The connectivity of the digital world has transformed how we seek out and build our relationships online and offline. (Tinder, anyone?) It goes beyond our interactions with peers. Now, brands also have to maintain online relationships with their audience. Just as a customer pays money for a brand’s product, a brand’s marketing should also offer a give-and-take relationship with its audience that exchanges value for audience interaction and exposure. This trend is called “utility marketing” and here are some ways to integrate this concept into your marketing game plan: 

Utility Marketing #1: Eliminate Shopper Pain Points

Utility is at the core of the IKEA brand and they bring this messaging home with all of their marketing. They reinforce this with social content, like their “IKEA DIYs” board on Pinterest, and even havea mobile app that allows users to view IKEA furniture as it would like right in their home prior to purchase using a combination of their mailed catalog and augmented reality on a user’s mobile screen.  The mobile app eliminates pain: Customers may have a hard time visualizing a piece of furniture in their space, so this augmented reality helps remove a barrier on the path to purchase.

Utility Marketing #2: Solve A(nother) Customer Problem

Another way to be useful as a way of marketing your brand is to identify problems in your customers’ lives, and pinpoint those that your brand can solve.   Ajax, a household cleaning product, created an online app that helps customer “clean up” their Facebook feeds with their “New Anti-Spam Newsfeed Wipes.” Ajax is already known for cleaning house, so with the app, users can connect their Facebook accounts and easily unlike pages that they’re no longer interested in and are cluttering up their news feed. Though this doesn’t promote the actual Ajax cleaning product, it associates the brand with cleaning, is a good way to engage in the social space and, above all, is useful to the consumer in a clever, closely relevant way.

Utility Marketing #3: Brand Yourself As An Expert (Who Loves Your Product)

This commercial from Acura aired while I was watching football last weekend and it stuck with me. (And not just because it features an awesome Sid Vicious song.)

One big way to be viewed as useful is to brand yourself as an expert. Acura has definitely proved their expertise (as most car commercials do) with shots in this ad highlighting extensive safety tests, science experiments and complicated blueprints. But Acura takes it one step further.

The end of the commercial delivers the punchline: “We made this one for us, but you can have one.” It clearly communicates that their experts also use the product lending credibility to their claims. It insinuates that the scientists and experts at Acura specifically crafted this car for their personal needs…  and who doesn’t want the product that the experts prefer?

Utility Marketing #4: Give Your Product a Second Life

Customers love to see the products, ideas and brands they use in a new light. To play into this, Coca Cola developed a campaign last year that “gave a life” to coke bottles after the beverage had been consumed. They crated 16 red screw-on caps that transform an otherwise useful hunk of plastic into something creative and useful. This should make you think: how can you breathe a second life – and even more utility – into an existing product, service or marketing campaign?

Utility Marketing #5: Create a Unique Solution, Just For Them

The larger the audience that a brand has to maintain relationships with, the harder it is to make a marketing relationship feel personal and useful. But McCormick has cracked the code with their new “FlavorPrint” app and portal. The app tracks users’ flavor preferences, based on the recipes they like from their user profile. Once a user has liked (or disliked) a few recipes, FlavorPrint creates a unique flavor profile that visually helps audience members discover more recipes that match their tastes. The more recipes they interact with, the more accurate it gets. This is a great way to not only create a unique solution, but solve a customer pain point by taking the guesswork out of which spices and recipes to try.

Like every relationship, your brand’s relationship with your customers works best on a give-and-take model. Offering value through utility marketing makes customers more willing to reciprocate with interaction, endorsement and, dare we say, purchase.


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