Would you take your foot off the ‘sell’ pedal and instead take the route of giving help and advice to a consumer when there’s a chance they will go and buy from another brand?
This might sound like a strange way to do business, but in a world where people are demanding more from companies, some brands are finding that it is beneficial to do just that. This ‘help not hype’ approach is put forward by Jay Baer, author of the forthcoming book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype (see below).
Hotel group Hilton, for example, set up Twitter account @HiltonSuggests, to help travellers find recommendations in the cities they are visiting. If someone tweets asking for the hottest restaurant in town, the staff on the Twitter feed do not automatically recommend one of their own because the tweets are meant to be helpful, rather than sales-driven.
“Social media gives us the opportunity to extend hospitality beyond the front desk. We’ve focused our efforts on areas where we can cultivate relationships and enjoy conversations we may not otherwise be able to have,” says Virginia Suliman, vice-president of digital and design development at Hilton Worldwide.
The Twitter feed does not rely on consumers directly tweeting @HiltonSuggests, rather Hilton staff look out for tweets from anyone who wants a recommendation.
So a strategy of helpfulness, rather than overt selling, is something that is working for the brand, according to Suliman.
Coax not coerce
Similarly, skincare brand Nivea Sun is also trying to be a help to people, rather than hitting them over the head with a message that tells them to buy a product. It partnered with Cancer Research UK last year to help people understand the precautions they should be taking in the sun.
Nivea realised that only 30 per cent of UK households buy sun lotion over the course of a year and that those households with five members were buying the same number of bottles as those with two, explains Barry Goode, UK brand manager for sun and lip care.
Nivea is not seeking to directly increase its own sales through its messaging, says Goode. Instead, it is hoping that by providing assistance and education people will eventually be persuaded to buy sun care products more regularly.
“The best way to address the sun safety issue was to look at how we can drive people into the category that do not buy sun care and how we could get people that do buy sun care to purchase more. It’s all well and good to say to people ‘go and buy more of our product’ but that lacks credibility. At the same time, Cancer Research UK was looking for a partner to communicate sun safety messages.”
So Nivea Sun ran three press ads focusing on different aspects of sun safety: covering up; avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm; and how much sunscreen people should be using.
The long-term ambition of the campaign is to get people to associate Nivea with sun safety.
Getting the style of the ads right is important, Goode says. “It’s a fine balance: we didn’t want to be finger-wagging, saying to people that they have to do this or that.” So the print campaign looks like a 1950s-style postcard scene with the sun as a main character.
Personality is a characteristic that retailer The Perfume Shop wants to convey more.
Brand and marketing manager Michelle D’vaz claims its in-store strategy is not about getting a quick sale. “In a world of price promotion and online sales, genuine brand affection can make all the difference,” she says.
To that end, the brand has created a new Twitter handle, @TPSbag. “It is focused on a two-way dialogue asking fans to be a part of the feed and giving them the chance to tell their story,” says D’vaz.
That two-way dialogue – where consumers are helping one another, rather than the brand muscling in – is being used by household goods manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser (RB) with its Vanish-branded TipExchange, a campaign launched earlier this year that encourages people to share their stain-removal tricks.
RB’s UK marketing director Jerome Lemaire explains that moving towards a strategy of sharing rather than telling is key to the campaign.
“For many years, we built Vanish’s equity with a very patronising message, with ladies dressed in pink telling people how to remove a stain.”
However, tracking studies revealed that despite the advertising not hitting the right tone, the product was trusted and had high levels of awareness, with the brand being present in 23 per cent of UK households.
“We reached a point in time where we shouldn’t have had a brand advocate who is a fake character [like the ladies in pink]. Our consumers are our advocates,” says Lemaire.
Research showed that people are keen on sharing their stain-removal tips, which may be passed down the generations of a family, and that this is a trend seen across Europe, not just in the UK. So RB set up the ‘TipExchange’ on Facebook and YouTube where people can help each other.
