Usefulness Is Just a Baseline

A butterfly uses its wings to fly and find food as well as escape from danger. The wings are very useful, but it doesn’t stop there. The presentation of the wing extends beyond baseline utility to serve as a visual Darwinistic survival tool. Wings are unique from species to species, providing a means to camouflage the butterfly from various environmental predators.

In our little echo chamber, the words usefulness and utility are often bantied about when discussing successful content. I could not agree more, usefulness is an absolute necessity for successful content. Yet, it’s not enough. Usefulness is just a baseline.

What do I mean by that?

If brands deliver self-centered content and social updates, they won’t attract people no matter how good or entertaining they are. Useful content is absolutely necessary. Brands must deliver information that customers need and want, not messages, positioning, or other forms of promotional self-congratulational back pats. Customers just don’t care. This is why Jay Baer’s book Youtility was so important for the industry (see my review here).

At the same time, while usefulness is almost always a must for successful content (damn you, Buzzfeed), alone it is increasingly not enough. Many, many useful pieces of content, from blogs to slideshare presentations, are published and shared every day.

Some say it is because of content shock, and that’s a fantastic conversation. I’ll say that while useful content is critical, if it’s presented in a boring, non-distinguishing manner, it will likely fail today.

Infotainment: Usefulness Plus Engagement

Information Growth

When you read Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report consider how the quantified act of sharing information is growing on an exponential basis. You can see why providing a simple primer may not be enough today, and definitely not tomorrow. There is much more competition thanks to mobile phones (see the full report), and as a result, content needs to be better engineered to distinguish itself.

Content must be useful, and it needs become easy and fun to read/watch/listen. Specifically, content creators need to reimagine their approaches to:

  • Provide visual information that works well on mobile phones and tablets.
  • Integrate text information with strong visual information to provide depth.
  • Entertain and deliver a pleasing presentation that makes content enjoyable.
  • Offer consistent — but not necessarily frequent — quality that integrates well with an overall brand experience.

These points were made over and over again at Demand Success last Friday. Whether it was Avinash Kaushik‘s fantastic keynote (pictured below), Ann Handley‘s speech on quality content and writing, or my Content Boom panel featuring Richard Binhammer, Nichole Kelly, Christopher Penn, and Joe Webster, speakers emphasized the need to deliver appealing content. Usefulness was almost always cited, but visual presentation and appealing/entertaining delivery were consistently referenced as must have factors, too.


Most importantly, a customer/stakeholder centric north star was cited as the underlying current for all content. I remember coming up in Washington, and being told how important it was to come to meetings well-dressed and with my information rehearsed, including how it mattered to the other party. It seems that while intuitive in business meetings, we fail to bring the same level of customer-centric care and attentiveness to our marketing content.

Even automobile manufacturers understand the need to provide information and entertainment in one systematic experience. This is the way people — customers, stakeholders, and employees — want to receive information today and in the immediate future.

So, if your content is useful and you have a good distribution strategy (that’s another post in its own right), but it still is not going anywhere, then consider the presentation of that information.

What do you think?

Grace and Grinches

This time of year seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people. I almost succumbed to the latter this week after reading enough nastiness and social media BS to feel inspired to write a contrarian blog. But instead of becoming yet another grinch, I opted to write this appeal for grace.

The holidays can offer a beautiful time of year, but they can be really depressing and hard. Not everyone has a strong family, if they have a family at all. Some people are alone. Some people just feel bad. And others don’t want to be held, talked to, or greeted.

Holiday misery is a condition, a rut that sometimes we cannot escape. I have been there. One Christmas when I was in my early 20s I was so depressed I decided not to come home, and just sat in my house in DC, and tried to drown my misery in booze, food and other pleasures.

Today, I know that when I surround myself with such negativity, I often succumb to it. It’s so easy to lash out when I feel bad. And as you can see, it creates a ripple effect.

But I am older and more experienced now. Instead of contributing to the angst, this year I am simply passing on it, and choosing to be present for those who want a warmer conversation. I understand those who are suffering, but at the same time grace is about rising above, and offering a warm spirit no matter how hard the Grinches try to spread their seed of misery.

