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Odds and Ends: Forget Amazing. Be Useful.
Odds and Ends: Forget Amazing. Be Useful.

Want to succeed in marketing? Give people answers, says strategist Jay Baer.

Rick Tulka

Would you move to a new city because of a website recommendation? Marketing and customer experience expert Jay Baer did. The New York Times best-selling author and founder of the strategy consulting firm Convince & Convert credits the answers he found on Sperling's Best Places with leading him and his family from Arizona to Bloomington, Indiana, nearly five years ago. The importance of that kind of usefulness is at the heart of Baer's latest book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype. Youtility, Baer says, is marketing that customers want—"massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship." But this isn't just about content; it's also about customer service and transparency. Give people the information they want and need, and they will reward you with their loyalty. Ready to hear more? Baer will be a keynote speaker at the 2015 Summit for Leaders in Advancement in Chicago, July 12–14. Go to for more information.

You used to advocate a "be amazing" approach to marketing. Now you say, "Be useful." What changed?

The world. Consumers are connected to the Internet all the time, which means they are exposed to even more messages from brands. This huge explosion of media options means audiences don't clump the way they used to. It's harder to find a lot of your target audience in one location now. Some people will tell you to break through the clutter by being remarkable. That can work, but it's difficult. In many cases, what becomes a runaway viral hit is unplanned, accidental, and experimental. As a strategist, I don't love that, because it's about hope rather than planning and execution. The alternative approach, which is reliable, plannable, strategic, and works in almost every case, is to be disproportionately useful. If you replace top-of-mind awareness with what I call friend-of-mine awareness, your customers will eventually reward you.

That makes me think of FAQ pages. What's your approach?

The problem I have with FAQ pages is that they tend to stop at F and A. I have worked with a number of corporate and higher ed clients who say, "Look at our fantastic FAQ page where we answer 32 questions!" My response is "That is better than answering no questions, but what if you answered the other 3,000 questions you got this year?"

What would an educational institution that embraced Youtility look or sound like?

A key principle of Youtility is delivering information of value that transcends the transaction. One of the challenges I find with higher ed is that every time institutions communicate, they communicate about themselves. What if institutions gave people something that's useful, even if it's not about the institution? That's an area where higher ed could definitely learn from corporations like Lowe's and other brands that are creating useful content that isn't really about them and using it as a way to build trust and relationships.

You say that constant access to the Internet has made us all passive-aggressive. How do brands need to keep this in mind?

Since everybody's online and has a phone in their hand, it's easier to complain than ever before—and people do. You don't have to go anywhere. You don't have to look anyone in the eye. You can sit in a room and throw darts from a distance with a keyboard. Simply meeting the expectation of responding when somebody complains has a huge impact on Net Promoter Score, on loyalty, on trust, on everything. A lot of companies and organizations still don't answer complaints via social media or other platforms, and they are missing a golden opportunity to build their business and trust.

—Interview by Theresa Walker




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