The Walking Dead Marketing Tactics: 13 Outdated Tactics We Should Bury for Good

Jonathan Crowe by

Some marketing tactics just won’t give up the ghost. Despite all evidence pointing to their ineffectiveness, companies continue to resurrect and (mis)use them. From keyword-stuffing to QR codes, these are the things that give prospects and good marketers everywhere the chills.

If you’re looking for a list of good marketing tactics and tips you’ll not find it here, dear reader (look here or here instead). This is a post where the monsters of modern marketing lurk and reside, tactics so awful and heinous they send prospects everywhere running and covering their eyes.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or maybe just be more conscientious of your time, resources, and — most importantly — your audience. Let’s put a stake in these outdated, ineffective tactics for good.

13 Outdated Marketing Tactics We Should Bury for Good

Scott Abel, Owner of The Content Wrangler


Manually creating every piece of content from scratch

Why it needs to die: Hand-crafting content is expensive, time-consuming, and NOT scalable.

What marketers should do, instead: Drop the unnecessary manual tasks. By applying lean manufacturing methods, marketers can shift from a focus on content creation to content engineering, Abel explains. Case in point, learn how Abel and his team were able to save time and resources by leveraging crowd sourcing, XML content, a wiki, and an efficient, repeatable model to produce a book, an eBook, a website, and multiple learning materials from a single content source. 

Jay Acunzo, Director of Platform & Community at NextView Ventures


Self-indulgent blog posts, like “What We’re Reading” or “[Our Company] at XYZ Conference”

Why it needs to die: “For some reason, startups often miss the point of having a blog,” Acunzo says. “They treat it the same as having an About or Contact Us page when what they should be doing is using it to be the most helpful organization out there in solving their buyers’ problems and making their lives better. Your content, especially in B2B, needs to educate and directly solve the same problem as your product.”

What marketers should do, instead: “Your blog is a teaching tool. You need to out-help every competitor in solving your buyers’ problems,” Acunzo advises. “Don’t write about yourself. Just keep things simple, and create content that solves the same problem that your product solves.”

Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy at NewsCred


Banners. Must. Die!!!

Why it needs to die: “They simply don’t work,” Brenner says. “Your customers ignore them. Your future customers might even hate you for interrupting their content experiences. The only reason spending on banner advertising is not dying faster is because marketers are shifting money from traditional marketing (print, radio, TV) to digital formats. But click through rates on banners are less than .1% in most industries. Eye-tracking studies show that everyone ignores them so even for branding and awareness, this tactic is hard to justify.”

What marketers should do, instead: “Marketers need to shift their banner ad investments into brand content marketing experiences. Why interrupt what your customers want, when you can be what your customers want?”

Jeremiah Gardner, Author of The Lean Brand


Investing too much in “static” branding

Why it needs to die: Most of the artifacts companies focus on when they think of investing in branding are static, Gardner explains. Logos, color schemes, billboards, etc. are static, meaning they are one-dimensional, immobile, and passive expressions of your brand. They’re built on assumptions, and they result in waste. At the end of the day, they don’t really matter, and you’re likely going to rebrand them at some point, anyway!

What marketers should do, instead: Create dynamic artifacts. “Dynamic artifacts are interactive, activating, and magnetic expressions of your brand that invite your customers to join in rather than observe,” Gardner says. “Instead of spending your money on letterhead and pens, get outside the building and start connecting and interacting with your customers!”

Oli Gardner, Co-founder of Unbounce


Fiddling with your button (CTA button, that is)

Why it needs to die: “Unless you live in a hole, you’ll have read about a boat load of button colour A/B tests,” Gardner says in “The Most Entertaining Guide to Landing Page Optimization You’ll Ever Read”. “Red is best, green is for go, orange is inviting. Horse excrement. All of it.”

What marketers should do, instead: “It’s as easy as this,” Gardner explains. “Look for the dominant hue of your page, and pick its complement for your CTA. Button color is irrelevant. Button contrast is what matters.”

