radio of the mobile world?

    Who wants to go to the app store, download and install an app that you have to update regularly? How about having presence (not website) that knows what device you are using and knows who you are and delivers the right experience to the right person based on who they are and what device they are currently using to interact with your company? So if I am on a tablet, you show me what I need on a tablet. If I am on a phone, show me what i need on a phone. And if I am on a laptop, show me what I need on a laptop.

    Mobile is the future, but that does not mean mobile apps are the future. The early days of the web were dominated by things that looks like app stores (think AOL’s walled garden of content) but eventually completely open systems won. The same thing will happen in mobile. Apps will be replaced by mobile experiences that do not require approval of the app store or specialized software to be installed.

    The companies who win will not need you to install an app, they will show up in a voice activated mobile search and when you select their result give you an experience perfected for the phone or device you are on.

    • says

      Great comment Mike. Thanks for stopping by; always good to see you here. I know where you’re coming from, and you may be right. Not sure I’d agree that Open systems have won, given that FB, Google, Apple, Samsung and beyond are developing the walled gardens that you argue have been usurped.

      • says

        Great point! Maybe open won, and then technology changed (social and mobile) and people are trying to build walled gardens again… but more open will win (Android over Apple?) over time? We shall see.

  12. erichoffman says

    This would have been a more compelling argument if you could have linked to this content within an app, but i found this on my desktop, clicked on it on my desktop and then clicked back to it on my smartphone only to find it on your mobile site. Interesting thoughts, but we’re obviously not fully appi-fied, at least not yet.

  13. Dale Harper says

    Ever since Telcos were famously flabbergasted at the mass adoption of txting, the biggest lesson is, who knows? Which way will the public at large swing? Cause pretty much anyone commenting here (who I am invariably a fan/follower of btw) ain’t your typical end user:)

    We know user behaviour today, but how does that provide indicators for app vs. web?

    Watching a band with a musician friend (non-techie/non-marketer, as in not like you or me) last night I mention a guitarist’s name he doesn’t know – out comes the iphone while at the gig. Same behaviour as the band is playing as soon as I mention a boutique guitar luthier he has never heard of. Out comes the iphone…

    That discovery process is served best by?

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