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Why Smart Online Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype Although it's easy to promote your business online, simply posting clever content won't get you the long-lasting customers you're looking for. Find out what to do instead.

By Mitch Meyerson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In his book Success Secrets of the Online Marketing Superstars, Mitch Meyerson introduces you to 22 innovators who have redefined the developing landscape of online marketing. In this edited excerpt, contributing author and president of Convince & Convert Jay Baer explains why "helpful" online marketing tactics work best with today's consumers.

Marketing today is harder than marketing yesterday. And tomorrow? Tomorrow, marketing will be even harder, because the competition will be even greater.

Consumers are already being subjected to an invitation avalanche, with companies of every size, shape, and description asking people to like them, follow them, friend them, click, share, and "plus one" them.

In addition to the enormous volume of competition for attention, you're also competing for attention in the same venues (think Facebook or email) as friends and family members, using fundamentally the same approaches we're all using to connect with people we actually love.

So how are you supposed to succeed online when the amount of competition increases every day, and the nature of that competition is more personal than ever? You have two options.

One of the best ways to succeed in today's massively competitive online marketing environment is to be truly and inherently useful—to focus your energy on creating marketing that people actually cherish, not marketing that people simply tolerate. Create information and education that's disproportionately useful, and attention, sales, and loyalty will follow, eventually. This is "Youtility," and more and more companies are using it in their online marketing.

The Three Types of Youtility

There are three distinct flavors of Youtility. The first is self-serve information: giving people the opportunity to inform themselves how and when they wish, instead of being funneled through contact mechanisms of the company's choosing.

The second is radical transparency: providing incredibly forthright answers to nearly every question a customer could conceivably ask, before they think to ask it.

The third is real-time relevancy: being massively useful at particular moments in the life of the customer, and then fading into the background until the next opportunity to help arises.

Today's consumers want to know all the facts about what you do, how you do it, and for whom. Google's landmark Zero Moment of Truth research found that in 2010, Americans needed 5.3 sources of information before making a purchase; but in 2011, they needed 10.4 sources of information. In one year, the amount of information consumers needed before parting with their money doubled.

You must supply an increasing number of those 10.4 sources of information for your customers and prospective customers. How? Maybe it's a comprehensive blog that functions as the ultimate FAQ. Maybe it's a series of videos. Maybe it's a regular system of ebooks and Slideshare presentations. Maybe it's a definitive podcast. Probably, it's some combination of all of these, and more.

This kind of self-serve information is what turns interest into action. Have you ever been on a website and were interested in the company or product but purposefully did not fill out a contact us form, because you didn't want to be emailed or called by a salesperson? I'll bet that's happened to you. We used to talk to a real person as a first step. To get familiar with the company. To learn more. To create bonds. Not now. Now we talk to a real person as a last resort when we have a question so specific only a human being can answer it.

Building Trust with Radical Transparency

Fundamentally, many people don't trust businesses. In fact, a study by PR firm Edelman found that roughly half of all Americans don't trust businesses. This matters because trust is quite literally the most important ingredient in your success, online or offline. Without trust, you have no customers and you have no future.

Unfortunately, however, we often engage in online marketing activities that diminish trust. Squeeze pages that are too aggressive. Email that isn't opt-in. Stalker-ish retargeting ads. There are lots of ways to chip away at trust, and other contributors in this book will help you avoid those mistakes. But there is also a way to gain trust with Youtility.

What smart companies are doing is being massively proactive and transparent. They're providing Youtility that doesn't force prospective customers to wonder about the motives or details of the company; they just offer it up quickly and conveniently.

Consider Domino's Pizza. This is an oversimplification, but Domino's positioning is essentially "Our pizza used to suck. But now, not so much!" Since the company adopted that radically transparent approach, it's enjoyed nine consecutive quarters of increasing stock prices.

Creating Useful Youtility With Real-Time Relevancy

There are three ways to provide real-time relevancy with Youtility. The first is to be useful based on the customer's location. The second is to be useful based on the customer's situation. The last is to be useful based on seasonality or external factors.

In nearly every case, providing value via a mobile app or mobile-enabled content marketing program is the easiest path because when using a mobile device, customers and prospective customers are often sending a steady stream of information about what they might need. Tapping into a consumer's location and then providing geography-specific usefulness is the most common way companies can be helpful in a mobile context. Many of our most used applications—like Google Maps—rely on it.

There are so many options and alternatives in online marketing today. So many new tactics, techniques, and technologies. Which make sense for your business? Which should you deploy? Which should you ignore? It's a lot to consider, and it's not going to slow down any time soon, if ever.

What you need—and what we all need—is a north star; a guidepost that helps us make better decisions about our online marketing. That north star is Youtility. When you're confused or frustrated or uncertain about what and how to deploy and optimize your online marketing program, just ask yourself this simple thing, and then reassess your options: Is your marketing so useful that people would pay for it? Is your marketing a Youtility?

For more information or to access exclusive audio interviews with superstars from this book visit OnlineMarketingSuperstars.com.

Mitch Meyerson

Speaker, Consultant, and Author

Mitch Meyerson (Scottsdale, AZ) is the author of 11 books, including Mastering Online Marketing and Guerrilla Marketing on the Internet. He has been a featured expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show and has trained and certified more than 600 coaches in his acclaimed Guerrilla Marketing Coach and World Class Speaking Certification Programs.

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