Beyond Content Marketing: When Everyone Has 'People'

As the world gets flooded with content, its value will head towards zero and keep going -- people will start paying to avoid dealing with it.

My recent posts making that claim have sparked lots of discussion (find them here, here and here.)

That now includes a thoughtfully argued rebuttal by Tom Foran, the general manager of North America for Outbrain, a leading "content discovery platform" used by CNN and many others.

Mr. Foran's point in a nutshell:

While we're certainly witnessing an increase in the sheer volume of content brands produce as they complete their transformation into publishers, that doesn't mean the wholesale desensitization of audiences to branded content anytime soon. It just means the industry needs to get smarter in how it delivers the content.

The rest of the post is worth reading.

I agree that content marketing is still effective, that in a crowded environment you can still stand out by doing it very well and that it's not going to disappear any time soon.

But I still think that as the amount of content explodes, we're already evolving towards a post-content future for marketing. (And I mean explodes -- if you think that's hyperbole, just take a look at web designer Brad Frost's presentation "Death to Bullsh*t").

At a certain point, the fact that some of this content is valuable doesn't help. It kind of makes it worse to know there's great stuff you should be seeing, you'll never have time to get to it all, and every day, you fall farther behind.

To help visualize one aspect of the future I have in mind, imagine you're a wealthy executive (if you already are one, just imagine you're you.)

On the personal side of your life, let's say you need groceries. Unless you really enjoy grocery shopping, why would you do it yourself? And why spend time-consuming content about it?

You have people for that. Your personal assistant consults with your cook and takes care of knowing where to shop, what to buy and how much to pay.

This means grocery marketers should be talking to your staff, not necessarily you.

Now look at the business side of your life. You don't have time to find and consume all the information you need to make decisions, or even to make all those decisions yourself. So you have people for that, too. They consume the raw content, condense the meaning for you and make some decisions before they even reach your desk.

Because you have people, you don't have to deal with many of the details of life, including much of its marketing, unless you want to.

You can have their people talk to your people.

That's one aspect of the future that I think is waiting for lots of us, as software keeps getting smarter and more interconnected. Except in this future, it won't be, "have your people talk to my people," but "have your bot talk to my bot."

As software continues to take over jobs previously done by humans, much of what is now content will become code.

Think of the path from A, a plain text tweet being read by a human, to B, a tweet that's been carefully structured with keywords, hashtags and handles, and that's being read by social listening software.

That C on that path is code, used by instances of software talking to each other. This form of no-content marketing might end up being called "code marketing."

We see it emerging now. Consider all the recommendation engines we encounter, with Amazon as the leading example. Some of those engines have gone past presenting us options for purchase. They just go ahead and choose for us, letting us override if it doesn't work out.

Pandora is an example of this -- and the music industry is an example of the disruption that follows a content explosion. Like many music lovers, I've pretty much stopped buying recordings. Pandora just keeps learning what I like and making good choices for me, so I'm happy to pay its subscription fee for that service. It's a lot like having a personal DJ (or a room full of them).

Virtual shoppers of all sorts are on the way, where they're not already here: Pandoras for food, clothing, entertainment, travel, business intelligence and more.

Of course, the dystopian version of this future is that we devolve into blobs, kept fat and happy by robots, until they realize they don't need us any more.

But if we play our cards right, we'll remain engaged with life. We'll just have more mind space to focus on the parts we really care about.