When leading marketer and author of Youtility Jay Baer speaks, we listen. Here, he tells us about his time working in Arizona prisons, why you shouldn’t treat your customers like cells in a spreadsheet and what the term ‘youtility’ actually means for marketers.

As traditional forms of marketing decline, content marketing will continue to rise.

In theory, content marketing has been around for hundreds of years. It’s just that historically, it was offline. Most of what we consider to be content marketing now was in the form of magazines or events.

If you think about what companies used to publish online from, say, 1994 until about 2008, it was primarily just factual, right? When you went to their websites, it was just, ‘Okay, bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. Here’s what we sell. Here’s what it costs. Here’s where our offices are’. It was essentially a brochure.

Then we started to realise that we can attract information and educate customers and delight customers and change brand perception with information. That’s where content marketing came to the forefront.

It’s not a coincidence that content marketing, in terms of how we think about it today, is primarily online information that attracts potential customers and convinces them to buy from us. The rise of that happened at the same time that traditional legacy advertising started to work less well, as TV, radio and print got harder to use.

What ‘youtility’ actually means and how it helps marketers.

Youtility is marketing so useful that people would pay for it. Marketing that has so much value that if you said to a potential customer, ‘Hey, would you give us a couple of dollars for this?’ They would say, ‘Yeah, I actually would do that.’ That’s a tough test.

Most marketing does not meet that standard but some marketing does. That marketing is classified in my world as Youtility. It’s not easy to create Youtility. You need the courage to give away value today. Expect that your customers will reward you at some point in the future. It’s not immediate.

Hilton Hotels has a program on Twitter called ‘Hilton Suggests’, where they look for people sending out tweets and strategically eavesdrop. They just chop into conversations and look for chances to help people.

If Hilton all of a sudden shows up in your Twitter stream with some advice, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to rush out and go book a hotel room at a Hilton. But maybe down the road, you’ll go, ‘Yeah, Hilton was cool – they helped me.’ Maybe you were thinking of either the Hilton or the Marriott, but Hilton helped you, so you’ll give Hilton the benefit of the doubt and book a room there. That’s the power of Youtility.

What are the two major marketing pain points that Baer comes across most often?

Figuring out how to allocate resources.

It’s not about the money, it’s about the time. All forms of modern digital marketing require long labour. Marketing automation is not a very good term because it actually requires a ton of time to create all those emails – set up the business rules, monitor everything. You have to actually have labour.

Social media requires tons of time – listening, responding, analytics. Content marketing requires a ton of time.

I think one of the biggest pain points for marketers today is that business people will say, ‘Who do I need to do this in my company? How many people? What should I pay them?’ The human capital part of it continues to be a challenge.

Understanding amplification.

We’ve gotten to the point now where content is really competitive. Most niches have explored it. If you’re going to succeed, you almost have to have an amplification plan on top of your content marketing plan. Some of those plans should include pay production, whether it’s paying for Facebook ads or Outbrain or an influencer program to seed your content or whatever and people don’t know what to pay for that. In most cases, it’s not in the budget.

The future lies in marketing your marketing.

Marketing plans are usually, ‘How do we market the company?’ or ‘How do we do this product launch?’ In my firm, we’re trying to convince and convert and encourage corporate clients to think of content as a product. How do you market a piece of content as if it were a new product? You have to market your marketing. You need to have a launch plan for a piece of content. You need to have a multiple stage seeding and unveiling for it. Have a teaser. You need to have multiple content assets. You have an analytics program.

What happens in many cases is that companies create great content but then nobody ever sees it, right? There are a lot of times social media is really good amplification for the content but it all works together.

The most valuable metrics for marketers.

I think you need multiple metrics for every content program. There are four types of metrics – consumption metrics, sharing metrics, lead generation metrics and sales metrics. You need one or more from each of those categories.

You have to have a variety of metrics but they need to paint a consistent narrative. You have to show metrics that show the stages of consumption and what happens after that.

Let’s say you’re a company that has a blog that has products, that has pricing about the products on the website, but doesn’t sell online. That’s a fairly common scenario, right? I would look at the people who came to the blog and then using Google Analytics, run an analysis that says, “Among the people who came to the blog for the first time, how many of them also went to our pricing page?

I would use that as key metric. Because they’re not going to go to the pricing page on accident. You go to the pricing page because you’re interested.

You then start to look at some of those other behaviours that aren’t necessarily on purchase, but are indicative of interest and you start model content based on those items.

Thinking of finally getting onto social? Here’s where to start.

I wouldn’t had said this a year ago, but one of the best places to start would be to create a ‘dark’ social experience. It’s not about being there in public. If you’re an association, for example, I wouldn’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s start with a Facebook page or a Twitter account.’ I would start with a Facebook group or LinkedIn group – something where only members can participate.

It’s almost going back to the free social media era where discussion boards and forums and more personal private communities were the norm. That’s a place where we’re getting back to. It’s also really a good place to be able to start. If you just say, ‘Hey, Let’s throw up a Facebook page tomorrow’, it’s going to be really hard to instantly succeed with that.

Social media is not about trying to sell your stuff.