Desperately Wanting

Whoville by L_D_SAINT

So welcome to the Whoville Christmas (from a Christmas Tree Jew, no less)! What could I offer during this time of year when so many people are focused on getting the gifts they want?

Perhaps what we all desperately want in our deepest innermost souls: To be acknowledged and respected regardless of place or time or position or race or…
We live in the era of the selfie and the like. People want to be acknowledged and want attention. Whether it’s a grocery clerk working extra hours or the social media celebrity posting their 80th selfie of the year, people do want their peers to respect them.

While social media empowers and amplifies this desire to a sometimes distasteful level, that base need to be liked remains. Just like it did before Biz, Zuck, Jack and the rest of the social networking pioneers empowered us.

Here it is, a big shout out to some of the many people in the online world who made my 2013 brighter.

Kaarina Dillabough: You coached me up off the floor last January. I will always be in your debt.

Scott Stephens: For being my friend on and offline even when my knee wouldn’t let me run again.

Margie Clayman: You are always lifting me up, whether you know it or not. You have a big, big heart, lady. Thank you.

Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke: xPotomac… It’s back, and better than ever thanks to you.

Seth Godin: I did my rounds and made my amends over the past two years. You were the last one. Thank you for your grace, welcoming me into your office, and treating me with respect. I will never forget that. Thank you.

Andrea Weckerle: Thanks for asking me to help your Civilination fundraiser. It helped me, too, and I think we did some good.

Erin Feldman: We grew together quite a bit this year. Thanks for being my editor and mobile media cohort!

Jennifer Stevens: Hard to believe that we have worked on three books together. To our fourth next year!

Howard Greenstein: You really have become a fantastic friend. Thank you!

Mitch Joel, Jay Baer, C.C. Chapman, Tamsen Webster, Tom Webster, Scott Monty, Jeremiah Owyang, Christopher Penn, Laura Fitton, David Armano, Richard Binhammer, Todd Defren, and Jason Falls: You remain kind and present, and I have noticed. Thank you.

Jess Ostroff: You worked so hard to help me make my novel-writing dream come true. Thank you!

Rogier Noort, Ralph Rivera, Shelly Kramer, Todd Jordan, Brian Meeks, Ian Gordon, Chuck Hester, and Rob Whittle (who just published Pointer’s War), Susan Cellura, and so many others I can’t even possibly list them. Thank you for supporting me on Exodus. It was a scary leap of faith to publish that thing, and the most fulfilling words I have ever released to the world.

Brian Vickery: Your presence is amazing, consistent and always friendly. You rock, sir.

Daria Steigman: Where to begin? Nats, baseball chatter, and all things Exodus.

Bob Fine: Another Nats fan who has paid it forward in so many ways. Bob, I look forward to returning the favors.

Anne Weiskopf: You are a deeply courageous person. Thank you for your strength and beauty.

Bob LeDrew and A.M. van den Hurk: Your punk fundraiser showed me the good side of PVSM when I least expected it. Cheers.

Michele Price: Lots of love my friend for many good radio shows and conversations. Cheers!

Kevin Chick-Dockery: We learned a lot together, and more than any person you helped me to stay on Facebook. Because I really did come close to pulling the plug on the Zuck.

Brian Solis: Thank you for your words at INBOUND.

Kami Huyse: You helped on that thing via the backchannel. I didn’t expect you to, and you did.

Jason Konopinski: What a roller coaster ride of a year. You ended up where you wanted to be, and we got to share a few stogies along the way. Cheers!

Lisa Gerber: We are not alone. And we both like guac, who knew?

Liz Scherer: We seem to be on the same path of gradually softening, maybe. LOL! Love you, Liz.

Richard Becker: Your fight with cancer this year was scary and courageous. Congratulations on making it. Glad we will have a few more conversations about this and that.

Stacey Miller: It was a blast newsjacking and shredding up the social web together on behalf of Vocus. Cheers.

