THE BLOG
12/06/2013 02:43 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014

Make Yourself Useful: Create Marketing People Actually Want

I guess I was onto something.

Recently I've been exploring the idea of no-content marketing, which is what I think will come after the content marketing gold rush -- when abundance becomes surfeit.

Now I see that a couple of the leading thinkers about social media are on similar tracks.

Jay Baer, of Convince and Convert, has a must-read new book called Youtility, in which he argues that because there's just so much, people are losing patience with all forms of promotion, offline and on.

Baer argues that modern marketing needs to be not promotional, but useful:

Instead of marketing that's needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that's wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates longterm trust and kinship between your company and your customers. -- (Page three, Kindle Edition)

Among other persuasive examples, Baer cites the @HiltonSuggests program, in which Hilton Worldwide solves travelers' problems via Twitter -- even when the solution has nothing to do with a Hilton property. He shows how this builds a trusting relationship, and argues that that's more valuable than the traditional marketing goals of Top of Mind awareness (you think of us before our competitors) and Frame of Mind awareness (you see our message when you're shopping).

Baer calls it "Friend of Mine" awareness, in which a firm behaves less like a pushy salesperson and more like a helpful, knowledgeable friend.

A friend of Baer's is Chris Brogan of Human Business Works, who has a recent post called "Stop Making Content Just to Make It." With a hat tip to Baer, Brogan upends current conventional wisdom about content marketing:

If you're going to make content, check both these boxes: Does this serve my business (pursuits, etc.)? Does this serve the community? You have to say yes to both, or don't bother. If you're just 'writing to be heard,' stop it. It's done. Game over. No one has time for that. You're wasting your time, and also your audience's time. Stop it.

No one has time because of the content explosion:

  • Tumblr alone reports 153.7 million member blogs as of today.
  • Facebook has well over a billion users, each of whom, of course, is a creator and sharer.
  • As web designer Brad Frost points out (in his presentation "Death to Bullsh*t"), 10 percent of all the books ever published were published last year.

So whatever marketing content you produce had better be useful.

Longer term, though, even that won't be enough. Much marketing will need to stop being content at all.

One way this will happen is by the evolution of marketing from content to tool -- a form of no-content marketing that I've called "Marketing as a Service."

There are examples of MAAS emerging now, and several show up in Youtility. A great one is a free mobile app, developed by Charmin, that solves the age-old problem of whether to take a gamble on a public restroom. It's called Sit or Squat:

Put in an address or location on your Apple or Android device, and a map appears featuring toilet paper rolls that are either green (sit-worthy) or red (definitely a squat). Grey rolls have insufficient data to make a determination. Users of the application can rate restrooms, and even upload photos to add a layer of verisimilitude to the proceedings. (Page 36)

Now that's making yourself useful! And that -- usefulness -- is the future of marketing.