It’s really important to understand that social media is shit as a sales tool at scale, right? It’s much better as a loyalty retention tool. If you think about social as a way to take people who like your company and make them love your company, you’ll be better off than using it as a way to get people who’ve never heard of your company to buy something.

If you think about social like you do about email, as a way to stay in touch, I think you’re much better off.

Want to cut through the clutter on social media? Help your customers.

Marketing is hard now. We have all these technologies, but yet marketing gets harder, not easier. There’s just so much competition for attention. If you look at Facebook or Twitter or even your inbox or Pinterest or Instagram, it’s a combination of personal relationships, like the one with my wife and or the ones with the companies that I follow or support. If you actually look at your feed, you’ll see something from a friend or a family member or a company, side-by-side.

If you’re going to break through that minutiae and clutter, that’s where I think being really really helpful and useful comes to pass. People will tell you, ‘Hey, you need to go viral or be wacky or funny.’ But I don’t find that to be a very strategic approach. I think that’s more gambling than strategy. If you’re inherently useful and creating content that people want to receive, you will succeed eventually.

How marketers can use social media to promote their corporate culture.

There are companies that use their corporate Facebook page not as a way to sell something, but just as a way to showcase culture. Here’s today’s birthday and interviewing employees and doing little video chats with employees. Those things are really good and showing the human side of the organisation.

I think the other key there is thinking of social not just as company accounts, but social is all of your employees’ accounts and your company accounts. How do we get you to participate in social in a way that reflects positively on the organisation? In the States, that’s a really, really big thing right now. It’s about employees’ social activation and how you get employees trained at using social and there’s lots of new software to help with that. It’s a big, big deal.

The same way that everybody has an email address. The theory is that everybody will also have a Twitter account and a LinkedIn account and you’ll start to use it in the same way.

Customers are not cells in a spreadsheet.

We’re surrounded by data but starved for insights. A lot of times we look at data and we think it means insights and it doesn’t. It just means data. This is very old-school, but we encourage marketers to have actual conversations with customers, whether that’s telephone interviews or focus groups or just talking to your customers at the front desk. Find a way to have conversation with real customers on ongoing basis.

It will make you a vastly better marketer, because you will understand what your customers are really about, which isn’t that they’re column F3.

Customers are smart. If you’re not being authentic, they’ll catch you out.

I think it’s foundational, because trust is the prism through which all business success must pass. Without trust, marketing is irrelevant. Without trust, price is irrelevant. Without trust, customer service is irrelevant.

Today, people can decide whether or not they trust you just by going to their phone and doing a Google search. This idea of putting information out there and being very trustworthy, open, honest and almost radically transparent, has turned out to be one of the very best ways to gain trust.

In fact, Australia now has the McDonald’s ‘Our Food Your Questions’ program which started in Canada. That’s a great example of trust and radical transparency, where customers can ask the business questions about their food and they’ll answer them online or with videos. It’s a huge, huge part of the playbook now.

Lowes in the US is killing it at the content game right now.

Lowes, the home improvement retailer in the US, has a program called FixInSix, which is a whole series of five very short Vine videos that [offer people] helpful tips around the home. It’s really effective and very well executed. They took the same videos and they put them on Pinterest, Tumblr and YouTube. They took one idea and executed it in a bunch of different places which is very, very smart.

Before Baer was a content marketer, he was a political consultant and worked in prisons. And when he began working in digital, he had never used the internet.

I started as a political consultant where I managed political campaigns here in the US. Then I realised that it was a tough way to make a living and got into client-side marketing and worked for a corporation for a while.

Then I started to work for a brief time for the government. I was a spokesperson for the department of juvenile prisons in Arizona. I really, really, really did not like that job. My job was to give tours of the juvenile prison, which is not great.

About the same time, I had dinner with some friends of mine from university in 1993. They started the very first internet company in Arizona. They said, “Hey, this company is starting to get big and we don’t know anything about marketing.” I said, ”Well, that’s okay. When you say the word ‘internet’, I don’t know what you mean. I’ll do any job other than this job.

I quit my job for the government and went to work for an internet company having never seen the internet. I didn’t even know what it meant. This was 1993 – it was a long time ago in internet years. I ended up as vice president.

I also started up four or five different consultancies to help companies understand digital marketing and social media and content marketing.

The two biggest lessons he has learnt in his career.

Always change.

Technology always changes. The best practices always change. That’s why what I always tell people, ‘Focus on your business first. What is your business about? What do you stand for? What are your values? Find a way for that to show up in content and in social.’ If you lead with social or content, six months later, you’ll need to totally change your plan because there’s new technology. There are new trends. There are new mass practices. You have to have a core, a foundation that everything else basically sticks on.

Some days you’re the pigeon and some days, you’re the statue.

The second thing is on a sign I look at it every day because it is one of the things that I’ve learned in my career. It says, ‘Some days, you’re the pigeon and some days, you’re the statue.’ It’s never going as good as you think it’s going. It’s going as bad as you think it’s going. I find the people who are most successful in this business are the people that generally keep a pretty even keel. That’s hard to do, both when you’re excited and when you’re just disappointed. Try to keep pretty even about it and dispassionate and it will keep you much happier.

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