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Helpfulness is the New Marketing

Published July 31, 2014

I subscribe to Chris Guillebeau’s blog, and his recent blog post about writer’s block offered a helpful writing prompt: write about the last thing you learned.

The first thing that came to mind was this: the enduring value of helpfulness.

Jay Baer’s book Youtility, which I read last week, begins with a simple thesis: make your marketing so valuable that people would be willing to pay for it. The next 190 or so pages provide example after example of small businesses and big corporations that thrive because they have built their brands around helpfulness:

Now I probably don’t have to tell you that we human beings tend to overcomplicate everything—customer relationships and business included—and those relationships are at the heart of business. When long workdays and payroll pressures and picky clients come to roost in one’s office, it’s easy to look for a complex solution to a seemingly complex problem. We devise stratagems and go through all manner of mental acrobatics, hoping that all the while we’re like the one-hundred pound gymnast executing the perfect floor routine.

Our efforts often don’t produce the desired outcome, the confident landing and big ta-da with hands in the air. Rather, we’re like the male gymnast on the pommel horse who loses his rhythm and gets a good old-fashioned groin stuffing. At least that’s how low revenues feel after months of hard work.

So what do you do when the proverbial feces is about to hit the not-so-proverbial fan, and there’s no one forthcoming with a blank check?

Get back to the basics.

My first sales job was one that many American youth will never have because it is illegal in many states. I sold fireworks. In Nashville, Tennessee, man oh man, you could buy all manner of colorful packages made in China whose sole purpose was to explode.9179698357_0e6191ca25_o

I was a natural at selling fireworks for two reasons: 1) I loved fiery explosions; and 2) I loved people. I had witnessed firsthand the explosions of most everything in the fireworks tent. If you asked for the “angry bees” or the classic “chrysanthemum” variety, then I could point you in the right direction. If kids were going to be at your party because, I would have recommended some of the cheap stuff, like Black Cats, sparklers, and parachute rockets, to keep them occupied. But avoid the snakes unless you want a greasy, black, rapidly growing turned to make black marks on your driveway. The mortar-style loads probably offered the most bang for your buck—pun intended. And if you bought a couple of packages, then you could run two of them at once. Or at least keep this year’s tube and reuse it next year.

I had opinions about the best way to spend $50 or $500 or $5000 and make friends and family say, “Oooohh!”

Judging by the crumpled they produced from their pockets, some of our customers had been holding onto this money for quite awhile. Perhaps they had no business setting their money on fire. Perhaps they should have bought food and new school clothes for their kids instead. And I’d like to think that I discouraged some of them from spending much money. Sometimes the best sale is the one that never happens.

I know that people trusted me because I was passionate and helpful. I was an honest kid with an endearing pyromania streak. I didn’t try to upsell people, but I also didn’t hold back when a bunch of musicians—the members of the Christian band DC Talk—rolled up in a white Hummer and asked me to show them our best stuff.

Sales (and business by association) are easy if you truly want to help people.

The last thing I learned is really just something I needed to remember: helping people is the best form of marketing. Love and empathy should come before profits. Who do you want your customer to become? (Geno Church taught me to ask that question.)

Help your prospects and customers. Hold their hands if that’s what it takes. Listen first, but have some strong opinions ready in case they’re asked of you.

If you’ve been rather uncomfortable on your business pommel horse lately, step off for a minute and rack your brain (not your huevos):

  • Which of your customers can you help in an unexpected way today?
  • Who can you surprise and delight?
  • Whose life can you make better?

Before your checks will have lots of zeroes, you have to make a lot of jaws drop in astonishment. Build your brand and marketing plan around outrageous helpfulness. Be a giver. Be the most helpful person anyone in your circle has ever met. Generosity is one of the habits that characterize people who get what they want.

This blog post is my attempt to take my own advice and be helpful. :) Do you have an idea or story about helpfulness you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

Comments and Support:

    Johannes (AppLeopard)

    Hi Austin,
    I think that is a great article and philosophy. I love Chris Guillebeau’s blog, so half the credit goes to his recommendation for making you write that. :-) I think helpfulness and providing true value are kind of the same thing, and every sustainable business has to be built on providing value. Also, it’s good for karma :-)


      @Johannes Agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, “value” has become a business buzzword, and the word has been overused (or misused) to the point of losing much of its meaning. So we have to find fresh ways to communicate the importance of actually serving customers.

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