When promoting a service: make it helpful, stupid

When debating whether to make a purchase, consumers weigh utilitarian and hedonic considerations, according to a paper (pdf) by Ravi Dahr and Klaus Wertenbroch.  Think of this, almost, as the squaring off between the right side and the left side of the brain.

The right side, more intuitive and subjective, veers towards the hedonic wants: pleasant, fun, enjoyable and appealing to the senses.

The analytic-inspired left side craves utilitarian aspects: practical and function before form.

Boiled down to its essence, Dahr and Wertenbroch ask us to look at the aspects of making a car purchase: How much do you weigh good gas mileage (the utilitarian) over the sporty look and feel (the hedonistic)?

The authors argue that marketers could charge more for hedonistic attributes.

But all consumers are different -- and how each product sits with them.

Fast forward to the age of the app. Marketer and author Mitch Joel extols us to think primarily at the utilitarian side, but he expands the definition: make it helpful. The methods brands engage with customers have expanded over the years. The problem is, Joel argues, the messages remain firmly traditional. 

For a piece Joel wrote in the Harvard Business Review

What the Internet, mobile technology, and social networking tools have provided companies is the power to provide a level of utility to their consumers that they could never provide before. So why aren’t more brands doing this? Because it’s hard.  

He picked up the on his personal blog -- and his book Cntrl ALT Delete -- that utilitarian marketing works: 

...Two brands that are leveraging the notion of Utilitarianism Marketing are Charmin and Nationwide. They are both mobile apps. Charmin launched Sit Or Squat - an application that leverages the location-based services of your mobile device to tell you where the nearest (and cleanest) bathroom is. Consumers can also add their favorites or rate the ones they have just used (as a frequent traveler, this app holds a coveted position on my home screen). The Nationwide Mobile App is for people who were just in a car accident. It's a useful step-by-step program that walks consumers through everything from collecting and exchanging accident information to taking pictures of the accident scene, recording the location and it even has a flashlight in case it happens at night. It's not an ad. It's not push Marketing. It's Utilitarianism Marketing.