By Buddy Scalera published January 20, 2014

Terrifying Tales of Marketing Zombies Curating Content

Chapter 1: The battlefield

content-curatin-Marketing-Zombies_1When the gun smoke cleared, they saw what they had done. A dozen dead — or perhaps the word is “deader” — zombies lay still on the ground. At least now, the dead were no longer walking.

Gick Rimes turned his gaze to his team. There was Haryl Hixon, a bowman as accurate as a superhero. Michette, who wielded a machete sword like a samurai. And his pre-teen son, Carrrl, who is finally becoming a cool guy.

They were survivors — and killers. They were neither good nor bad. They did what was necessary to survive.

They. Were. Marketers.

Gick broke the silence, as he always did: “I… I could say something profound… in my usual… start and stop… way of speaking,” Gick said in his usual start and stop way of speaking. “So I will.”

Before he could drone on, Haryl stepped forward in a way that made millions of women swoon. “These weren’t regu’lr zombies,” he growled. “These were the worst kind of all…”

“Marketing zombies,” whispered Michette, so she could have some dialogue (but not too much).

They were right. The smoldering bodies were dressed in fashionably worn out jeans, clean shirts, and carried iPads. The men sported baggy blazers. The women wore much nicer clothes than the men, since they actually dressed for work, not art class. Yes, they had to be marketing zombies.

“They were curating content, dad,” said Carrrl, who picked up the exposition. “They don’t do anything themselves; they just take things that other people make and tweet it out.”

“Curating…” Gick grumbled with a distinct southern drawl from London.

They knew this breed of curator well. Self-appointed, self-important marketers who’d lost touch with the act of actually doing real work. It started off with tweeting a few links, but they had been lulled into complacency 140 characters at a time. Now, they could barely think beyond two sentences. Worst of all, they used hashtags in normal spoken conversation to punctuate their irony and hipness.

But since the outbreak of new media channels, more marketing zombies emerged. The way to become a key opinion leader seemed to be through social channels. Every social channel, from Pinterest to Tumblr, became a place for content curation.

Sure there were content creators on all of these channels; but making things takes time. Tweeting a link could be done by your computer without you. Robo-tweeting became so easy that it was almost, almost… brainless. And so began the marketing zombie apocalypse.

“Doesn’t anybody make anything anymore?” said Gick, but before he finished, Haryl stepped forward and flexed his bicep (since that’s what he does).

“C’mon, I just saw a bunch of marketing zombies check in on Foursquare,” said Haryl as he squinted in a sexy way (since that’s what he does).

The smoke had cleared, and Gick knew Haryl was right. Their work here was done. To borrow a phrase from their enemy “The Mayor,” they’d just “unfollowed” a bunch of marketing zombies.

Nobody would miss them. They didn’t really contribute to the “conversation” because to them, it was all about personal self-branding and not real substance.

Analytics showed it loud and clear, particularly when you looked at actual KPIs. These marketing zombies didn’t know what they were doing. They were just repeating the things they’d heard from other zombies.

Once bitten by the idea of becoming a key opinion leader (KOL), they’d abandoned what they knew about actual relationship marketing and long-term brand building. Everyone was in it to promote his own Twitter handle — like that meant anything in the real world. Like it meant anything to the brands they served and the customers they represented. Klout denied responsibility for starting the outbreak, but it didn’t really matter.

Nobody would miss these walking, talking dead. With their bag of marketing words that they barely understood, they could whip out “relevant” or “optimize” and find a place for it in just about any conversation. They spoke about SEO and SEM like they were skilled enough to put in this hard work on their own brands’ behalf. Of course, their lack of this capability didn’t stop them from adding it to the skills section of their LinkedIn profiles.

And now with “storytelling” becoming the en vogue term, it was only getting worse. Gick wondered if there was an unwritten mandate somewhere to drop “storytelling” into every client meeting, as if it were a talisman that would ward away cultural irrelevance.

Chapter 2: Where it had all gone wrong

Did these marketing zombies know about stories? Of course they did. They had read countless numbers of them in college; many of them while earning Master’s degrees. They’d even written many stories themselves — before becoming dead inside. This made their zombification all the more tragic (and ironic).

Somewhere along the way, they’d gotten complacent. They stopped building content marketing strategies because that took time. Instead, they dove right into tactics. They cut corners because it seemed like that’s what everyone else was doing and that no one was likely to notice.

Then, they were infected by the social media thought leadership virus, and had slowly turned into marketing zombies ever since. They replaced long-form blogging with reckless content curation. They’d forgotten that professional content curator was a title that needed to be earned through meticulous practice, skilled executions, and a unique perspective that would be useful to their customers — not just claimed to suit their own needs.

It was like everyone’s brain had been rewired to think that these ephemera were valuable content offerings. Society had been tricked again. Just like when we thought we could lose weight eating Snackwells cookies.

Dammit, how could we have been so blind?!? How did we ever let it get this far?

