You’ve published a book, Youtility: Why smart marketing is about help not hype. What is Youtility?
Youtility describes marketing that’s so useful people would pay for it. It’s marketing with so much intrinsic value that, if you were to ask somebody: ‘Would you pay a couple of dollars to receive this?’, they would. It’s marketing people actually want to receive, as opposed to what we usually produce, which is marketing people simply tolerate. ‘Youtility’ is the word I use to describe this: it’s about marketing that has utility for you.
You describe the difference between helping and selling as “just two letters”, but note that they make all the difference. What’s the connection with Youtility marketing?
Society has always been very overt and direct in terms of the relationship between marketing and revenue. We say: “Come on in right now and buy a car.” The message is: “If you give us money, we’ll give you something.”
However, technology now enables consumers to tune out this sort of commercial-based interruption.
Youtility therefore adopts a sideways approach to marketing. It’s more about: “How can we provide value?” and “How can we be your friend?” With Youtility, we’re going to give you something for free in the hope that, at some point in the future, you’ll give us some money – but it increases the time between interaction and outcome. That’s because we believe, the more you sell overtly, the less you’ll sell long-term.
If you provide value, and commit your company to being helpful and useful, customers will reward you and keep you close. They’ll go to your website and bookmark it; they’ll subscribe to your emails and open them; they’ll follow you on Facebook. You have to ask yourself how, as a company, you can act more like the way we act with our friends. That requires companies to be more approachable, transparent and human.
In describing how businesses can become more helpful and useful, you discuss the Three Facets of Youtility. What are they?
‘Self-serve information’ is the most fundamental, because it rides on top of a larger consumer trend: the fact we feel we need more information before we can make any serious decision. And this is because people have access to information all the time, via smartphones. Consumers now want to research everything, and you have to provide more and more information so they can make as much of their buying decision as possible without having to talk to a real person.
Today, business relationships are based on information first and people second. If your information is good enough, you’ll be permitted an in-person or human interaction. Your job as a marketer is to prepare consumers for that with self-serve information.
The second is ‘radical transparency’, which has to do with trust. Trust is the filter through which all business success must pass; without trust, nothing else matters. One of the best ways to gain and maintain trust is to be disproportionately open and honest with your information. Be transparent or, at least, translucent with people. This isn’t so much about changing the message – it’s about changing the messenger. Get real people – customers, employees, partners – to tell your story and give a human face to your business.
The third is what I describe as ‘real-time relevancy’. Companies are better off being massively useful in one particular set of circumstances, rather than being kind of useful all of the time. It requires that you be aware of and understand the micro-interactions that occur constantly between the company and the customer. Those companies who are best at using Youtility know their customer lifecycle – what they want and when they want it.
Health clubs sell exercise, which many people find inherently unappealing. What’s the best way to sell a commodity that some people just don’t want?
If you tell people why they should join a club, that’s not Youtility – that’s a brochure. The best way is to explore the broader topic of exercise. Make the story bigger. Talk about exercise in a way that isn’t necessarily about joining a club. Engage people in a wide-ranging dialogue and keep them engaged, so some of them will ultimately conclude: “I really should join a club.”
If I owned a club, I might, for instance, start a restaurant review blog, and review all of the healthy dishes at all of the restaurants in town. That’s a story you could credibly tell – there’s a relevant intellectual adjacency there. That’s how I’d get people interested. And once they were interested, I’d occasionally talk about the benefits of exercise, and the benefits of joining a club. I’d interview some club members to acquaint my readers with people just like them. That’s the way that I’d generate new members, a few at a time.
What can clubs do to foster the all-important trust that you spoke about earlier?
First, run a good company and correct any problems it might have. Also, actively manage your reputation online. If someone is complaining about a club on Yelp, a lot of owners and managers might just ignore it. That’s the worst thing they could possibly do. It makes the disgruntled client feel ignored, totally unloved, and everyone else who reads the review thinks: “Well, it must be true, because the club didn’t even address the complaint.”
Finally, get other people – members, for example – to tell your story, because they have more legitimacy, are believed at a deeper level, than a business ever is.
Can Youtility marketing also play a role in terms of improving member retention?
Basically, what you’re asking is what utility a club can provide you – as one of its members – after the sale. Just think about the manifold ways, small and large, that it could add to, enhance or otherwise improve membership value.
Could it, for instance, give members weekly recipes? Or recommend TV programmes dealing with such subjects as exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyle in a ‘Set up your DVR’ list? These sorts of things don’t take a lot of time, but they give a club a little extra bump, so that when renewal time comes around, people will say: “You know, I like these guys!”
Are you recommending that Youtility marketing replace traditional methods of marketing?
I’m not suggesting that companies can, or should, only do Youtility-based marketing. It’s not really possible, because by definition Youtility seeks to win hearts and minds one at a time, over time. You can’t reach enough people at once with Youtility.
I advise that companies balance traditional marketing – which reaches more people simultaneously – with Youtility, which strengthens and deepens those relationships a few at a time. You can use the two in a number of synergistic ways.
For instance, you can use Youtility to produce a more effective direct mail piece by offering a free copy of your restaurant review guide to individuals who visit the club. You’re providing them with something that has value, at no cost, and that will bring some people through your door who otherwise wouldn’t have come. This provides an opportunity for you to initiate a relationship with them and, hopefully, interest them in a membership.
One of the key underlying philosophies of Youtility is that you have to think like a farmer, not like a hunter. You will get new members eventually, but not necessarily tomorrow. Youtility transforms the way that you think about customer acquisition.
Do clubs have enough staff to do Youtility marketing?
Staffing is a challenge. This isn’t resource-expensive, but it is time-intensive. It works best if you use the people who actually know the club. Find a few members who will work on it and give them free membership. Loyal members want others to be part of the club, so they should be telling the story.