Youtility: A Book Review

Last year I ordered myself a stack of books related business, social media, and content marketing. I am still working my way through the stack but one of the best books so far has been Jay Baer’s Youtility.  Youtility is defined as creating and attracting business with content that is inherently useful, valuable and empowers content consumers to help themselves. The book is chock-full of examples of Youtility across industries. Businesses from toilet paper manufactures to computer repair services have found success when they have sought first to help with winning content and only later to promote.

“The difference between helping and selling is just two letters.”

Youtility-Cover

“Youtility is marketing so valuable people would gladly pay for it.”

I have spoken about content on this blog before. Content is king and all that. It’s an area of interest and I like to look at what separates the great from the rest. Developing great content requires a fundamental shift to thinking like a content consumer rather than a content creator. This is what Youtility is all about.

“ You’re not competing for attention only against similar products.You’re competing against your customers friends, family and viral videos of cute puppies. To win attention these days you must ask a different question. How can I help?”

Youtility as Baer, explains it is the highest and most sophisticated form of content marketing. It’s not just about having a blog or creating pretty infographics but doing those things with with the intention that the content always be helpful and most useful to the intended content consumer. The principle is simple: consumers of all types are turning to the internet for answers when researching solutions and or products. The question is, is your business providing the resources and solutions they seek.

The book’s forward by Marcus Sheridan, the owner of pool company, says “success flows to organizations that inform, not organizations that promote”. Faced with the economic downturn and plummeting sales in 2008, Sheridan brainstormed a list of all the questions he had ever been asked by customers and then turned those questions into blog posts for his shiny new blog. The results: greater website traffic, reduced time on consults with clients, and web analytics that accurately defined likelihood to purchase.  Sheridan’s analytics told him that if a person had read 30 pages on his site they bought a pool 80% of the time and that customers who bought pools had read 105 pages of his website. Today Sheridan claims to have the most trafficked swimming pool site in the world. Further Sheridan says if you asked them previously what they did they would have said they built fibreglass swimming pools and today they would say they “are the best teachers in the world on the subject of fibre glass swimming pools, and we happen to build them as well”.

The book profiles numerous other examples of youtility. Geeksquad famously produced videos showing people how to fix their problems themselves. When questioned about putting themselves out of work showing people how to fix their problems, their founder explained that when someone did find themselves out of their depth with the problem Geeksquad would be the first party they would call for help. Companies should not just focus on being amazing, but on being useful.

I read this book a few months ago and had to scan it again to write this blog post. Scanning it I felt sure I need to read it again, soon! The concept and the way of thinking and approaching your marketing are just so dead on. Baer obviously explains this all in more detail and much more convincingly than me. I highly recommend this book for all marketers. If you are not thinking about Youtility yet, you should be. 

Baer rounds out his suggestions with wisdom about content for Youtility being a team effort rather than a product of the marketing department and making it part of the process rather than a side project. “If you don’t supply the information your prospects need to choose your company over the competition, they’ll get that data somewhere else, and the outcome may not be as favorable to you.”

If you are ready to start on Youtility right away here are some questions to ask yourself about your customers:

How is it that they discover information?

What are their preferences for consumption? (devices, channels, content types)

What motivates them to take action?

Questions via Lee Odden Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing

Throwback Thursday: A moment with Debbie Travis

It’s been a while since I posted a Throwback Thursday moment. Rather than a long post, today’s is a photo.  This photo comes from a conference I attended in 2009 where Debbi Travis the Canadian Queen of home decorating was one of the speakers. It was the annual conference of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, which was an incredible experience for me. Three days of inspiration, learning and meeting other women in business.

Me with Debbie Travis

Me with Debbie Travis

8 Places On The Web for Inspiration Du Jour

I haven’t done a numbered list post here, so it is about time, no? Thinking about a topic got me thinking about the places I go for inspiration these days. From that idea a list was born. Here are eight places I am going for new ideas and inspiration.

1. Instagram

I love Instagram. I don’t have to read,  I can just relax and take in visual information. I learn a lot from the pictures people and brands are posting. I took this quote from the New York Times, as  it nicely sums up why I enjoy the platform.

