What is Utility Marketing?
Utility marketing means putting content and information in your marketing material that your target audience can utilize.
It’s the opposite of interruption marketing where your goal is to get your offer in front of as many people as possible in the hopes that someone will buy.
You may have heard of engagement marketing or conversational marketing, where the goal is to engage the customer in a dialog. You establish a rapport with your customer so that they trust you and will be more likely to buy and/or give you a referral.
Utility marketing takes this one step further by focusing more on the specific needs of the target audience.
- it could be a mobile app that helps the user plan healthier meals, built by a grocery store chain.
- it could be a quick financial wrap up report delivered via email from a financial advisor.
- or a blog that gives useful tips that the customer can put into practice right away… like this one.
It’s been around for years. There have been magazines, television/radio programs, and books geared towards empowering the user to do something with the tools provided. I remember the glossy books from Sears telling me how to remodel a kitchen, fix a leaky pipe, or build a deck… with Sears Craftsman Tools.
Never before, though, has utility marketing so permeated the marketplace. The reason for this is mobile. Mobile marketing and utility marketing are like peas and carrots. Utility marketing is about positioning your organization as a resource and smartphones are the new tools for finding resources.
When someone has a question or a need, more and more, they reach for their smartphone or tablet.
Are you positioning yourself as a utility for your clients? Let’s take a look at three ways to add utility marketing to your mobile marketing arsenal…
- Responsive Design – re-purpose your website design for use on mobile as a resource for a mobile audience
- Responsive Content – repurpose your content – similar to your design – for a mobile audience
- Mobile Apps – go even further: create a utility for your customers as an Android or iPhone app
- Progressive Web Apps – a mobile app alternative that works like an app but through the browser
Responsive design, which involves coding and designing a website so it “responds” to the device on which it is being viewed, is a being used by more and more organizations as a way to market and connect with clients on mobile devices.
Unfortunately, in many cases, Responsive Design is either not implemented correctly or ignored altogether. Responsive design is very important because it rearranges your website to work with a Smartphone or tablet device. And this new custom arrangement makes for a better user experience.
Many businesses fail with responsive design (aside from skipping it completely) because they fail to understand the context. If we think about your website from a utility marketing standpoint, we’re forced to consider the user and their needs…
- Why are they looking for your content?
- What are they doing in that moment? Walking? Watching TV? Looking at an ad? Looking at a billboard?
- What are you giving them in that moment that they can use?
Remember, context is the key. Just having your website appear correctly on a mobile device is not enough. The type of information and how it displays should apply to the need at that moment.
The more you can anticipate the needs of your target audience, the better you can structure your site so it appears appropriately. And when the user finds great utility content that solves their problem, they will keep coming back.
Think about it this way: would you rather have 1,000 random people visit your website once, or 100 target users bookmark it to view it again and again?
Understanding the needs of your target audience in real world scenarios will also help you to prioritize and deliver better content to them. Similar to responsive design, responsive content is delivered to your target audience when and how they need it.
Some designers argue that responsive mobile websites should contain all the content that is on your standard website, just in a different format. Here’s the problem: blanket assumptions or assertions do not work in the world of online marketing and engagement. Research and testing do. And, most of all, context.
How much content should appear on responsive pages? Generally speaking, the answer is “some of it” – somewhere in between a click or two and the whole shebang.
To illustrate this point, let’s break down the types of content that make up a website:
- Résumé content – this is your About Us, History, Case Studies, Testimonials, etc.
- Sales content – usually landing pages or product/service pages where the target user can make an inquiry or purchase
- Utility content – this could be blog posts, videos, online tools, app downloads, etc.
Looking through this list with the mobile user in mind, you can easily see what content best matches their needs. A mobile user is usually not going to need to get to the About Us content in any sort of hurry. But, they might need directions right then and there.
Your mobile web presence can be adjusted specifically for the user experience by using responsive design media queries. In doing so the user can be shown the content they want at that time. I recommend that your mobile homepage use a mix of housekeeping and utility content.
The sales and résumé content can be interwoven into internal mobile pages or navigation buttons. Sometimes it is important for the user to be able to get right to the sales content. This all comes down to knowing your target user and anticipating their potential interaction points with your mobile presence.
In simple terms this means: take them exactly where they want to go without too much exertion on their part.
Responsive content is simply content that can be modified to work across multiple devices, similar to the design. So, all of the content types should “respond” to the user’s needs (your web developer can help set this up for you)…
- Résumé content – perhaps users need this content, but the need isn’t urgent. Place access to this in a “more” type navigation link. Also, keep in mind that they will not always need the full version of this on a mobile device, so consider pulling a smaller portion of it for mobile.
