It’s a crowded world out there with marketers competing fiercely for the dwindling attention spans of customers who are much more savvy, informed and cynical about marketing. There’s too much advertising, too many messages and too little time for customers to sort through it all.
Ironically, these modern-day marketing challenges also present a solution.
If your customers are deluged with too much information, help them find what they’re looking for. If they have too little time, help them save time. It’s called branded utility and it’s about providing your customers with something that is useful to them.
Branded utility is not new (think Michelin and its guide to the best restaurants, launched in the 1920s), but technology has made a significant difference to how accessible it can be, and how much easier it is to create.
Branded utility in the consumer world is everywhere – from Columbia Sportswear’s handy mobile app that tells you how to tie any knot, to Orange’s festival tent that lights up when you text it – but creating something really useful in the B2B space is more of a challenge.
An often cited B2B example is American Express’ OPEN Forum, a website designed to help small business owners grow their businesses by providing both insights and resources online.
Another B2B example is this content website we created for our client McAfee, which serves as a resource for statistical information on cyber security in Canada. As a leading security company, McAfee has access to the latest information on threats so it was relatively easy to put together. It also knew this was something that would help IT security professionals and there was nothing currently available to meet that demand. The site is now recognized as a reputable source of information, strengthening brand credibility and trust for McAfee.
The challenge for B2B brands is that characteristically, they have much bigger problems to solve and thus it becomes more difficult to create a utility that will be easy to create and cost-effective, while still being relevant.
In our experience working with B2B companies in the tech space, the key is to start with audience insight. Dig deep under the skin of your customers to find out what they care about, what they love, what keeps them up at night and what their pain points are. You may have a good understanding of these points already, but consider how you can continue to feel the pulse of your industry, react to changes and address those target needs. A quarterly or annual survey is one way to achieve this.
The other point to make about utility is that creating something useful is not enough – sure, you may get lucky with organic adoption through word of mouth from the right people, but it’s more likely you will still need to promote your utility. To do this, leverage all the channels you have at your disposal and create a promotion strategy to market the utility to your target audience.
Ultimately it’s up to marketers to think of a utility that will provide a useful service to their customers and lead them to marketing glory, but here are some ‘useful’ tips to help you get started:
- Start with insight. It’s the only way you’re going to know what’s actually useful to your customers. Talk to them, do a survey, use social media, do focus groups – anything and everything you can to understand what their pain points are.
- Be certain it’s actually useful. See the point above. Something that’s of no use is just more noise.
- Make sure it connects with your brand. Branded utility is not about the hard sell, but there should be some obvious connection between the utility and what you do (eg. Knots -> outdoor activity -> Columbia).
- Test the idea. Think you’re on to a winner? Try it out on a sample of your target audience to confirm it’s worthwhile before investing more time and money. This will also provide great feedback for you to tweak or improve things.
- Promote it. In a perfect world you would ‘build it and they will come,’ but give yourself a fighting chance and let your audience know about it through all channels (eg. Social, media relations, direct marketing, events, paid search).
- It can be hard work. Creating or building the utility is only the first step. Commit to your idea and carry it through to promotion and devote the necessary resources to it.