I know you want me to like your posts, to share your posts, to comment on your posts. To retweet your content. To open and click on your emails. In the words of the great Seth Godin, you want me to be a sneezer. But, you can’t always get what you want.

The days of spray and pray are over.  I might argue they actually never really existed but many brands still haven’t gotten the message. The point is that 90% of the time, your content is taking up space in my Facebook feed or spamming my inbox. It’s shoving offers in my face and flirting coupons and discounts but it’s not helping ME. Your brand is not about you, which means it should be focused on helping me. Am I not the one you love? I have the power to do something or do nothing. When you focus on you, I do nothing. When you focus on me, now we’re talking.

I am a big fan of the smart marketing folks over at Brains on Fire. They speak my language and continue to share my passion for helping brands connect with their customers. I read their recent blog post and it spurred me to write the post you’re reading now. It’s a quote from Kathy Sierra, author of Badass: Making Users Awesome, which I just bought and am psyched to read.

“Great brands help people be great. As marketers we need to lose our self-interest and become selfless. The marketing game today is less about making a badass product and more about helping people become badass. When people use our products to become more skillful, more proficient, and more awesome, a passion conversation will follow because people love to talk about themselves.”

Think about your brand for a second. Does it help me, your customer? I’m sure you’re saying yes, of course, you bet. Awesome. Okay, so how does it help? More importantly, how does it help me be more awesome? For me, that awesome is a bunch of different things. One is – does it make me smarter? There are lots of ways you can make me smarter: teach me something new, save me time, save me money, make me more efficient, make me more productive, make my life easier.

I interact with lots of different brands and I will say that most fall flat in the “make me smarter” category. Retail fashion and apparel brands, which I love with every fabric of my being, fall into the self-centered brand category. My Instagram feed is full of catwalks, previews, baubles and expensive shoes and handbags, all well-styled and gorgeous in their own way. But each time I scroll through a parade of fashion photos in my feed I can’t help but think about the opportunity they are missing. What if they started to mix it up, keep the catwalk photos, and start also offering content that inspires me and teaches me something? Maybe an interesting designer biography or fashion secret? Now you are making me smarter. It’s one thing to say – “I saw the Chanel Paris Fashion week photo.” (aka said no one ever.) and it’s another thing to say – “Did you know the new Chanel boutique in Boston is fashioned after Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment?” (true story) Now that’s something interesting and worth sharing (and something I have told a bunch of people before telling you.)

It applies for every industry. Let’s look at financial services. The majority of the financial services companies I follow clog up my Facebook feed with images of empty nests and piggy banks and headlines that say “We make it easy to build your retirement nest egg.” Now, what am I supposed to do with that? That is not making me smarter. It’s not easy and you know it. It doesn’t make me feel like I know what the heck I’m doing. What if it was a photo of a person. A real customer that is struggling to pay for college, a mortgage, life and figured out a smart way to save for retirement at the same time and your bank helped them do it? Or your app had an interactive way for me to set goals and you could send me reminders, relevant content and actually help me? Okay, now I’m listening. Be helpful and make me a better saver.

And then there’s my tech friends. Do you know your app is more than just a bunch of features? Yep, true story. Your app should actually help me be more awesome. I don’t care about all the techie features that took you months to build and that you want me to know about. I don’t care about big data and all the buzz words that your investors want to hear. I just want to know what It’s going to do for ME? Think about how your app is adding value to my life. Is it teaching me something new? Giving me insights about my behavior? Showing me a new way of doing things? That’s helpful and something I will share with other people. And, think about how your app or technology makes me more awesome across channels. So many apps I use are one dimensional. I am multi-faceted and spend my day tethered to my iPhone while on my laptop. At night, it might be my iPad for reading emails and catching up on the day. My friends at Zappos still have not figured out that a shopper should have one cart. Today, my mobile shopping cart doesn’t talk to the iPad or the browser. Each shopping cart is separate, meaning I have to complete my order on the device where I started it. Huh? Don’t make me think. It will often cost you a sale.

Think about how many emails you open each day from a brand you know. If you’re like me (zero inbox freak), I have unsubscribed from 80% and the other 20% are typically deleted with a swipe before my eyes burn up from another promotion. You might be saying, “but we don’t have interesting, engaging content” or “we can’t afford cool photos or video” or “we don’t really know enough about our users to make them awesome.” To that I break the news to you that you will never win me over. Engagement is king and content is queen. Keeping my attention is a privilege. I don’t need perfectly produced short films or expensive promotions. I want you to think about what’s going to impact me. Engage me and make me smarter and more awesome.

You are competing with brands that are making a big effort to steal my attention away. You are competing with the guy next to me on the plane watching crazy cat videos episodes 1-20. What to most seems like a feature race is actually an engagement race. If you get me and reel me in, I am far more likely to stick around even if you don’t have all the features I want and need. Stop thinking about you and think about me.

I want you to make me better, smarter, more awesome. You have officially been challenged.

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