These Instagram images from Mammoth Mountain all tell a story. Makes me want to be out there in that powder too.

Mammoth Mountain on Instagram

Mammoth Mountain on Instagram

2. Mashable

Mashable is known for its bite size bits of entertainment and tech news. A quick scan under the social media tab can give me a lot of insight on news and trends.  Mashable is also a very visual destination. They host some intriguing challenges like the Mashable Vine Challenge. A recent challenge involved making Vines with Lego. Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 4.30.34 PM

3. Storify

I really love the way that Storify lets users tell a story using content from users across the web. You can collect tweets or Instagram photos or a combo of the two on a specific subject or event and turn them into a story. The potential is really as limitless as your imagination. You could use the platform to create a narrative around a recent conference, news event or trend. Many many possibilities here.

4. Songza

Some afternoons you just need to turn up the music to get you going. Songza is great for pairing a playlist which what you are doing right now. The claim is that these are “playlists by music experts.” They have lists for:

  • boosting your energy
  • working in an office
  • exploring cool sounds
  • getting fired up
  • entertaining friends
  • a sweaty dance party
  • looking at pictures of you ex…and many many more
Songza

Songza Playlist

Whatever mood you are in Songza has you covered.

5. Search Engine Journal

In my line of work, things change daily. Search Engine Journal provides me with lots of short articles on content marketing, social media, search engine optimization, trends, online advertising and more. I am always discovering new tools and resources via their concise articles. Some of my recent favorites were:

That last link helped me to find some great new photo content for my blog, like this shot:

6. Social Media Examiner

Get details on all things social.  This is a go to for learning and new ideas. If you have ever wondered what to post next or how to get greater engagement with your social activities you will find lots of great ideas here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 3.48.38 PM

Just a sample of how Social Media Examiner educates and informs with great examples

7. Tumblr

I have come to Tumblr more recently. This microblogging platform that is owned by Yahoo, is another very visual platform. The animated GIFs do make me feel a little motion sick, perhaps a sign of my age. I found this list a good start the getting engaged with the platform: 30 Tumblrs to Follow in 2013 TIME’s writers and editors pick their favorite sites of the year

8. Pinterest

Pinterest is another place I go when I need to stop reading and just enjoy some good visuals. It’s a nice way to unwind for 5 or 10 minutes. I have heard people complain Pinterest has a way of making them feel woefully inadequate, as the gourmet food, DIY projects, crafts, are more than most of us mere more mortals have the time and resources for.  I say you don’t have to do it all, just get inspired to want to do more. Grab a glass of wine, a handful of potato chips and start search for words and subjects that will get you inspired. I tend to pin things on social media, exercise, hairdos, appetizer ideas, gardening projects and dream homes. It’s also my solution for figuring out what to make for dinner five minutes before leaving the office.

Pinning pictures of salad for lunch inspiration

Pinning pictures of salad for lunch inspiration

The Content Conundrum

social

For the last seven months I have been working as a social media strategist and I have been deep diving into the experience. Whenever starting something new, I go all in.  I am following influencers, reading blogs, and attending courses and webinars, all in the attempt to be better. Working with social media isn’t completely new to me. When I started my eCommerce business six years ago I was quick to realize I should be using tools like Facebook and Twitter. I remember when I asked my graphic designer to add the icons for Facebook and Twitter to my website, it was an out of the ordinary request, something he wasn’t really doing for clients. Fast-forward to today and I don’t know if anyone designs a website without including or suggesting links to social sites.

But even with a strong background in social media for business, it can be challenging to garner attention and make an impact with ones activities in the social spaces. Everyone is on Twitter now, it’s a busy place, and people are not there hanging on your every tweet, unless you have something exceptional to say, or your Lady Gaga. With so many businesses on the social channels today, there is an inherent challenge to figure out what to do with these channels.  How do we capture peoples attention, imaginations, hearts? What should we be posting? Where do we find materials to post and share? Is this content we are sharing with the world interesting and engaging? Does it reflect well on, and reinforce our brand?

