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Declaring Things Dead is Dead

Content and digital strategy and marketing blog

Medium. It’s a social publishing platform that’s started to get more attention lately. So I thought I’d dig into it a bit more, create an account, and futz around to make sure I have at least a rudimentary understanding of how it works and why people use it.

 

Hazard of the job

Trying new platforms is kind of a hazard of the job in digital marketing. I might not be an active user of Snapchat, Yo or Kik, but it pays for me to know what they are. My fellow digital marketers know what I’m talking about.

After I set up some initial suggested subjects (the same way you do for content discovery in apps like Flipboard), I thought I’d drill down and do a search on a subject near and dear to my heart—content strategy. One of the top posts I encountered caught my attention. The headline was:

 

 “Content Strategy is Dead, and There’s a New King in Town”

 

I knew it was nothing but clickbait, but I had to read it. Not because I was worried. But because I was amused.

 

Begging the question

Why had they determined content strategy was dead, especially as I see it just now taking root in many companies? Would they offer any evidence or just wax philosophical about how they and a few of their friends had a coffee shop conversation wherein they called the time of death, because they felt they had figured out something more transcendent? Was it pure clickbait for the numbers, or was there a deeper goal at hand? Or was it simply a way to position the author’s services as thinly differentiated from the herd?

“But Hal,” you might say, “why wouldn’t you take a post like that seriously?” Simple.

 

 Declaring marketing tactics dead is practically a national pastime.

 

Go ahead. Google (insert tactic here) is dead. You’ll find search engine result pages littered with the predictions and declarations of the deaths of every marketing tactic used today. In fact, if you get creative, you’ll find posts about tactics being dead that haven’t even been tried yet.

TV. Direct mail. Social media. Email marketing. Blogging. All dead. Evidently, most of us real marketers have been too busy using these dead tactics to make money for companies to realize that we’re surviving off a zombie horde of dead marketing methods.

 

Why declare everything dead?

Now that you know declaring content strategy dead has more to do with the author’s personal goals than the actual state of content strategy in the real world, here are a few of the reasons that so many web authors declare marketing tactics dead.

  1. Sensationalism sells. The news media have long had a saying “If it bleeds, it leads.” The most controversial headlines tend to draw the greatest number of clicks. Anyone who agrees with a death declaration will click the post to confirm their views, and those who disagree with it will click to find something to discredit. A few gullible souls will click to try to educate themselves, sadly getting duped into thinly veiled propaganda.
  2. It’s dead to them. Many people believe their personal experience represents everyone’s experience. I had a coworker who regularly declared “Twitter is dead.” As a person who is still making connections, getting news, finding vendors, and getting interviews through Twitter, I can guarantee you that it’s not dead. Is it as ubiquitous as Facebook? No. Is it a place all your friends are going to post staged pics of their food? No. But just because your personal use case for a tactic isn’t there doesn’t mean others aren’t using it for other reasons.
  3. They failed at it. “We tried (tactic) once and it didn’t work.” Ever heard someone say this? Don’t listen to them. Everyone I’ve ever heard use this phase executed the supposedly-failed tactic wrong. Anyone who declares a tactic dead after trying it just once is not prepared to be a serious marketer. It’s easy for a marketer to declare something is dead after they’ve failed at it as a way to take the focus off of their shortcomings.
  4. It’s not right for their segment. Every industry, company and audience is different, and best reached with different media. Social media is probably not a great way to reach buyers of industrial drill bits. Direct mail is probably a bad way to reach traveling nurses. Does that mean either of those tactics are dead? No. It just means they’re not great tactics for that individual marketing mission.
  5. It’s passed its initial peak. The faster technology – and by extension, marketing tactics – have evolved, the faster they’re declared dead. In reality, new marketing tactics, like new technologies, have a fairly predictable lifecycle. Gartner has outlined this model. In the model below, most marketing tactics are declared dead as they begin to descend from the peak of inflated expectations. Essentially, once companies stop blindly spending money on something they don’t fully understand and start to be more disciplined about how they approach the tactic, it’s declared dead. Which is funny. Because the trough of disillusionment actually helps lay the groundwork for the right companies doing a much better job of using the tactic in question in a more strategic and disciplined way. Tactics rarely die, but generally shrink from their manic beginnings to settle into a more realistic portion of the total marketing mix. Gartner Hype Cycle
  6. They’re trying to differentiate. Let’s be honest. In reality, few marketing agencies or consultants truly offer any substantial differentiation. And when they do, they don’t always recognize it or sell on it. So what do some of them do in lieu of pitching true differentiation? Manufacture it. If they declare something dead, they have the chance to position what they do as the next big thing. It makes them seem like experts on the leading edge (to the uninitiated) and gives them a natural bridge to pitch sell their shiny new name for a thing that already exists.

 

Which was this post?

This post was a textbook example of reason #6: Trying to differentiate. The author claimed that content strategy was dead and that it’s being replaced with user experience. At the end of the post, the author revealed he worked for a company specializing in the user experience tactics he was pitching in the post. For anyone who got to the call to action at the bottom of the post, this was a really transparent grab for new business and thinly veiled attempt at manufacturing differentiation. (SIDE NOTE: I definitely value user experience and the place is plays alongside content strategy in the larger customer experience.)

 

The hidden irony

Evidently the author in question missed an important irony. If the post effectively helped him generate business, he would have actually proven the effectiveness of content strategy.

 

What about strategies?

I’ve been talking about marketing tactics throughout this post because they’re most frequently the targets of death declarations. But you can read this post and use “marketing strategy” interchangeably with “marketing tactic.” Internet death dealers may take aim at larger strategies just as easily as specific tactics or media. Content strategy, for example, is made up of many media and tactics.

 

What else have you seen declared dead lately?

Tweet me @halwerner. I’d love to hear them.

 


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Hal Werner
Hal Werner
Hal Werner is a Dallas-area content strategist, digital marketer and idea man area that loves bringing distinctive flavor and customer insight to every project.