We all know that our marketing materials solve our problems. But do they solve other people's problems? I invited Laura Fitton, founder of oneforty, to explore the idea of useful marketing in our latest Marketing Smarts podcast.

Listen to it later:

We have a new product launching, and we need to get the word out, so we produce a press release. We want to improve our search rankings, so we blog like crazy. Sales people want something to leave behind, so we give them a deck, a brochure, a white paper.

But does any of this stuff solve other people's problems? Does it solve the problem of the journalist who needs more content for her site? Does it help the email marketing manager improve delivery rates? Does it enable the purchasing manager to understand the steps she should take to select the best solution for her company (even if that best solution is not yours)?

The sad truth is that the vast majority of marketing materials we push out there are self-serving and don't really address the problems of others. Putting it another way, our stuff may be useful to us as marketers, but it's not really useful to anyone else.

Of course, this doesn't mean that marketing can't be useful. On the contrary, the fact that so much marketing is—for lack of a better term—"useless" presents us all with an opportunity to rethink our marketing efforts and focus on creating truly "useful marketing." I'd even go so far as to say that, in order to raise the bar, we should adopt this phrase as a replacement for "content marketing." Producing content is easy, after all. Producing useful content is a challenge.

What got me thinking along these lines was a presentation by Laura Fitton (better known to the world as "Pistachio") I saw in October. The theme of her talk was "being useful," and at one point she asked the audience if they considered their marketing "useful." Very few did.

I invited Laura to join us on the Marketing Smarts podcast to explore this idea of useful marketing as well as get her opinion on how well (or poorly) companies are using Twitter at this stage of the game.

So how do you know if your marketing is useful? Laura suggests two litmus tests:

1. Would people pay for it?

"I always challenge marketers to make all their marketing materials so useful that someone would actually pay for them," she told me. She encourages marketers to ask themselves, "Before I put up this blog post, do I think people would pay for this? Is it that good?"

2. Will it help people kick ass?

Laura applies Kathy Sierra's credo that user experience designers should "Give users a way to kick ass" to the marketing world and invites us to ask of our marketing, "Will the person who tunes in [to a webinar, for example] be able to do their job better? Or will they just know more about your product?" If it's the latter, you have more work to do.

As it turns out, Laura's take on the current state of brands on Twitter reflects the same idea: Be useful. In her eyes, many brands are still hosting/producing "selfish" Twitter streams to the extent that they just tweet out their own press releases and links back to their sites.

What's the alternative? Taking the time to consider all the information that your audience is looking for and figuring out a way to get it to them.

"Even if you don't generate any original content," she says, "but you do a fantastic job of curating all the stories and events and news and resources that your target audience would need, you're going to attract a really good, engaged following."

Also, if you happen to know Alec Baldwin, let him know that we were talking about him a lot in this episode and would love to hear what he thinks about useful marketing or, well, anything!

Finally, who do you think is producing the most useful marketing nowadays?