- Housekeeping content – make this content mobile friendly. If there is a phone number, make sure the user can click on that number to call you. If there are directions, make sure the address links to the device’s native maps feature or else include a link to something like Google Maps.
- Sales content – nothing is more frustrating than seeing an ad or doing a search, seeing the product or service you want, and then clicking on it only to land on a basic homepage. You’re forced to search all over again on the website you were sent to. Sometimes you can’t find it and buy from another vendor. Instead, use responsive landing pages to deliver product and service specific content, especially if you’re promoting it with an ad or through social media. Make it easy to find and buy what they want!
- Utility content – remember, this is the stuff that your target audience needs. Put this content up front and in a way where they can easily access the materials. If it’s a blog post, make sure your blog design is responsive. If it’s video or audio, provide players that work on multiple device types – better yet, deliver this content in multiple varieties coded so that the appropriate format is delivered to the appropriate device (again, your web developer can help with this).
Content is king, but context is what makes content work. Simply delivering the same content in the same format to a variety of devices is not enough. Segment out piece of content for delivery on different devices, or at least prioritize their appearance based on the device where they appear.
Apps are expensive and take time to build. So, it doesn’t always make financial sense for a company to build an app if they can easily deliver the same information via a mobile website.
However, there are times when an app just makes sense – don’t squander these golden opportunities. Since you won’t always know right away, do some research and find out if your audience would use the app. You can always ask them.
Are there other apps out there that already do what you want? Can you do it better? Is there room for more than one of these in the marketplace?
After you’ve done your homework and still feel that an app is a viable solution for your business, it’s time to specifically define its utility to your target user. How does your app solve their problems?
A big part of utility marketing is getting yourself into your customer’s toolbox. Once there, you’ve achieved a new level of connection with that customer that goes beyond anything else we’ve discussed.
How does your app get there? It gets there by solving user problems consistently over time. Don’t build an app for a one-time use (it’s a waste of money). If it is a resource offering them instant solutions on their mobile device again and again, that’s brilliant.
Here are some possible examples of apps for specific industries to help illustrate this point…
- Fitness – a health club develops a training app for a specific type of fitness program that is their specialty. Maybe people in your area download the app first to help with their training and then they join your club to get the full benefit. Or it’s the other way around, they are a member and the app keeps them engaged. Plus they can share their workout results on social channels further promoting you.
- Non-profits – non-profits often promote their fundraising efforts. They can build an app that facilitates these efforts and helps volunteers with tools and tips for better fundraising. Or maybe the app is an extension of a game being used for fundraising like a race. It would be useful to develop an app that could be used for multiple efforts so your investment continues to pay off throughout many fundraising campaigns.
- Garden Center – a garden center is usually more successful if they help their clients to be better gardeners. A garden center could develop an app that tells the gardener when to water, prune, fertilize, etc. They could use the app to track results and share those results on social channels. And guess where they will be purchasing all of their materials?
Progressive Web Apps – PWA
When looking at alternatives for apps, PWAs are your best option. PWAs are a modified website designed to work more natively with a mobile device.
While not yet fully available for Apple devices, there are workarounds. All signs point to iOS availability in the near future.
Apple has not yet fully integrated the service workers. PWA service workers are what makes these PWAs feel like native apps. Once these service workers are universally accepted, we’ll see a major spike in PWA usage.
A PWA works a lot like an app with one main difference. If you a PWA link on your desktop you’ll see a UI that works for the desktop resolution too. Try that with a native app. You can’t.
Progressive Web Apps
- Built in HTML5 within existing website framework
- They are a modified website to work natively through the use of “service workers”
- PWAs can send push notices and can be stored on your phone with an icon
- You can use a PWA with limited and even no internet connection, seriously
- Fingerprint, bluetooth, and other hardware features not yet available
- Service workers not yet supported on iOS but will be soon
Usefulness Builds Trust
It’s simple really – if you provide value, you are valuable. If you help someone solve a problem, they will remember you. Being top of mind when it comes time for your potential client, member, subscriber, voter, whatever to make a decision, you want them to consider you. You’re trusted because you’ve helped them and are a valued resource.
Trust increases the likelihood of conversion.
What are some of your favorite resources on Mobile? Who makes them? How are you involved with that organization? What sort of utilities could you provide to your clients? Let me know in the comments section below.
I highly recommend checking out Jay Baer’s book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype. He covers a lot these themes and gives some great examples of utility marketing.