Ann Handley, Author of Everybody Writes



Why it needs to die: Sure, you can walk up to strangers on the street and blurt out, “Hey, buy my product!” How do you think that’s going to work out for you? That’s exactly what you’re doing when you choose to be blatantly sales-y in your sharing, advises Handley in her newest book Everybody Writes.

What marketers should do, instead: Lead with your expertise and personality. Share or solve — don’t just pitch whatever it is you sell. More than almost any other social media platform, Twitter is intended for conversation and banter — often with strangers. That means tweets work best as a dialogue, because dialogue establishes rapport and encourages interaction. Remember, you’re building relationships, not running a direct-marketing channel.

Doug Kessler, Co-founder of Velocity


Playing it safe

Why it needs to die: The last thing prospects are going to listen to these days is another company talking with nothing to say. Too many marketers are scared to go out on a limb and take a strong stance, Kessler says. “They read somewhere that you should never go negative, but in a world where everyone is going Pollyanna positive it can be fun and really effective.”

What marketers should use, instead: “Go for the jugular. Go negative. Have a rant,” Kessler argues. “You don’t want to come off as a negative brand with a chip on your shoulder, but you do want to go after bad things. Especially bad things standing in the way of your customers’ success.” You’ll find that you’ll get far more attention from (the right) prospects once they know what you’re passionate about.

Erika Napoletano, Brand Strategist


Trying to be active on every social channel, even if your audience isn’t

Why it needs to die: “Not every social media outlet is an ideal fit for every brand,” Napoletano argued in her transparent write-up on why respected content marketing experts Copyblogger decided to kill its Facebook page, adding, “Your fan and follower numbers mean absolutely jack.”

What marketers should do, instead: Talk to your audience. Analyze their responses and dig into your data to determine where you should be focusing. As Copyblogger puts it, “It’s not our job to tell our audience where we live. It’s to grow communities where they live.”

Neil Patel, Co-founder of KISSmetrics


The fallacy of more — thinking more links, more keywords, more text, more pages, etc. is good for SEO

Why it needs to die: Although backlinks once meant higher rankings, today that’s not always the case, Patel explains in his post “7 Obsolete SEO Tactics You’re Wasting Your Time On.” Keyword-rich content also no longer packs the same rankings punch, as Google’s algorithm uses latent semantic indexing and research has indicated that with even with relatively little content per page, you can still rank well.

What marketers should use, instead: Say goodbye to shortcuts. These days the path to higher rankings requires developing content that is user-friendly, diversified — utilizing a variety of formats such as videos, images, slides, etc. — and, above all, high-quality.

Joe Pulizzi, Author of Epic Content Marketing


Writing just for Google

Why it needs to die: “A few years ago, many organizations were blogging regularly and consistently around keyword topics, but at word counts of around 250 words. That was the conventional wisdom for making sure your post would register with Google,” says Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute. “Brands of all sizes would hire many outside freelancers at a time to churn out small posts to cover a multitude of these keywords.” As Abel and Patel also point out above, that’s simply no longer feasible or effective.

What marketers should use, instead: “Instead of publishing more content that is simply not very helpful, successful brands today are going into much more depth with less frequency, and putting more promotion behind each post to see maximum impact,” Pulizzi argues. “More is not better unless the content is truly helpful and makes an impact with the audience. Simply serving Google doesn’t work anymore.”

Robert Rose, Author of Managing Content Marketing


“Random acts of content”

Why it needs to die: “It’s often the case that a business will try content marketing in a limited way, see initial success, and then fail miserably when they try to scale it,” Rose says. That’s because producing content in a vacuum and separating it from the company’s current initiatives, larger business strategy, and goals will always result in it being irrelevant. 