Chapter 3: But all hope is not lost

Despite his anger, Gick knew society had a chance for redemption. There were still pockets of true marketers and content creators out there. There were average, ordinary folks who fought for strategy before tactics… for measurable content marketing ROI… and even for curation that adds value, rather than sucking the life out of others’ work.

They were copywriters who took the time to understand the needs of their customers. Designers who studied and remembered that there was something called “art” before Apple even made computers. And account managers who were willing to advise clients that placing a paid ad on Facebook isn’t really a social media marketing campaign.

There were even a few speakers at marketing conferences who knew that there were, indeed, case studies that didn’t include Apple, Zappos, and Blendtec. They read books — not just blogs — to ensure they were appropriately well informed and their opinions were well rounded. They dug deeper to understand the real story behind a case study, and didn’t rely on blog posts and slides from other marketing conference speakers to explain it to them.

Yes, they were out there, hunched over keyboards, trying to be living marketers. Sometimes that meant tweeting, and sometimes it didn’t. Some had lots of followers, and others, well, they were too busy creating quality content to worry about who might be following their lead.

Gick and crew knew they needed to be careful in their “unfollowing” efforts, since not all of the content curation population had become zombies. There were plenty of smart, effective content curators left. These were marketers who knew their subject matter, helped people discover content that would otherwise be missed, and credited the original sources. They never cropped out copyright lines from photos, nor did they tweet out links without reviewing the destination links first. Good content curation was valuable and not exclusive to the internet — something he’d explain to his son someday…

Carrrl nudged his father back to smoke-filled reality. “We have to go,” he said with awkwardly perfect enunciation. “I just heard about three new cool apps and an emerging social network with a waiting list. The zombies and hipsters are tweeting like crazy. Hashtag #brandyou.”

Carrrl was right. The curators would be all over this, which meant more channels to be overrun by marketing zombies. Making original content is time consuming and… dammit, they could re-use content so fast. He never thought he’d say this, but he actually missed the days when there was editorial oversight for published content.

Haryl fired up his Harley, which made a lot of noise, which attracted more zombies, so it made no sense to ride. But he did anyway, since it was sexy, and that’s what he does.

Gick, Michette, and Carrrl hopped into a Hyundai Tucson, since they were a branded sponsor and offer attractive rates for first-time buyers. The car started up, as Hyundai’s obviously do —even in an apocalypse. The car sparkled with a cleanliness that made no sense, since there was no place to wash the car, but that’s what Hyundai wanted.

It was a dark time, and Gick knew that a little bit of this virus was in all of us. Anybody could become a marketing zombie, which was a chilling concept. The whole world could be overrun by vacuous, self-promotional marketing zombies who abandoned rigor in favor of quick wins.

The lazy route has always been attractive to some; but in recent years, it had become rewarded. That, he knew, was very dangerous.

The unlikely caravan of a Harley leading a Hyundai Tucson kicked up smoke and gravel. They were off to plan strategies, create content, analyze results, and optimize campaigns. It was good, old-fashioned work that reminded them that they were not doomed to be zombies… marketing or otherwise.

They were survivors. They were marketing professionals who were going to do the right thing for their customers. Even if it meant they had to unfollow a lot more zombies.

Looking for more inspiration on the great results you can achieve from carefully crafted content? Read CMI’s Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples

Cover image by Andrew Moir and Joe Kalinowski.

Author: Buddy Scalera

Buddy Scalera is SVP, Multichannel Content Strategy at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — the health behavior experts of Ogilvy & Mather — committed to creativity and effectiveness in healthcare communications, everywhere. He and his team of digital strategists plan content for healthcare and pharmaceutical brands. He is the author of five published books on content. creativity, and visual storytelling. In his free time, he writes superhero comic books. Learn more at BuddyScalera.com and WordsPicturesWeb.com. Follow Buddy on Twitter at @MarketingBuddy and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide at @OCHWW.

Other posts by Buddy Scalera

  • http://blog.bostondave.net/ BostonDave

    To show my thought leadership, I tweeted this article.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Hah, perfect!

  • Jeff Guest

    I have not shared this article to make my self think that I am not a marketing zombie, and because I (incorrectly) believe that I am funny. Apologies, as it is a genuinely fully and accurate article, and I hate you for it. Brrrraaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnnnssssss…..!

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      I think you’re funny and that you should share this heck out of this post.

  • JessieCoan

    Love this article! What a creative way to approach the issue of a “curation zombie.” Thanks for providing links back to Pawan’s articles as well. The part about finding curators who know their audience is key to success – there’s not point in curating if you don’t know who you are curating. Marketing 101 – know you’re target audience! I wanted to share a new resource we, here at Curata just launched call the Content Marketing Tactics planner – it provides insights into how successful marketers are executing content marketing today – http://www.curata.com/resources/ebooks/content-marketing-tactics-2014/ Thanks!

  • http://www.neildesai.co/ Neil Desai

    Great post Buddy! Very creative way of elaborating about something a lot of us have been guilty at some point. I can relate to the zombies and the main characters. Everyone does have to pass that “curation zombie” stage before they start finding their own voice and better understanding their audience enough to create and build things.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Thanks! Anything involving the undead is going to be fun. Except when you’re running for your life. Less fun then.

