The First Stage is Denial
"True believers" don't easily accept the disappearance of their idols. In 2010, when businesses with thin content and no social signals plummeted to their doom, technical marketing devotees claimed the corpse had merely been moved. Forums were replete with new, if dubious, recipes for search ranking miracles.
From 2011-2013, a lot of agencies finally lost their faith. Search engines engaged in open war with black hat techniques, and IT-
based marketers saw an apocalypse of digital efficacy. From the ashes of the old religion, came the new: blogs and social media. Once shunned with scoffs and eye rolls, just like e-mail in '97, the '"tweet" finally became a thing in enterprise circles. Yet, as vivacious as these ecologies seem, even they must ultimately shed their virtual coils.
Of course, death in the digital realm doesn't mean a lack of persistence; marketing is full of phantoms, ghosts, and occasional full hauntings. Moldy methods and tentative truisms dominate the marketing strategies of nearly every industry. The innate endurance of electronic wisdom, its searchability as it matures, and the tenacity of our desire for commoditized solutions ensures a shelf life for marketing scripture decades beyond their obsolescence.
That conceals a metaphysical reality. By the time an insight becomes popular enough to be a platitude, its expiration is already near. As soon as a strategy becomes widespread enough to be trusted, and prominent enough to be conspicuous, it's perishing from overuse and exhaustion. Those cycles are coming faster, too. What we know, our competitors also know, and that makes it useless in the long-term.
It isn't just platforms, methods, and species of marketers that die. So do entire marketing infrastructures. Whole sectors of the marketing profession are either passing or well past middle age. They linger in the marketing ecosphere in an increasingly extraneous capacity, destined to become wraithlike and ultimately foreign. Among those are the traditional agency, the freelance department, and the corporate buffer.
Even the Future Has Ghosts
As a general model, agencies are all about markup. They find talent for a brand, and replace talent as needed, and we pay for their recruiting and retention efforts perpetually in high agency fees. If we quit, our marketing activity drops to zero. An agency is a package; it's all or nothing, not modular. Moreover, by choosing a 100% outsourced model, brands may be forfeiting intimacy with a constituent audience that increasingly expects authenticity, vulnerability, and personal thought leadership. Agencies will evolve, but the marketing agency as dominant model is arguably dated.
The freelance marketplace provides extreme modularity, but there's a withering irony. As s marketing structure, its sustainability is inversely proportionate to our desire to scale. You hire all the implementers yourself, but then you still have to manage and lead the team. More significantly, a brand still needs to formulate and continually adjust its own marketing strategy, at a time when how fast and often it can pivot is probably more important than any initial plan it could construct. At the very zenith of freelancer platforms, their practical role for sustainable marketing is moribund in the face of increasingly complex market needs.
The corporate arrangement of hiring a full-time marketing director and other internal employees to bridge the gap with freelancers and agencies comes with its own mosaic of problems. Namely, it inserts frictionally bureaucratic and cultural layers between brands and vendors, and risks producing siloes with stunted effectiveness, if not redundancy and conflict. The focus shifts to allocating budget, not continually evolving strategy on the ground. The necrotic elements are at arm's length, but the structural problems aren't resolved.
Marketing is like a Dickens tale, with past, present, and future having ghosts. It's only when the eventual autumn of all marketing structures and strategies is acknowledged, and companies commit to perpetual agility, that they look ahead to the precipice and avoid it. Brands must modularize marketing implementation, for sustainability, swapping out non-performing parts like a surgeon with love of the knife. They must also insource critical functions of thought leadership and subject matter expertise, and allocate some of that focus to marketing. Dependence on the now traditional marketing structures will stymie such efforts, and fail in staving off obsolescence.