"Solve or share, don't shill" is one of the content rules that C.C. Chapman and I set forth in our book titled, well, Content Rules. In his new book, Youtility, Jay Baer stewards that concept to a new summit by asserting that content that helps more than sells will ultimately help you achieve your business goals.

In an era where an increasing number of businesses are creating content as a cornerstone of their marketing, the key to standing out is to drop the corporate-focused marketing pablum and instead focus on the customer's needs. Jay writes in Youtility: "Youtility is marketing so useful, people would pay for it. It's a new marketing model for the age of information overload."

I'll admit my bias here: I love the notion of content utility, or "youtility," or perhaps both. I'm also quoted in the book. Here's my take: The marketer who really groks content marketing is relentlessly, unremittingly focused on producing content that the customer will love. Those marketers are secondarily concerned with producing content the CEO or boss will love. That seems counter-intuitive, until you consider that if the customer or prospect is thrilled to pieces, so will be your CEO. But the inverse isn't necessarily true.

Which is why I am a fan of Jay's book. And now that I think of it, that's not really a bias. It's simply good business.

What follows is my conversation with Jay, as well as some key quotes from the book, which, by the way, launches (huzzah!) today!

Q: We’re on the ground floor in an elevator. Tell me the gist of Youtility before the doors open on the top floor.

A: The way for businesses to break through the clutter in a hyper-competitive environment is to create marketing that is so useful, people would pay for it.

Q: Turns out this car is stopping frequently. Let’s avoid uncomfortable silence. Flesh out your favorite point from the book.

A: If you sell something, you get a customer today. If you help someone you can create a customer for life.

Q: I find that companies generally fall into two camps: the Content Haves and the Content HaveNots (a.k.a. the Content Don’tCares, or the ContentMyBossWon’tApproveItAnyway). Do you find that companies understand this notion of content utility?

A: I wrote Youtility for two reasons. First, to combat the all-too-common consultant and talking head advice of “just be amazing and you’ll go viral”---which is more hope than strategy. Second, to give companies a reason and rationale for content. A Christmas tree on which they can hang ornaments of effective, useful marketing.

Q: Our friend Joe Chernov at Kinvey publishes useful content that (as he says) is intellectually divorced but emotionally wed to his brand. I like that a lot. Can you talk about the balance between helping and selling? Do most brands get it right, or do they err on the side of one or another?

A: Most brands err on the side of selling, even when they are trying to help. It’s how we were trained as businesspeople… to hunt, not farm. I love the case study in the book about Clorox and its MyStain app, and how they had internal fights about whether or not to insert a coupon. (They didn’t.) With "youtility," you have to trust your customer to connect the call-to-action dots themselves. That takes courage and a belief in longer-horizon marketing approaches.

Q: I think content utility is one leg of a three-legged content stool, so to speak. I think the others are honest empathy and inspiration---both creative and data-based.

A: Yes, something like that. But at its best, I believe youtility can contain all three. Being helpful is, by definition, being empathetic, and if you do it well enough, it can also inspire. For example, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s CoachSmart app that helps coaches (and kayakers, et al) know when lightning is on the way, and take cover. That’s useful. And empathetic. And at least to me, inspirational.

Q: Can every company create utility for their customers/would-be customers? What about, say, a pizza shop or a Kum & Go convenience store?

A. Every company can create youtility. It just requires you to transcend the transactional and give yourself permission to make the story bigger. For example, Columbia Sportswear has a great app that shows you how to tie knots. But they don’t sell rope. It’s not about their products per se, it’s about helping their customers make better decisions.

In a convenience store scenario, what about an app that tells you exactly when gas prices change? Or, what about a weekly email newsletter that has the youth sports scores and standings for the town, because the local newspaper doesn’t have the space to print them? Or a “secret” map that provides locals-only shortcuts to key destinations in the city during peak traffic hours? Or a beef jerky review blog?

Q: Note to convenience stores: a beef jerky review blog clearly has potential readership! (Curiosity made me google that....!) Anyway, what’s the best example you can think of a company that creates Youtility for its customers? Disqualified are marketing automation companies, Zappos, and other companies well known for content marketing kickassery.

A: Dozens of examples in the book, but the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Car Seat Helper App is a favorite. Helps young parents make better and safer car seat purchasing decisions. Imminently useful, elegant and on brand.

Q: What’s the most ridiculous effort you’ve seen, aside from the Huggies diaper wetness alert, TweetPee, which sends parents a tweet whenever their child pees?

A. That is the most ridiculous. I have no better example.

Q: Talking more broadly for a sec: What surprises you about how businesses are… well, doing business in this social web/new era of communication?

A. How little they’ve changed their fundamental practices. So much of social media (and now, alas, content) is essentially a reconfigured press release.

Q: You studied politics in school. How did you port over the things you learned there into marketing? Or perhaps I presume too much: Did you not port over much?

A. Politics is very good at content, and at packaging and repackaging ideas and slivers of a whole, and then merchandising those slivers to the right people at the right time. It’s often more despicable than useful, but I learned a lot about the mechanics of content marketing as a political consultant. Also, I learned a ton about metrics and measurement, one of the reasons I insisted on including a large section in the book on that topic.

Q: One of the things I like about your writing is your use of metaphor. This isn’t a question. I just wanted to say that.

A. I am delighted by that non-question. Delighted like Alex Rodriguez cradling a syringe of human growth hormone. (Which is only an allegation. And is a simile, not a metaphor, but it’s been a long week.)

Q: What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t a hype-free social media consultant, speaker, book author?

A. Teaching at a university, or (fat chance) working as the lead profile writer for Esquire. Or owning a tequila bar. I hope to check all three off the list, eventually.

Q: How do you want to be remembered?

A. As someone who helped a lot of people, and whose success (such as it was) was wholly enabled by those he assisted in their own endeavors. Alternatively: as a devastatingly handsome bon vivant with a cool business card.


Here are some key quotes from Jay's new book.

So - your turn? What's your take on content utility? What's an example you've seen?

Sign up for free to read the full article.

Take the first step (it's free).

Already a registered user? Sign in now.


image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.