The Third Age of Marketing

This Christmas, I received as a gift the book Youtility – Why smart marketing is about help not hype, by Jay Baer. The title alone had me excited, as over the past year I’ve implemented a number of initiatives around customer utility-focused content marketing, and I looked forward to learning some new strategies and having some new ideas.

So far, I’ve not been disappointed: the book’s an easy and fun read, with some compelling real-life examples and a logical progression.

The book’s divided into three parts, the first of which (Turning Marketing Upside Down) describes a major shift that’s underway as we move into the third age of marketing. In Baer’s view, there are three types of historical consumer-awareness strategies:

  1. Top-of-Mind Awareness
  2. Frame-of-Mind Awareness
  3. Friend-of-Mine Awareness

Top-of-Mind Awareness

The idea behind top-of-mind awareness is that you have to have a sustained level of marketing and messaging, so that when the customer is ready to buy, your product is (you guessed it), at the top of their mind.

Think of some of the ideas explained by Al Ries and Jack Trout in Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.

Naturally, this strategy requires immense amounts of advertising spending, which scales up as you try to put more products in front of more markets.

Plus, it has some major weaknesses; as Baer says, “Top-of-mind awareness is less effective than ever as a marketing strategy for two reasons: You can’t promote to people you can’t find, and distrust of business erodes its foundation.” (p9)

It remains relevant today, but is more of a necessary spend of the already-established brands than it is a recommended approach for newcomers.

Frame-of-Mind Awareness

Frame-of-mind awareness is based on the strategy of reaching potential customers when they’re making their purchase decisions. It strives to step in through the limited window of opportunity that’s opened at the precise moment someone is looking to buy.

Baer uses the Yellow Pages as an example: a consumer needs a plumber, pizza, mechanic, etc., and they open the Yellow Pages. At the moment that they’re making a decision, they’re bombarded with advertising. A more modern example is Google Adwords: you enter a search term, and, along with some organic results, you get ads.

Lest you think, however,  that a great website or an effective Adwords is all you need to succeed, Baer warns that “frame-of-mind awareness doesn’t create demand…it simply fulfills demand that already exists.” (p19)

To back up this statement, he shows survey results that indicate that search engines are playing a decreasing role in helping consumers to find websites: in 2004, 83% of Americans reported that search engines helped them find the right website; in 2011, that figure had fallen to 61%.

What’s picking up the slack?

Friend-of-Mind Awareness

Despite its shortcomings, Baer defends frame-of-mind awareness: “That doesn’t mean frame-of-mind awareness isn’t an approach worthy of your attention – it is. But it’s only half the story.” (p20) He goes on to say that, “Frame-of-mind awareness has served marketers well…It will continue to do so, but it’s not all-powerful, and now it needs to share the stage with other forces that impact consumer recommendation and preference. Most important among them is a whole new way to market, Friend-of-Mine Awareness.” (p25)

Friend-of-mine awareness “is predicated on the reality that companies are competing against real people for the attention of other real people. To succeed, your prospective customers must consider you a friend. And if, like their friends, you provide them real value, if you practice Youtility rather than simply offer a series of coupons and  come-ons, they will reward your company with loyalty and advocacy, the same ways we reward our friends.” (p26)

Baer provides a number of examples to illustrate friend-of-mine marketing done well:

  • The @HiltonSuggests Twitter handle: Hilton staff provide localized advice to any and all folks seeking it, whether or not these folks are staying at a Hilton property. Baer tells us that, “The tweeters aren’t all professional question answerers, either. In fact, few of the @HiltonSuggests team are from the concierge desks of the participating hotels. Perhaps even more unexpectedly, many of them had no prior experience on Twitter. They’re just hotel employees who love their city and want to help visitors better enjoy it.” (p32)
  • The Phoenix Children’s Hospital Car Seat Helper app: In Baer’s words, “Phoenix Children’s Hospital creates marketing people want. People would probably even pay for it if asked, but the hospital gives it away…The award-winning application is simple, singularly purposeful, and highly effective. Parents enter the height and weight of their child, and it instantly recommends the appropriate type and size of car seat.” (p34)
  • Charmin’s Sit or Squat restroom-finder app: I’m gonna let you look this one up for yourself

This new age of marketing is an acknowledgement both that personal and commercial relationships have merged, and that consumers and businesses are incredibly savvy and are becoming immune to, or at least skeptical of, traditional marketing approaches.

Instead of responding to discounts and vague claims, today’s buyers are looking for useful information. Plus, when they find it, they’re often sharing it with like-minded audiences. By providing this valuable information, preferably without a sales pitch, you’ll gradually gain top-of-mind awareness and frame-of-mind awareness, and other potential customers will hear about you from a trusted source: their friends and colleagues.

By providing this valuable information, preferably without a sales pitch, you’ll gradually gain top-of-mind awareness and frame-of-mind awareness, and other potential customers will hear about you from a trusted source: their friends and colleagues.

The worlds of business and consumer marketing are both changing: audiences are increasingly critical and skeptical; prospects are bombarded with advertising all day, every day; online communities mean that good or bad opinions of companies spread like wildfire; and people are empowered and able to perform research before making a purchase decision.

By providing useful information and services, when such things are needed, and not hitting the prospect over the head with a sales pitch at the same time, companies can successfully use friend-of-mine awareness to increase demand and, ultimately, sales.


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Advertising, Books, Marketing
6 comments on “The Third Age of Marketing
  1. […] “Friend of Mine” is arguably the best place to be in your audience’s mind to strengthen lifetime connections. People will always remember who made them feel valued enough to be helped. How can you help your audience with your service(s) without selling them a thing? […]

  2. […] few weeks ago, in The Third Age of Marketing, I introduced and very briefly summarized Part I of the book Youtility. In that post, I explored […]

  3. […] you’re finding people when they are actively seeking solutions (recall the concept of “frame-of-mind awareness”), so they’re seeing your ad when they’re a little bit further down the funnel and your […]

  4. Thank you for the review! What were some examples they used of people doing friend-of-mine well? I remember something about a paint company offering a ‘paint your house’ app for free online. Kind of taking a reciprocal approach – I gave you value, now you feel as though you should return it.

    • Lee Brooks says:

      Hi Matt – thanks for the question! The book does include some good examples, and I think I just got lazy when I chose not to include them. I’ve updated the post accordingly =)

      I think the value is a little bit different than how you’ve described it. Instead of an explicit reciprocation, these brands are building a trust with a prospect base, knowing that it’s that trust that will give them an edge at some later point down the road when the prospect hits a zero-moment of purchase decision. So it’s not a feeling of obligation to stick with a brand that drives the consumer choice, it’s the trust that’s been built up over time.

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