What is Utility Marketing? It’s marketing with information that your target audience can utilize. It’s the opposite of interruption marketing where your goal is to get your offer in front of as many people as possible in the hopes that someone will buy something.

You may have heard of engagement marketing or conversational marketing, where the goal is to engage the customer in a dialog. You establish a rapport with your customer so that they trust you and will be more likely to buy and/or give you a referral.

Utility marketing takes this one step further by focusing more on the specific needs of the target audience. For example, it could be a mobile app that helps the user plan healthier meals, built by a grocery store chain. Or it’s a blog that gives useful tips that the customer can put into practice right away… like this one.

It’s been around for years. There have been magazines, television/radio programs, and books geared towards empowering the user to do something with the tools provided. I remember the glossy books from Sears telling me how to remodel a kitchen, fix a leaky pipe, or build a deck… with Craftsman Tools.

Never before, though, has utility marketing so permeated the marketplace. The reason for this is mobile. Mobile marketing and utility marketing are like peas and carrots. Utility marketing is about positioning your organization as a resource and smartphones are the new tools for finding resources.

When someone has a question or a need, more and more, they reach for their smartphone or tablet.

So are you positioning yourself as a utility for your clients? Let’s take a look at three ways to add utility marketing to your mobile marketing arsenal…

  1. Responsive Design – re-purposing your website design for use on mobile as a resource for a mobile audience
  2. Responsive Content – re-purposing your content – similar to your design – for a mobile audience
  3. Mobile Apps – going even further to create a utility for your customers as an Android or iOS app

Responsive Design

Responsive design, which involves coding and designing a website so it “responds” to the device on which it is being viewed, is a being used by more and more organizations as a way to market and connect with clients on mobile devices.

Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s either not implemented correctly or ignored altogether. Responsive design is very important because it reformats your website to work with a smartphone or tablet device. And this reformatting makes for a better user experience.

Where many businesses fail with responsive design (aside from skipping it completely) is in failing to understand the context. If we think about your website from a utility marketing standpoint, we’re forced to consider the user and their needs…

  • Why are they looking for your content?
  • What are they doing in that moment?
  • What are you giving them in that moment that they can use?

Remember, context is the key. Just having your website appear correctly on a mobile device is not enough. The type of information and how it displays should apply to the need at that moment.

The more you can anticipate the needs of your target audience, the better you can structure your site so it appears appropriately. And when the user finds great utility content that solves their problem, they will keep coming back.

Think about it this way: would you rather have 1,000 random people visit your website once, or 100 target users bookmark it to view it again and again?

Responsive Content

Understanding the needs of your target audience in real world scenarios will also help you to prioritize and deliver better content to them. Similar to responsive design, responsive content is delivered to your target audience when and how they need it.

Some will argue that responsive mobile websites should contain all the content that is on your standard website, just in a different format. Here’s the problem: blanket assumptions or assertions do not work in the world of online marketing and engagement. Research and testing do.

How much content should appear on responsive pages? Generally speaking, the answer is “some of it” – somewhere in between a click or two and the whole shebang.

To illustrate this point, let’s break down the types of content that make up a website:

  1. Résumé content – this is your About Us, History, Case Studies, Testimonials, etc.
  2. Housekeeping content – these would be pages like Contact Us, Directions, Privacy Policy, etc.
  3. Sales content – usually landing pages or product/service pages where the target user can make an inquiry or purchase
  4. Utility content – this could be blog posts, videos, online tools, app downloads, etc.

Looking through this list with the mobile user in mind, you can easily see what content best matches their needs. A mobile user is usually not going to need to get to the About Us content in any sort of hurry. But, they might need directions right then and there.

Using responsive design media queries, your mobile web presence can be adjusted specifically for the user experience. In doing so the user can be shown the content they want at that time. I recommend that your mobile homepage use a mix of housekeeping and utility content.

The sales and résumé content can be interwoven into internal mobile pages or navigation buttons. Sometimes it is important for the user to be able to get right to the sales content. This all comes down to knowing your target user and anticipating their potential interaction points with your mobile presence.

