Marketing utility? What’s that?

The marketing and advertising world is full of buzzwords and the ‘next big thing.’ It has been and likely always will be this way, and sorting through the clutter to get to the real gold nuggets can be a challenge. Occasionally, the ‘next big thing’ actually turns out to be pretty valuable in the context of starting and growing a business (like search engine optimization, which was ‘the next big thing’ fifteen years ago).

I’m betting that you’ve at least heard these terms in the past 24 months:

Social Media Marketing. Content Marketing. Crowdsourced Marketing. Social Co-Marketing.

And now there’s Marketing Automation (which makes a lot of practical sense, if the service model resting on top of the technology layer is well designed). What you likely haven’t heard a lot about is marketing utility, and that’s because it’s difficult to actually build into traditional lead-generation and service systems for mid-sized companies (and even large brands).

So, back to the starting point… what’s marketing utility?

Marketing utility is the design of a functional tool hosted by a brand that has practical use for consumers. And not practical use in the sense that they can easily find information on a website about topic X and compare it to what someone else is saying about topic Y. Marketing utility at its core is selfless: it’s about the design of something that can do something of use for consumers. More specifically, consumers of your products and services.

Here’s a simple example: a car rental company launches a mobile application that aggregates data about current weather and road conditions (with a short-term forecast). It then delivers relevant, localized information to the consumer’s phone after running a geolocation script to pinpoint the consumer’s location. If desired, the application can also map a route for the consumer and highlight rest stops along the way. All that the application does is provide a useful service to the consumer, for free (the application is branded, of course).

What’s the secret behind a well-designed marketing utility tool? Because it’s selfless, it will actually serve your business needs. The 21st century consumer is smart, discerning, and can smell a sales hook from a mile away. Because most firms competing in the market are still fishing with hooks (instead of chocolate kisses on a string), consumers tend to react very favourably to selfless acts that benefit them. If you treat your customers the way that you would want to be treated and selflessly provide something of use for them, you’ll be rewarded with their patronage when it’s time to make a purchase.

The Elements of a Well-Designed Marketing Utility Tool

If you’re thinking about taking the plunge (good for you!), make sure that the finished product has these characteristics:

  1. Your branding (subtle, not overpowering).
  2. That the tool does something of value (i.e. it calculates, suggests, delivers, connects, or in some way makes something that your customers do regularly less time-consuming or more pleasant).
  3. Usage patterns can be tracked (and therefore, analyzed).
  4. It treats the user respectfully with regards to the collection of personal information.

What Next?

Go forth, be selfless, and make some money.