My immersion into the world of social media for business has resulted in me challenging myself to not be only a consumer, and spreader of content, but to be a content creator. What does that even mean? It means not just liking and sharing videos, memes and links from all over the web, but generating and developing items that have value to people, and are worthy of sharing. Content could be writing, photos, video, blog posts, tutorials, anything you create that someone else might want to consume.

Not only are individuals developing content, but most savvy marketers are developing content. Quality content is what brings visitors to your website or blog or leads them to follow you on Twitter. Developing content and dispersing it all falls under the umbrella of what is called a business’s content strategy; content is king. Content marketing is key to the whole concept of inbound marketing which involves pulling people toward your product or service with resources that are valuable to them. If you are still wondering about content marketing, you could read this recent post from HootSuite: What is content marketing anyway?

Producing content today is easier than ever. We have apps, easy to use platforms like WordPress, and most of us carry a video camera in our pocket. Because it is so easy, content creation has become pervasive, and not all of it is good.  Anyone can search a topic and then share links and articles to their their social channels. We can all broadcast original video on YouTube within minutes.  The whole process of creating and sharing content has become a little watered down. Jay Baer, a well recognized content strategist says:

“Some content being produced today is smart, inspirational, effective and downright fantastic. More of it is the exact opposite, the worst kind of ready, fire, aim flotsam and jetsam that the digital realm produces in spades”.

Because of the sheer volume of new content being developed now, it is inevitable that the game is going to change. Companies like Google that make it their business to order the web, and organize information have made content and context more important. These days there is a lot of talk about the current Google algorithm, Hummingbird, and the growing importance of content and context in search engine optimization.

So what is the future of content going to look like? I like this quote that I came across this month:

There are small ways that I have been challenging myself to be more of a content creator. I never showed much talent when it came to art in school but I like to think I have become more creative in the digital world.  I have started using Vine, Instagram and Snapchat, not because I have so much free time to spend with more apps, but because I want to understand them better.  I have created two Storify stories, A Story About Clouds and another about hashtags, Love or Hate the Hashtag?. I have dabbled in some video editing in the last year and I am playing with photo apps that transform my shots into little works of art like the photo below. While these may not all be masterpieces, they are exercises in content development.

my photo of Chichen Itza with a treatment by the app WordFoto

my photo of Chichen Itza with a treatment by the app WordFoto

Blogging is one more means to becoming a better content creator, forcing me to focus, synthesize my ideas and  become a better writer.  One of my biggest fears in all of this is that someone will see I have a comma out of place, or will think I am out to lunch with one idea or another. I think in order to be better content creators, writers, artists, whatever we have to flex our creative muscles.  If you want to become a content creator, fear needs to get tossed out the window…NOW! If your concern is that you might make mistakes on your professional blog or  Instagram account, my recommendation is that you maintain a separate one, a incognito one where you can experiment, test your theories and refine your technique.  I recently read this piece from Search Engine Journal, Got Writer’s Block? Content Marketing Fatigue? 5 Ways to Break Through .

“The pure effort of writing is hard enough, but coupled with the pain of putting your work out into the world and letting others judge it, this can be enough to stop you from getting started at all. The trick to overcoming this isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly effective: give yourself permission to write badly, and just start.”

I am going to say this idea can be extended to a lot of things. If your new to Twitter, give yourself permission to tweet badly;  the only way to ‘get it’ is to do it.

What kind of things are you doing to be a content creator? Are you driving new business with your content? I would love you hear about your successes.

Throwback Thursday: Feel the Fear – Public Speaking

Public speaking makes me nervous. Am I alone? What is that thing they say, most people fear public speaking more than death. In spite of the fear I have had occasion to do quite a bit of it in my life. As an exchange student in South Africa, I did a traveling slide show and talk about Canada to various, school, community and Rotary groups. As a young adult I had the privilege of attending an economic summit for the Kootenays, the region I lived in at the time, and was selected as the youth delegate to address attendees at the conclusions of the summit. I was sweating buckets speaking before 400 business leaders and the Premier of our province, but I did it. I don’t know who said it, but I think this is the best advice to take into those situations: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” What amazes me is that often watching anyone speak, they never look as nervous as they admit to being after the fact.

