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

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.