Ellen DeGeneres crashed Twitter with her Oscars selfie, but your business does not need access to Hollywood A-listers to make your own mark. On March 25, author Jay Baer and Anna Hrach of digital agency ethology showed how simply providing useful content can make your brand more valuable to your audience.
In their webinar “Help Not Hype: How to Create Content Your Customers Actually Want,” Baer and Hrach asserted that the key to creating customer relationships in the digital world is providing content that is inherently useful to people instead of pushing self-promotional advertising that might capture interest for a moment but fails to create long-term engagement. According to Hrach, formulating a strategy that balances the goals of your brand with the needs of your audience is essential to understanding how to support your business by providing content that your customers actually want and need.
Baer drew upon his book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype to state the case for why brands need to focus more on the unsexy attribute of being useful to hold the attention of your audience. Because both consumers and businesses are flooding the digital world with their own content, ironically businesses are competing with their own customers for attention. The solution for businesses is to avoid the temptation to simply stand out for a few seconds with marketing stunts and hype-filled headlines but rather become trusted utilities that people will want to come back to time and again for useful information that enriches our lives.
“You must do more than create content,” he asserted. “You have to make youtility, or content so useful that people would pay for it. Youtility is marketing that people cherish, not tolerate.”
For instance, through its @HiltonSuggests Twitter account, Hilton Worldwide provides helpful tips to travelers such as the best places to enjoy afternoon tea in London. The account responds to requests from everyday travelers and also scours the Twitterverse to reach out to people who didn’t even directly ask Hilton for advice. Baer cited the example of how Hilton contacted a traveler who randomly asked about good places to have a meal in downtown Dallas on a Saturday. Baer pointed out that Hilton does not restrict its suggestions to Hilton-branded properties either.
Source: Jay Baer
“By providing useful ideas, Hilton is playing the long game,” he added, citing Google data that the typical consumer sought 11.4 sources of information before making a purchase in 2011, up from 5.3 sources in 2010. “We are seeking more sources of information online to make decisions,” he said. “Brands that offer useful information are meeting an increasingly important need.”
He also cited the example of River Pools, a Virginia-based pool supply company that found itself on the brink of going out of business in 2009 in the aftermath of the housing market crash. With no money available to advertise and nothing to lose, the company began compiling its lessons learned about pool installation and upkeep in a public blog on its website. The information was so useful that pool owners began flocking to its website to learn, and they began telling others about it. The content-rich site helped make tentative customers more confident about buying and maintaining a pool, which was especially important in a down market. River Pools is now a successful business. Its customers typically read more than 100 pages of content on its website before buying a pool — at which point they are confident, knowledgeable, and ready to purchase.
Source: Jay Baer
The webinar was not the first time I’ve heard a thought leader discuss the importance of useful content marketing, but few subject matter experts discuss the topic as convincingly (and with such clear examples) as Baer. Anna Hrach built off of Baer’s points by discussing keys to creating useful branded content. They include getting your website in order and creating a strategy.
“Content can be amazingly powerful to both brands and consumers, but only if it’s done the right way,” she said. Without a strategy in place and an effective website in place, brands will spin their wheels and pay a needless cost in terms of time, money, resources, and labor.
Since websites remain home base for brands, she stressed the importance of making sure your site is well organized and free of needless content — sort of like cleaning your house before you have company over for dinner. She urged brands to stop treating their websites like “digital junk drawers” and to clean them up before using them to host useful content.
With a foundation in place for creating content, brands need to create effective strategies, she said, noting that the Content Marketing Institute recently reported that only 39 percent of marketers have documented content strategies in place.
She asserted that good strategies should including intelligence gathered about your audience, an audit of your content, an analysis of where you have gaps between what you offer and what your audience needs, creation of a plan with tactics and priorities, and plan execution.
Most of her discussion focused on the importance of uncovering the wants and needs of your audience. She outlined a number of ways that your brand can know its audience, such as onsite search, social monitoring, an analysis of website content, analysis of search demand, and consumer research.
She also discussed how a plan should strike a balance between the needs of your brand, your audience, and “robots” — the search engines that your audience uses to find your brand. An imbalance will undermine your ability to provide useful content that results in a long-term audience relationship. Content that is too brand-focused looks like a brochure and doesn’t meet user needs. Content that is too user-focused provides zero benefit for the brand and doesn’t answer questions of your audience, anyway.
Both Baer and Hrach made a number of other points throughout the webinar, such as:
- The importance of “atomizing” your content, or spreading it across all your Web properties. Baer cited the example of Lowe’s Home Improvement creating helpful how-to content on Vine and repurposing that content on other sites like YouTube. (I use the term “hustling content” to describe taking a kernel of content and sharing it across multiple places.)
- The value of cooperative content, or co-creating content with your customers. “You don’t have to create all the content yourself,” Baer said. “Create it in cooperation with customers and employees.” For instance, Purina Beggin’ Strips curates customer-generated content on its own Instagram account and Facebook page.
- Why it is important to create brand guidelines that ensure the tone and voice of your branded content reflect your company’s personality. “Branded content needs branded guidelines” Hrarch said. “Throwing your logo on content does not mean it’s branded.”
By being a reliable provider of useful content, your brand may never crash Twitter like Ellen DeGeneres did with her Oscar selfie. But like a valuable utility, you’ll create and keep customers. Jay Baer and Anna Hrarch helped lay the foundation.