Lemaire warns that although some marketing campaigns may be very engaging for people, they may lack brand awareness. However, brand tracking shows that the current communications do both, he claims. Two weeks after the campaign launched on YouTube, it had had more than 300,000 views, he says.
“When you work for a company like Reckitt, people don’t rush to YouTube to see the latest advertising, unless it’s for something like Durex; it is not very viral. For a category like fabric treatment, that [number of views] is massive.”
Nivea’s Goode also claims to have hit the right note with its helpful campaign, saying that it has been the most successful campaign parent company Beiersdorf has run in the UK in terms of engagement, overall branding and consumer appeal. Critically, people said they would change their behaviour, according to research company Millward Brown, which tracked the campaign for Nivea.
So far, there has not been a sales uplift as a result of the campaign, which started at the end of last summer, but that is not the point of it, says Goode. “We didn’t see this as providing a direct increase in sales, that wasn’t the objective. It was to give a sun safety message to consumers.
“It is not about trying to get more people directly buying more of our products. To do that, we invest in new product development, point-of-sale and promotions. This is more about almost being the hero brand for sun safety in the UK.”
Meanwhile, Hilton is also thinking about the long-term benefits of its Twitter feed.
“I think the long term’s our biggest opportunity, when we reach out to someone who’s staying at a competitor’s property,” says Vanessa
Sain-Diéguez, director of social media planning and integration for the group, speaking in the Youtility book.
“We’re not looking to win their stay on this trip. We’re looking to make a real, authentic connection with them and hopefully gain a customer for life.”
And the project has had unexpected benefits. Being helpful to others is something that the staff who work on the Twitter feed say they have enjoyed, and as a consequence has improved morale. Staff from various departments worldwide have had the chance to get involved, enabling them to provide the type of assistance to guests normally carried out by concierge staff.
While taking the here-to-help strategy may seem frightening and risky for some brands, it appears that taking the leap of faith can reap long-term rewards.
What is Youtility and why should you use it?
Jay Baer’s forthcoming book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype, says that marketers should be thinking about helpfulness – rather than just flogging products – as a long-term business strategy. “If you sell something, you make a customer today, but if you genuinely help someone, you create a customer for life,” says Baer.
He gives the example of American glasses retailer Warby Parker, which sells most of its products online. This might seem like a hard sell, since spectacles are generally expensive and it takes time to try them on and decide which pair to buy. But because the company focuses on making buying glasses easy and fast, it sells more of them while keeping its costs low.
Warby Parker will first of all call the customer’s ophthalmologist to get their prescription. The customer can then ‘try on’ glasses using its computer’s camera. Up to five pairs of frames are then sent to the customer to try on.
People can upload pictures of themselves wearing the glasses to Warby Parker’s Facebook page where employees and fans of the page can comment. Its philosophy is to be helpful, and answer every question – whether that is when someone walks into a shop, phones them or tweets.
This may sound like hard work, especially when applied to a larger company that may receive thousands of queries from people. But this was something that McDonald’s Canada decided to do, creating a website to answer people’s questions about its food. ‘Our Food, Your Questions’ was set up last year and within the first seven months it had received 19,000 questions, which have been read 6.5 million times.
It does not shy away from tough questions about supply chains, whether burgers contain the whole cow including snout, and why the food in its TV advertising looks different to the real thing. The aim is to gain people’s trust, says Joel Yashinsky, chief marketing officer at McDonald’s Canada, in the book.
“We know we’re not going to get an immediate return on investment. But we believe that the return on investment will be over the long term, because it’s going to grow our brand trust and brand health.”
The aim of Youtility is to be as helpful and trusted by people as their friends and family are, when it comes to recommendations for products or services. But it may be a leap of faith for marketers, because it may not generate sales straight away, Baer says.
“Making your company useful without expectation of an immediate return is in direct opposition to the longstanding principles of marketing – and that’s a good thing.”