A few years back I did this interview for a local TV news segment, promoting an event for the local cloth diapering community. I was still running my eCommerce business, Rocky Mountain Kid, at the time and the event had a strong tie in with our products and philosophy. I don’t think I look nervous at all, though I know I was. What do you think?

Throwback Thursday – Guinness Book Event

The Imposter Syndrome

Mike

A few years back I was lucky enough to get to attend the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs  annual conference. Over the three days I met a lot of interesting women. I had the opportunity to listen to, and meet some great speakers . One of the speakers I enjoyed most was a woman named Dr. Valerie Young, who spoke about the “Imposter Syndrome.” The subject of her talk and her life’s work was an idea that would set me free to take greater risks, to speak my mind and to trust that I am very smart and talented, despite what I might sometimes tell myself.

Dr. Young spoke about having interviewed hundreds (maybe more) people over the course of her research. She recounted stories of CEOs who would surreptitiously confide that they thought the person who had hired them had confused them with someone else. She met prestigious scholarship winners who thought a mistake had been made during the selection process and they were waiting to be found out. Astronauts claimed they only made it on the mission because of someone else’s illness. She recounted many examples of very talented and intelligent people who felt they didn’t measure up to what others perceived them to be.

Hearing her speak was a huge “Aha” moment for me. How could I not have realized this sooner? We can all doubt ourselves, the danger is in giving this doubt too much value. The danger is in believing that voice that says you are not smart enough, talented enough, or deserving enough to succeed and get the things you want. These days when I experience self doubt, I remember Dr. Young’s talk, I label the feeling (imposter syndrome), I smile, and I move on. The quotes accompanying this blog came from the website of Dr.Valerie Young and illustrate the syndrome perfectly. So the next time you are doubting yourself, know that everyone else is doing the same, recognize those doubts for what the really are, and move on.

kate

maya

How Will You Measure Your Life? – A Book Review

The title of this book intrigued me – I mean how could it not. Typically I will take a book like this and flip to random pages to read excerpts and see if they really grab me. The excerpts, as well as the back of the jacket description, got me interested in this one. Christensen is  Professor at the Harvard Business School and this book came about as a result of a commencement address he gave to the 2010 graduating class.

2012-05-16-HowWillYouMeasureHC_cover-620x930

The premise of the book is that Christensen applies theories used in business to individuals and their lives. He talks about Honda’s emergence in the American market and how they had to quickly change their strategy from offering a product they thought the market wanted to offering them the one it turned out they wanted. He likens this to what he calls a person’s deliberate versus their emergent plan. We have  ideas about what we want to do in our lives, and it is important to have these goals, but we also need to be open to recognizing new opportunities like Honda did. Christensen talks about how in his own life he always wanted to work at the Wall Street Journal and instead became a Harvard Professor; it wasn’t what he had in mind but he recognized it as an opportunity, found a love for it and then this emergent plan became part of his deliberate plan.

In another chapter he talks about Dell outsourcing it’s manufacturing  to Asus bit by bit over a period of years. It started with just outsourcing production of their motherboards, but piece by piece resulted in Dell doing none of the manufacturing at which point Asus knew how to make their computers better than they did. Dell had outsourced all of their competencies to the point Asus could do better without Dell which he likens this to parents outsourcing the care and instruction of their children. In the Dell/Asus analogy he refers to RONA, the financial ratio of return on net investments. As Dell outsourced further work to Asus, their RONA continually improved which is/was interpreted as good thing, but what that metric failed to take into account was what they were losing, which was their hold on their key competencies. This mistaken or distorted estimation of results, emphasizes the errors we might make in assigning value to things in our lives.

While you might not agree with everything Christiansen has to say, he presents some interesting ideas for consideration. It’s a good read if you are interested in business or if you are living.  I highly recommend this book, while I could not agree with everything, I found it thought provoking and intelligent. There is little point in my trying to summarize all the interesting things the book has to say, you should give it a read. Suffice to say if you should come across the book, I think you will find reading it worth your time.