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Consumers are being subjected to an invitation avalanche, with every company of every size, shape, and description asking people to like them, follow them, friend them, click, share and +1 them. This is in addition to the interruption marketing tactics and findability campaigns already in existence. At best, it wears thin. At worst, it does more harm than good to brand equity and contributes to the distrust of business spotlighted in Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, 47 percent of people surveyed trust businesses, which means 53 percent do not trust them. 77 percent said they would not buy products or services from a company they distrusted.

Two ways to break through

There are only two ways companies can differentiate themselves within this din and derive meaningful business results. The first is to be disproportionately amazing, interesting, human, wacky, irreverent or timely. This is where advice to “humanize” using social and new media stems from. It’s also the wellspring that feeds the quest to deliver knockout customer experiences—doing so creates “buzzworthy” moments that boost awareness and loyalty. It’s where real-time “newsjacking” (as David Meerman Scott calls it in his book by the same name) comes into play—where you listen to the zeitgeist so aggressively, and where your organization is tuned so perfectly, that you can capitalize on opportunities in an instant. It’s at the heart of the pitch-perfect and real-time Oreo response to the Super Bowl blackout, whereby the brand created an image of a lone cookie in shadows and the headline “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark.” The image captured the moment perfectly, and immediately went viral, with tens of thousands of shares on Facebook, 16,040 retweets and 6,223 favorites on Twitter, and beyond.

oreo tweet youtility

All of that makes you smile, and it can create a psychological bond of kinship and recognition that yields loyalty and advocacy among consumers. I believe in the premise of amazing, interesting, human, wacky, irreverent, or timely so much that I co-wrote a book in 2010 that is partially devoted to it—especially the human and timely components. But here’s the truth: I’ve worked with more than seven hundred companies as a marketing consultant, and I’ve come to realize that while “be amazing” can work, it’s also extraordinarily difficult.

Telling someone to be amazing is like telling someone to make a viral video. There’s no such thing as a “viral video.” There are videos that become viral, but they are few and far between. The marketing of “be amazing” is the marketing of the swing-for-the-fences home run hitter. There are two by-products of that approach: an occasional home run, and many strikeouts.

You can do better.

You can break through the noise and the clutter and grab the attention of your customers by employing a different approach that is reliable, scalable, functional, and effective.

It’s simply this: stop trying to be amazing and start being useful. I don’t mean this in a Trojan-horse, “infomercial that pretends to be useful but is actually a sales pitch” way. I mean a genuine, “how can we actually help you?” way.

This is Youtility and, quite simply, companies that practice it are followed, subscribed to, bookmarked and kept on the home screen of mobile devices. Companies that don’t . . .aren’t. Not because they are worse companies, but because they are trying to create customer connections based on product and price, and customers are both tired of it and able to filter through it more than ever.

How are you going to start becoming truly useful?

Excerpted from Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype by Jay Baer, published in late June by Portfolio/Penguin. See YoutilityBook.com for other resources. You can also find an except of Youtility here.

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