08/12/2013 04:58 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2013

What No-content Marketing Will Look Like

Last time, I argued that while content marketing is still on the rise (e.g. see this Content Marketing Institute report), it will eventually become the victim of its own success.

In a nutshell, I said that:

  • An advantage isn't an advantage when it's available to everyone. This is one version of the fallacy of composition.
  • As the supply of something increases, demand falls. Eventually, people will pay not to get it, as in avoiding advertising by buying premium TV, or taking an off-the-grid holiday

So I suggest that when there's finally been too much content marketing, it will be followed by marketing that reduces or eliminates content: "no-content marketing." What will that look like? In fact, we're beginning to see now. Here are 10 early signs and predictions.

1. Email triage. This is among the earliest of early signs. Email has long since gone from boon to problem, and tools to manage that problem are proliferating. A couple of especially indicative ones, both from Google: Priority Inbox, which learns what you want to see and what you don't, and Tabs, which segregate social, promotional and other less than urgent messages. Both of these pose a problem for email marketers -- but are also an example of no-content marketing by Google: Gmail ads are being made more valuable by the absence of content.

2. The move from email to messaging. Many young people prefer text and social messages, which are shorter, faster and don't create the visual clutter of an email inbox. Marketers are still trying to find their way into the newer streams, but Obama for America showed one path to effective text message marketing back in 2008. OFA didn't do it by spamming you with text content. Instead, they by made a relationship the true content, and inviting you to initiate that relationship. Furthermore, the invitation arrived via another channel, such as an announcement at a rally, where an emotional connection had already been established.

3. The filtering industry. Reddit, Digg, Feedrinse, Yahoo Pipes and of course good old Google search are just a few of the many tools for reducing your exposure to raw content. I value Google search not because it can fetch (as it just did) about 775 million results in 0.49 seconds for a search on "content marketing," as impressive as that is. I value the demotion of almost all of those results beyond the first or second page, where I will probably never see them. Currently, search marketers fight for a presence on page one. In the future, I expect there will be less wasteful ways of finding value in oceans of information, some of which should become clear as we go along here.

4. Going meta. We go to the meta version of something when the thing in itself has been thoroughly commoditized, for example from data to metadata. About any large organization, high-profile personality or hot topic, there's way, way too much discussion to engage with it piece by piece. So now we have social listening and analysis tools, the point of which is insight about the content, not the content itself. Salesforce's Radian 6 is a leading example, and among the many interesting newcomers is Bottlenose, which I found thanks to a valuable round-up of such filtering tools written by ReadWriteWeb founder Richard McManus.

5. Speaking in pictures. All around the web and social media, you see a move away from text to pictures, as in the the text-on-picture interfaces of Flipboard, The Huffington Post and other online publications, or in infographics as a replacement for text-based articles and white papers. People are messaging in pictures as well. Google's Sergey Brin described an epiphany he had to Nick Bilton of The New York Times' Bits Blog:

"Mr. Brin said he was eating a meal while wearing [Google] Glass when he received a text message asking what he was doing. He snapped a picture with his glasses and replied with the photo of his surroundings.

'It was fascinating to see that I could just reply to a text message with a photo,' Mr. Brin said in an interview. He didn't need to type or say anything; the image was enough."

McKinsey's David Edelman has a thoughtful post at LinkedIn about the marketing implications of communicating in pictures.

6. Evanescence as a feature. Messages that disappear after 10 seconds? Not too long ago, that would once have been seen as a fatal bug. But in the current culture, it's a prized feature of SnapChat. Some users like it because potentially embarrassing communications go away. But other benefits are automatic de-cluttering, along with freedom from a permanent record of "who you've been forever," as SnapChat founder Evan Spiegel put it to The New Yorker's Matt Buchanan.

7. Personal info assistants. It used to that if you could afford a personal assistant, you paid them to handle physical-world tasks like managing mail, picking up dry cleaning or arranging travel. Now, you may choose to have a personal info assistant, who will handle your email, and read or view anything else you might not have time for, like the over-supply of news available these days. The wealthy and powerful have always had access to services like these -- think of the President's Daily Brief or Stratfor -- but it's becoming more common among the broadening population of the too-busy. Some marketers may now need to profile not just their primary target, but their target's gate-keeper.

8. Marketing as a Service -- to customers. When most people talk about "Marketing as a Service" they're referring to a cloud-based version of services to marketers. But as more people turn away from content, I think we can also expect a form of MAAS that consists of direct services to consumers.

The rise of the app is an example of this trend. A good app doesn't just present information about the brand, like a website might. Instead, the app enables the brand to help you do things. Beyond the app, there's the integrated system, such as Nike+. This is a collection of products and services aimed at helping you do something, in this case, work out more effectively and enjoyably. It's also its own marketing program: Since Nike+ helps people publish and share their progress, the act of using it is also an act of marketing.

9. Software assistants. A moment ago I mentioned personal info assistants. A personal assistant may know you well enough not just to find things for you, but to go ahead and buy them. Software-based shopping assistance services like iGoDigital are moving in the same direction. In the future, marketing may often amount to a robot salesperson making a pitch to a robot assistant -- which is pretty much how high frequency trading happens right now. And this leads us to...

10. The semantic web. By adding structure to data, the semantic web promises to deliver not just content, but meaning -- which can then lead to action. The world-wide web's inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, envisions it like this:

"Machines [will] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web -- the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A 'semantic web', which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines, leaving humans to provide the inspiration and intuition. The 'intelligent agents' people have touted for ages will finally materialize." (Weaving the Web, 2000, pp 157-158)

Though there's room for skepticism about how close to true artificial intelligence we'll get, aspects of the semantic web already exist. For example, Google is certainly focusing on it with the Knowledge Graph, and Bottlenose founder Nova Spivack also started the semantic web app developer Radar Networks.

What do you think? Will content marketing peak, and be superseded by "no-content marketing"? Let me know in the comments.

Read Part 1: "What's Next for Content Marketing: No Content"