Responsive content is simply content that can be modified to work across multiple devices, similar to the design. So, all of the content types should “respond” to the user’s needs (your web developer can help set this up for you)…

  1. Résumé content – perhaps users need this content, but the need isn’t urgent. Place access to this in a “more” type navigation link. Also, keep in mind that they will not always need the full version of this on a mobile device, so consider pulling a smaller portion of it for mobile.
  2. Housekeeping content – make this content mobile friendly. If there is a phone number, make sure the user can click on that number to call you. If there are directions, make sure the address links to the device’s native maps feature or else include a link to something like Google Maps.
  3. Sales content – nothing is more frustrating than seeing an ad or doing a search, seeing the product or service you want, and then clicking on it only to land on a basic homepage. You’re forced to search all over again on the website you were sent to. Instead, use responsive landing pages to deliver product and service specific content, especially if you’re promoting it with an ad or through social media. Don’t make it difficult for customers to buy from you.
  4. Utility content – remember, this is the stuff that your target audience needs. Put this content up front and in a way where they can easily access the materials. If it’s a blog post, make sure your blog design is responsive. If it’s video or audio, provide players that work on multiple device types – better yet, deliver this content in multiple varieties coded so that the appropriate format is delivered to the appropriate device (again, your web developer can help with this).

Content is king, but context is what makes content work. Simply delivering the same content in the same format to a variety of devices will not suffice. Segment out piece of content for delivery on different devices, or at least prioritize their appearance based on the device where they appear.

Mobile Apps

Apps are expensive and take time to build. So, it doesn’t always make financial sense for a company to build an app if they can easily deliver the same information via a mobile website.

However, there are times when an app just makes sense – don’t squander these golden opportunities. Since you won’t always know right away, you need to do some research and find out if your audience would use the app. You can always ask them.

You also want to find out if there are other apps out there that already do what you want your app to do. Can you do it better? Is there room for more than one of these in the marketplace?

If you’ve done your homework and still feel that an app is a viable solution for your business, it’s time to specifically define its utility to your target user. How does your app solve their problems?

A big part of utility marketing is getting yourself into your customer’s toolbox. Once there, you’ve achieved a new level of connection with that customer that goes beyond anything else we’ve discussed.

How does your app get there? It gets there by solving user problems consistently over time. If your app is built on the premise of a one-time use, reconsider it. If it is a resource offering them instant solutions on their mobile device again and again, that’s brilliant.

Here are some possible examples of apps for specific industries to help illustrate this point…

  1. Fitness – a health club develops a training app specific to a type of fitness program that is a specialty of theirs. Maybe people in your area download the app first to help with their training and then they join your club to get the full benefit. Or it’s the other way around, they are a member and the app keeps them engaged. Plus they can share their workout results on social channels further promoting you.
  2. Non-profits – non-profit often have fundraising efforts they like to promote. Perhaps they can build an app that facilitates these efforts and helps volunteers with tools and tips for better fundraising. Or maybe the app is an extension of a game being used for fundraising like a race. It would be useful to develop an app that could be used for multiple efforts so your investment continues to pay off throughout many fundraising campaigns.
  3. Garden Center – a garden center is usually more successful if they help their clients to be better gardeners. A garden center could develop an app that tells the gardener when to water, prune, fertilize, etc. They could use the app to track results and share those results on social channels. And guess where they will be purchasing all of their materials?

I could go on and on but you get the idea.

It’s simple really – if you provide value, you are valuable. If you help someone solve a problem, they will remember you. Being top of mind when it comes time for your potential client, member, subscriber, voter, whatever to make a decision, you want them to consider you. If you’ve helped them and are a trusted resource, you are trusted.

Trust increases the likelihood of conversion.

What are some of your favorite resources (don’t say Angry Birds or Word with Friends) on Mobile? Who makes them? How are you involved with that organization? What sort of utilities could you provide to your clients? Let me know in the comments section below.