Book Review: Youtility by Jay Baer

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been touted as the new darling of marketing. With the ability to churn through data, analyze petabytes worth of data points and personalize target markets through big data and account-based marketing, it is no wonder why this is so.

So is AI a competitor or a collaborator? Is there a way that marketers can learn to collaborate with AI, and complement the information that automated systems and technology brings about? According to Jay Baer, yes!

The book Youtility is a useful marketing book that takes on a different paradigm from other marketing books I’ve read. Especially in a time where the human-technology relationship has never been so strong, reading this book gave me insight in to how marketers can implement strategic and creative methods of creating value for the irrational, dynamic customers out there. I don’t often get so excited over a book, and hence decided I should share this with all aspiring and passionate marketers out there!

As per his book title, Baer presents a persuasive case as to why ‘smart marketing is about help not hype’. Baer goes through concepts such as ‘selling less to sell more’, and ‘turning marketing upside down’ through the provision of ‘self-serve information’.

In fact, the main tenet of Youtility anchors on the face that customers value trust, and ‘if your Youtility is strong enough, prospects will contact the company unilaterally after they’ve finished their research’.

Baer’s book is an easy read, well structured and full of case studies of brands that have met with success practicing Youtility. Some of these examples include McDonalds Canada, River Pools and Spas and Hilton’s twitter account (@HiltonSuggests). The structure of the book is simple: firstly, he explains the current approaches to marketing and explains why they are lacking; secondly, he briefly brings us through the tenets of Youtility; lastly, Baer explains the six blueprints to create valuable and lasting Youtilityfor the customers.

Let’s have a quick poll now:

  1. Is top-of-mind awareness and unaided brand awareness the true hallmark of a great brand?
  2. Does this then mean that big billboard advertisements in Times Square is a great method to gaining lifetime followers?
  3. Is inbound marketing and great content the best way to bring in prospects and leads?

What I love about this book is how it helps marketers to rethink and redefine the essence of the brand-consumer relationship. If your answers to the questions above are yes, then you’re only halfway there. You may want to read Youtility and consider another point of view on building a strong customer base and lasting relationship with your target markets.

That said, let’s go through the good and the bad of Youtility:

The Good

1.    Baer builds a convincing argument as to why Youtility works, and is necessary in all industries. Essentially, Youtility is necessary whenever there are customers.

2.    Youtility keeps it real. Baer explains some serious problems that the Internet age has brought about, but also provides solutions for these through the use of Youtility.These problems include:

  • The fragmented media landscape and the troubles of advertising for eyeballs. “Today’s consumers are besieged with every company of every type, size, and description jostling for attention…” – Jay Baer
  • Changing behaviours toward search engines. “I personally believe search is going to become less of a destination, and more of a tool,” – Gord Hotchkiss, search engine marketer and strategist
  • Billboards don’t work as well as expected. “TV, magazines, newspapers are all wonderful channels, but are essentially dumb in the sense that you pray that the people [will] see your advertising, and be so wowed by it that they will run to the store and buy your product…” – Avinash Kaushik, coauthor of Web Analytics 2.0
  • People don’t trust CEOs that much. (2011 Edelman Trust Barometer)
  • Competing for the (Zero) Moment of Truth. “If your company isn’t trying to win the zero moment of truth, you’re losing customers you didn’t even know you had a chance to get.” – Jay Baer
  • People don’t like trading personal info for resources: “When you tilt toward promotion and away from information, that trust evaporates…” – Jay Baer

3.   Baer is an insightful writer, providing very good quotes about content marketing, delivering value and redefining the brand-consumer relationship. He also pulls from many sources, including other authors, start-up owners, key decision makers (C-suite/VPs) in firms across different industries.

The Bad

1.   Personally, I am slightly uncomfortable that this book’s premise is based on the assumption that customers are brand-loyal and will reciprocate a brand’s efforts in providing value. Steve Deckert, marketing manager for e-commerce loyalty-rewards company Sweet Tooth is also of the idea that the situation gets disastrous when customers commoditize your brand, essentially meaning ‘you are offering no more value than a vending machine’. But will customers always reciprocate goodwill? I am aware that there have been many articles citing millennials to be the most brand-loyal generation, but does this also extend to brands who haven’t yet had a long and tangible relationship with the customers? Baer then goes on to mention how brands could ‘intentionally promote less at the point of consumer interaction, and in doing so build trust capital that will be redeemed down the road’. Can real value and Youtility really undo the commoditizing of a brand? Is Youtility really enough to convert a millennials who has never yet experienced the brand in another way? I am a cynic; please, prove me wrong!

2.    The last few chapters (Chapters 10-12) were slightly more banal than the previous chapters, perhaps because it recounted the more practical aspects of Youtility such as insourcing Youtility, analyzing results and making Youtility a process, not a project. However these chapters still do provide case studies and help you fully understand the implementation, scalability and sustainability of Youtility in your business. Of course if you’d rather read just the best chapters, then consider Chapters 3-6 first, and skip Chapters 10-12!

3.    Baer provides links throughout the book so we can watch videos and get in-depth understanding of some of the case studies he uses. However the domain doesn’t work anymore. That said, the book is pretty captivating; even I didn’t want to tear myself away to a computer!

4.    There’s nothing to fault with Jay Baer. He wrote an amazing book and provided great examples and quotes to back up each point. However a point of improvement could be to incorporate a fictitious case study weaving all chapters together, showing readers exactly how to create Youtility from content to marketing. It would also be good if he provided a checklist for marketers to chart their company’s Youtility efforts against. (Baer did provide an easy reference guide highlighting each chapter’s main points and key data; I thought that was a great summary for busy marketers too!)

Oh, and for the excited ones, here’s a quick summary of some great quotes/food for thought from Youtility:

  • “[Youtility] is about massively useful information, provided for free, creating long term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.”
  • Findability (i.e. how ‘findable’ you are on search engines) may not be the sole fulcrum of success.
  • “Frame of mind awareness doesn’t create demand; it merely fulfils it.”
  • Rather than be a viral video (not that there is a method to be viral, anyway), go the ‘reliable, scalable, functional and effective route’ of creating customer connections based on help, not product and price. You don’t want your brand to be commoditized!

“Content is fire and social media is gasoline.”

  • Atomize your marketing – reimagine content, don’t recycle it!
  • Youtility is a lifelong process: “Technologies change, people change, usera change, and you have to be there to adapt to it or else you will be making cassettes when the CD comes around.” – Seth Porges, creator of Cloth

Overall, I’d classify this book a must-read for all marketers, businessmen and content creators. Great Youtility is more than search optimisation, content marketing and above-the-line advertising. It’s about understanding your target market, knowing their pain points, and providing all the information they need before they actively choose you* as their #1 brand.

I’m really impressed with Jay Baer and his wise insights into the marketing industry. This book was written in 2013, and we are already four years behind the Youtilitytrend.. but better late than never, I suppose? 😉

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to endorse and/or recommend me on LinkedIn for marketing or strategy. I appreciate every recommendation, thank you!

*speaking of customers actively choosing you, have you read my marketing articles about the Pokemon Go craze? Read the two-part series here and here!

Heather Lee studied Business Administration (Marketing and Management) in National University of Singapore (NUS). When she is not reading up on marketing, technology and design news, she can be found illustrating and designing for her side project.

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