Guest Post by: Ingmar de Lange

The brand utility is here. Many brands are experimenting with this approach, some successful, others find a dead end. Time to draw some conclusions: what are the main drivers a brand utility’s success?

What was it again…?

As a recap: a brand utility shows that a service does not necessarily have to be sold. By giving it away, as a sample, it becomes a promotional instrument: the customer does not pay for it with money, but with time. The service becomes a marketing tool, because it creates attention and interaction. Not by being funny, but by being useful. And the barrier to use the brand is lower. A brand utility integrates business development and marketing.

Digital is an important stimulant. Digital services can be reproduced at almost zero costs, just like a message. Therefore, they can easily be given away. They become viral instruments, the rise of mobile apps is a good example.

The checklist

However, as with everything becoming popular, there are good and bad examples. Therefore a checklist: a strong brand utility has six characteristics.


There is a difference between entertaining and useful. There are many funny apps, but only a small part is structurally useful. The essence of marketing is to create added value. Not occasionally, but always. The brand utility is marketing back to basics: use all means available to add value to consumers’ daily lives.


A brand utility can be useful in many ways. What is important is that it fits the brand’s promise. Goal is to make it easier to experience the core proposition: action speaks louder than words. Many brand utilities are useful, but quite fare away from the USP. As a result, the brand itself does not become more relevant.


A brand utility partly uses the marketing budget for its exploitation. Thanks to this subsidy a customer can use the service for free, or for a small price. A brand utility is based on this tension: something special that is available for (almost) nothing. A brand utility is not about free futilities.


A brand utility is not a normal service. It is not only easily obtainable, it also has communication power: people will talk about it. This can simply be because the service is freely available. But it is better to turn the utility itself into a ‘purple cow’ as well. Interestingly: because marketing subsides the service, eye-catching experiments are possible that would not see the light of day when only looking at the direct revenue.


This driver seems trivial, but is often forgotten. Something that is useful, fits the USP and attracts attention, can still mainly be interesting for the marketer. The customer does not experience it as valuable. A brand utility should offer something that the customer needs and desires, else it can not be structurally useful.


Finally, the most important question: what is the main KPI? The answer is simple: conversion. Something that is useful, fits the USP and is easy to obtain, should result in a purchase. The brand utility is the first step ‘in the store’, it is a ‘service sampling’.

Conversion is the challenge of most cases: they are not enough aligned with the core products and do not lead to sales results. A strong understanding of the customer journey is therefore crucial: what distracts the customer from a purchase and how can a (free) service solve this?

In short: online media have integrated communication and distribution into one channel. It is time that marketing follows this example.

Image: Nokia Silence Booth

As Futurelab associate based in Amsterdam, Ingmar de Lange is a marketing strategist who is well experienced with meaningful marketing techniques and social media marketing. He is the author of  A Useful Guide to Brand Utility and is the founder of the Amsterdam strategy consultancy Mountview. 

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