  • davanna

    Great, funny article. Thank you!

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Aw, thanks!

  • http://www.jobiety.com/ Kashif

    Finally, a horror piece to give Stephen King a run for his money.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      I hope they make this into a movie.

  • Mike Byrnes

    Thanks. Just in time to prevent me from complete Zombification. I’m stepping back from the send button. Whew!

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      The first step in avoiding zombification is to, well, avoid getting bit. Just keep moving and you’ll be fine.

  • http://expresswriters.com/ Julia McCoy

    Awesome read. You kept it a story from start to finish, which was very unique and something I was quite pleased to follow and read. Originality is the only way to avoid being a part of the zombie marketing masses and multitudes.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Thanks! I write comic books, so I spend a lot of time thinking about stories. Plus I love zombies. So, I guess it was just a few of my favorite things.

      Here are a few of the comic books I’ve worked on:
      http://comicbookschool.com/about-buddy/comic-writing/

  • rogercparker

    Riveting approach. I’m fascinated and looking forward to where it goes in the following chapters.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      It’s an open-source story. Anybody can write the next chapter….

  • http://www.LinkedMediaGroup.com Linked Media Group, Inc.

    Just to make sure we got #walkingdead status as bona fide zombies we “curated” it via our Twitter Account. Nicely done BTW

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Thanks for the non-zombie share!

  • http://www.rishona.net/blog/ Shona

    For better or for worse, these marketing zombies are becoming easier to spot. They add followers; but NEVER engage and rarely contribute their own content. Even worse, they opt to follow you…then unfollow in a few days. I guess because you either don’t follow them back (on Twitter or Google+), or because you didn’t re-share their content. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them….just from a quick read of their profile and if I have to wonder why in the world they are looking for a connection, I get suspicious. The all around bad part is that these zombie marketers seem to be growing exponentially. Time will tell how long they will stay at it before they fall off to the wayside.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Shona – Ignore them and they go away. Just don’t get bit and you’ll be fine. :)

  • http://twitter.com/toddwheatland Todd Wheatland

    Nice work Buddy. Look forward to the ebook.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      I was thinking Hollywood blockbuster film.

  • Alan Gerstein

    Buddy takes another big bite out of mindless marketing. Nicely done.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Thank you, Sir Alan.

  • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

    Buddy… This was just pure fun from start to finish… You definitely need the video on this… With Shatner playing Gick…. And, of course – fantastic advice buried deep in the skull there as well…

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Robert – Hah, thanks man! I’m ready to cast the movie, if you direct it.

    • http://www.michellekillebrew.com/ Michelle Killebrew

      Love the Shatner suggestion — how apropos!

  • http://www.theidgroup.co.uk/ Mark Masters

    Love it….by curating content, I’ll produce a one sentence response via Disqus and now share on all social media platforms.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      As long as it is a sentence that you create yourself, you avoid zombification.

  • Just Joe

    I just shared this on every one of my social networks. Am I a Zombie? #conflicted

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Here’s a simple test: If you actually read the article before sharing it…? You’re not a zombie.

      • Just Joe

        Ah–perhaps a fair distinction. Although, if those items are the same trending topics and popular articles that everyone else is reading and sharing. . . In any event, this article is a brilliant example of doing it right.

  • Anne Fleming

    I’m naming my next kid Michette.

    I’m a bit of a newbie to content marketing, but I was in fact recently hired by someone whose previous marketer turned out to be a zombie, which she was smart enough to realize. Your article has inspired me to keep up the good fight.

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Even though you may be a newbie, you could smell the marketing zombies. Good for you.

  • tracibrowne

    I’ve been having “discussions” (screw it…just call it what it is…heated arguments) on this topic a lot lately, Thanks for writing this…now I can save myself some breath and just say, “here, read this.” It’s just unfortunate that these zombies will never recognize themselves. I’ve often wanted to tweet a catchy headline with a broken link and see how many people retweet it…now you’ve inspired me!

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      I went to a meeting today where people had printed out the article to share. Sort of a surreal moment.

  • anthonygaenzle

    Excellent post. A dire warning of what is to come if we don’t focus on adding value as a whole and instead opt to focus on our own immediate goals. And I have to say, you really capture the essence of the characters!

    • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

      Hey, thank you! It really is all about value. So true.

  • Andrew Moir

    Buddy, if you’re ever in need of an artist for a project, I did the b&w line art for the illustration above. You can see more at http://andrewmoir.blogspot.com/

  • Kristen Hicks

    Haryl’s the best. Obviously.

    Nice job bringing some fun storytelling and humor to serious advice!

  • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

    Check it out! Joe and Robert mentioned this article in the This Old Marketing podcast. (Joe references this article at 28:30!)

    Podcast: “Social and Search News that May Change Your Content Marketing”

    http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2014/03/social-search-news-may-change-content-marketing/

    Buddy
    @MarketingBuddy