Companies Now Compete on Information

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Information has definitely changed the competitive framework of sales and marketing. With smartphones reaching 57 percent market penetration this year in the United States alone, according to comScore, marketers are no longer competing directly with one another. The emerging battleground is over consumer attention, which has been fragmented by smart devices, social networks, and new means of media consumption.

"Historically, we created relationships and loyalty with people," said Jay Baer, president of social media strategy consultancy Convince & Convert, during a keynote presentation at InfusionCon, sales and marketing software company Infusionsoft's annual user conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Now we create relationships and loyalty with information."

Citing findings from Google and Shopper Sciences' "Zero Moment of Truth" study, it's estimated the average consumer consulted 5.3 sources of information before making a purchase in 2010. Within a year, that number nearly doubled, to 10.4 sources, Baer said.

In a separate social media benchmark study, J.D. Power and Associates found that 87 percent of highly satisfied consumers credited an online social media interaction with a company as positively impacting their decisions to purchase from that brand.

This indicates customers are not only buying based on how well one company's product or service stacks up against its direct competitors. Customers now expect companies to provide useful, relevant content and information that helps influence their research and buying decisions. The surge in popularity of recommendation sites such as TripAdvisor.com, Angie's List, and Yelp leaves companies competing with peer-to-peer references.

"Personal and professional relationships have converged, and companies are competing against everyone now," Baer said. "The question isn't, 'Is your marketing better than mine?' The question is, 'Are you more interesting than my wife and my Facebook feed?'"

Brands that embrace the notion of "youtility," or that focus on being inherently helpful in their sales efforts, will stand out in the information race. Take, for example, Hilton Worldwide. Through the Hilton Suggests social media marketing campaign, a number of Hilton representatives ably offer tips to travelers on a dedicated Twitter feed. To create a sense of trust with customers, they scour the social networking site to provide restaurant recommendations and sightseeing suggestions native to the reps' cities whenever possible. In many instances, travel suggestions have little or nothing to do with the Hilton brand.

For companies that want to begin creating a strategy to add value like this to customer interactions, Baer offered up one suggestion: "Worry less about selling better and worry more about teaching better.... The power of content and information translates into sales."

Regional supermarket chain Meijer, for example, created a mobile application with the help of mobile shopper engagement developer Point Inside to guide shoppers by way of interactive maps to the items they need. Meijer discovered that customers who used the app spent 10 percent more on their groceries than those who had not. The key, in this instance, was enabling a worry-free shopping experience by providing information and assistance, Baer noted.

The first step in generating true youtility in a company is acknowledging that it is an ongoing process. "The fact that you created youtility is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning," Baer added.

Another key step in the process is to map needs to execution. For example, Phoenix Children's Hospital developed a Car Seat Helper mobile app for parents who needed step-by-step instructions to properly install a car seat based on a particular model and make.

In providing value, companies also have a better chance of gaining customers' trust, Baer said. "Trust is the business prism through which business success is created," he added.

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