What marketers should do, instead: Develop a codified content strategy with an editorial mission statement to keep yourself focused and accountable. Make sure you have executive support and buy-in, because you’re going to need it if you want to give content marketing the investment, resources, business processes, and power it needs to thrive.

Scott Stratten, President of UnMarketing


QR codes

Why it needs to die: Stratten has made his disdain for “shiny” tactics like QR codes fairly clear. Any doubt, just see the title of his book, QR Codes Kill Kittens. Why the beef? “Their implementation is terrible,” Stratten says. “I’ve seen them used in incredibly ridiculous places. On billboards on the side of the highway…in ads on airplane magazines…” places where there’s zero chance for practical use. In short, QR codes are the perfect example of technology we use simply because we can, and not because we should.

What marketers should do, instead: Always approach marketing from your customer’s perspective. Is what you’re doing for them or for you?

D Bnonn Tennant, Marketing Consultant


Making it difficult for readers to unsubscribe

Why it needs to die: Time to face it: Not every reader is your ideal customer. If a prospect wants to unsubscribe you should make it easy for them. Ultimately, you’ll have one less dead-end unqualified lead to deal with, and your sales team will thank you for that. Or, think of it this way, Tennant suggests, “If you could somehow identify every never-gonna-buy reader on your list, you’d remove them to maximize ROI. Right?

What marketers should use, instead: To that end, Tennant goes a step further and actually argues marketers should encourage readers to unsubscribe. “You won’t just passively increase the quality of your list by culling dead weight,” Tennant explains. “You will actively increase its quality, too, by making [subscribers] re-qualify.”

What are the most horrifying marketing tactics you can’t believe companies still use?

Image courtesy of Jakub T. Jankiewicz

Senior Content Manager

  • Anyone else hungry for brains? My treat (or trick…I haven’t decided yet..)

    Fun post, Jonathan, thanks for including me!

  • Travis Wright

    What a great post and insights. I also laughed a lot because I’ve seen every movie those clips are from!

    • Happy you enjoyed them, Travis! I think my favorite clip is the one on Jay’s selection (the skeleton getting clocked in the doorway). Do you know what movie that’s from?

  • Awesome clips!

  • I like most of these, but I’m skeptical about the content engineering schtick (with “lean engineering” thrown in for the added fizz). Because creativity is expensive, there are always efforts to somehow automate the process, one way or another, to get around time-consuming human effort. I’ve yet to see any of these work. If you’re going to commit to creating content, commit to paying content creators, period.

    • Thanks for adding your take, Jonathan. If you want to create high quality content you definitely need to dedicate resources behind it. From what I understand, I think what Abel is getting at is that with the proper planning and system in place you can get a lot more bang for your buck. His example really highlights clever and efficient repurposing more than anything else, so maybe you’ve got a point re: the “lean engineering” labeling.

      A similar example of getting the most out of some great, original content creation is this post from Patrick Chukwura, co-founder at which appeared in slightly different forms on his site, Medium, and Quora, plus three different SlideShares. Not sure how much automation was involved…

      • Al Polito

        I agree with you Jonathan C. That being said, I’m a big Lean fan. The dominant principle behind Lean is elimination of waste. Applied to content strategy, the Lean approach of repurposing content has the added benefit of adding consistency to the brand message via repetition across channels.

        Another benefit of Lean content strategy is that frees the creatives to apply their art to big challenges, not reinventing the wheel.

  • infocaptor


    everything suggested in this article is implemented superbly and leads by example

  • Travis Wright

    JC: I don’t know the skeleton movie, but it looks like vintage 40’s era. The other skeleton clip looks like something from an old Vincent Price horror movie. Just guessing.

  • Yeah, I agree with Jonathan Kranz. Content engineering only goes so far. With original content, you can attract a wider audience. The two most successful companies I write for have me write on different subjects every week and return to them periodically to stay on top of new technology and trends. Engineering enters the picture when they make a video or slideshow about a selected topic. The same information is used, but used differently.