Brian Driggs: Your comments are insightful, your vision is admirable. Thank you for visiting as much as you do!

Grace is not my strong suit, so forgive me if I left you out in my sleep deprived dotage. If you liked this post, rather than sharing it, please pass the spirit along and give someone a random appreciation today. Everyone could use a little more peace and happiness rolling into the new year.

Thank you, and I hope you all enjoy the holidays.

Image by Barry Graubart

How I Moved Cross-Country Based on a Database

The following is a guest post by my friend , a hype-free social media and content strategist, author, and speaker. He just released a book called Youtility (check out my review here), and is out and about quite a bit these days. So I thought it would be nice to shed a little bit of personal light on his story. He graciously agreed.

Read on to learn about his journey and how he used helpful marketing to move across the country. Plus, get a free excerpt from his newest book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype.

I know a lot about Arizona. I lived there from 1970 until 2010, with residences in Lake Havasu City where I was raised and where the “falling down” London Bridge of nursery rhyme fame was rebuilt in 1973 as a tourist attraction; Tucson, where I went to college; Phoenix and various suburbs; and the mountains of Flagstaff, where one year my family and I received 120 inches of snowfall at our house.

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City

After experiencing just about all the Grand Canyon State has to offer, my wife and I decided in 2010 to consider other locations. I’m a marketing consultant, author, and speaker (which may be replacing actress/singer/model as the most common triple threat job description in America). Consequently, I’m fortunate enough to be able to do my work more or less anywhere. This realization, and the inkling to possibly act on it was the zero moment of truth for my eventual relocation.

Like many of today’s consumers, empowered by always-on high speed Internet access, I research vacations obsessively, read many product reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, and consume blog posts like Halloween candy. I draw the line at chicken sandwich investigation, preferring the visceral thrill of fast food drive-thru roulette. In short, there’s usually a method to my research madness.

So when we considered moving from Arizona, the obvious next step to me was to research our options. We created and ranked a list of desirable attributes: college town, fewer than 200,000 people, close to a major airport, in the middle of the country, good schools, decent weather, affordable cost of living, and other factors. Then, we turned to the Internet.

We used a variety of websites that compare, contrast, and recommend locations to narrow down our list. Most notable among them is, the online home of researcher Bert Sperling’s “Places, USA” software. This system, first developed in 1985, allows people to enter their personal preferences to find their own best place to live, work, or retire. Almost every time my wife and I performed these analyses, Bloomington, Indiana, was recommended by the location-finding websites. I’d never been to Bloomington, and I had only a vague understanding of where and what it was through my consulting work with ExactTarget (located one hour north in Indianapolis) and the famous film “Breaking Away” that chronicled Indiana University’s Little 500 bike race tradition. This lack of knowledge was not a deterrent. “I’m an online marketer,” I thought. “Who am I to argue with a carefully researched relational database?”

So, off to Bloomington we went, knowing nothing and nobody. We fell in love with the city on our visit, and, three months later, we sold our home in Arizona, hugged friends and family goodbye, and drove across the country with two kids, a dog, cat, snake, lizard and 12 cases of wine to start our Indiana experience.

Without there is no chance I’d have written my new book in the law library of Indiana University in Bloomington. None. In fact, friends who cannot fathom that I’d pack up and move based on a website, joke that the BestPlaces site must be a guerrilla marketing program created by the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Not true, but a great idea!

If BestPlaces hadn’t answered most of my questions about how Bloomington compares to other cities, I never would have gotten past the zero moment of truth. For me and my family, BestPlaces was the ultimate Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it if asked.

Creating customers by answering their questions is imminently viable and carries remarkable, persuasive power. With the barrier to research approaching zero, your customers are kicking your informational tires like never before. If you think you have enough content, or if you believe you’ve answered all of your prospects’ questions online already, I can almost assure you that have don’t and you haven’t.

We used to create relationships and make decisions with interpersonal, synchronous connections. Increasingly, we’re now creating relationships and making decisions asynchronously and from afar.