Are You Useful or Useless?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how entertainment is one of the two proven content strategies. In our last post of 2015, I will address the other one, which is simply to be useful. Whether we call it Brand Utilities, Customer Utilities or just tools, offering value to your audience is one of the most effective ways to connect with them. But it is much more than just thinking that the product sold offers a degree of usefulness for the customer – this is about using utility as marketing.

“So how can one be useful? Does that mean we get to have an app? Please?”, you ask. Not necessarily, sorry. Most branded apps have no value for the consumer, and is mainly made for the CEO to say that “we have an app”. Most consumers are reluctant to download apps from brands, and if they do, they tend to use it once or twice and then either delete it, or forget it. I’m not saying it’s impossible to create a great app, there are many examples of useful brand apps. But the successful ones have been made with utility as the sole purpose of the app. It gives the consumer something they can use over time. If your business is subscription-based, if you offer renewed content and functionality on a regular basis or if you have found a way to engage and re-engage the customer/user, then by all means, build that app. But for most companies and brands, the opportunity may not be an app.

“Ok, so what else? How can we be useful?” Let’s break it down into different categories, and see how brands can use these 5 ways of creating a closer connection with the audience:

  1. Web tools and services
  2. Mobile services
  3. Useful content
  4. Wearable utilities
  5. Social tools

Web tools and services

Every company and brand of note has a website, but what does your website actually do? Is it just a digital brochure, or do you offer any value to your audience? How are you making their visit useful to them? To really get to the core of this, you have to fully understand the purpose of your customers’ visit to your site. It could be for very basic reasons; they may be looking for your contact details (many companies still hide this for unknown reasons), they may be looking to purchase your products (how can you make that process as easy as possible?), they may be interested in finding out more about you and your offering (how do you serve that information, and how can you give them more than they expected?) or they could be coming to see their account info (how do you use that opportunity to offer them value and even up-sell or cross-sell?). The point is that many web users leave corporate or brand sites frustrated, because it takes too long to find what they’re looking for. So to be useful, it’s smart to get the basics sorted out, before you start to look at tools and utilities.

Mobile services

Most consumers in mature markets carry smartphones. And yes, as discussed above, there are opportunities to build apps that offer utility to the consumer, either directly product/service related, or something useful in the general area that the brand is in. Let’s say that you work for an insurance company, then creating an app that helps people secure their property, make claims easier, securely store their personal information and photos of their valuables etc. would make sense. In contrast, building an app that lets them do exactly what they could do on the website does not. This brings us to the opportunities in building a mobile specific site that allows your customers to access the services, rather than hiding them in an app. Buying products, managing subscriptions, finding information, videos etc. are all tasks that can be done using current web technologies. So on mobile, it’s important to keep things accessible, simple and practical. And building a brilliant mobile website is better for your SEO too.

Useful content

Many companies run a blog or provide downloadable reports and/or white papers. And that’s great. But how useful is the information really? If it’s all centred around your brand or company and your offerings, it may not be that relevant to the reader or viewer (if you are creating video content). But if it’s interesting and useful information in the general area of interest for the consumer, well then that’s great. Of course, all companies want something in return, so the content can’t be completely random – it has to be relevant to your industry. But the value exchange is very clear; you provide useful content, they see your brand as an attractive source. This is an important way to connect in a credible and contextually relevant way. When creating content, think about what you are giving, rather than what you are receiving. That’s the only way to create real value for your customers, and for you to gain something from it in the (hopefully near) future.

Wearable utilities

If your brand has a history of being progressive, also in the area of technology, then wearables is the space to be in. While building branded apps for smartphones is not very innovative in 2016, building one for an Apple Watch or Android Wear is a completely different story. Again, it has to be really useful for the consumer or else it holds no value, and just takes up space on the device. Find out how you can create something that they will use almost every day. Something that makes life just a little bit easier.

Social tools

The last strategy for utilities we will look at in this post, is social tools. These are tools that makes using social media easier, better, more engaging or more fun (there is no reason utility can’t be playful). By offering a social way to spread content, engage with friends, colleagues etc., you can really provide value, and get the added bonus of spreading your content in an engaging way. There are many ways of doing this, either by leveraging tools that already exist, or to build something that you can own and build on in the future. The goal is always to provide value, and receive credibility and in turn generate sales.

These five strategies seem quite simple, but can be very hard to deliver on. They require real insights, strong ideas and flawless execution. It forces a shift in resource allocation from distribution (media) to production, and it craves ongoing innovation to be successful over time. But the rewards are high, and the investment can be limited. So here’s a suggestion for your 2016 New Year’s resolution: Be more useful.

Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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[Main photo by Matt Brown, under CC]