Failure to communicate: a marketer’s perspective on the culture wars


v0.1 – ZS

What does it take to change someone’s mind? Quite a lot, actually: anyone who’s been through a breakup knows that some decisions are final. Marketers like me spend our lifetimes learning how to “gain mindshare” and “strengthen our brand”. But what does this mean in our current cultural context?

It is undeniable that we live in a highly connected society – and a highly tribalized one. It seems like a recipe for endless disaster, but does it need to be? When a marketer’s lens is applied to the current situation at hand, I believe some elegant solutions begin to emerge.

“SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is a framework used to evaluate a company’s competitive position and to develop strategic planning. SWOT analysis assesses internal and external factors, as well as current and future potential.

A SWOT analysis is designed to facilitate a realistic, fact-based, data-driven look at the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, its initiatives, or an industry. The organization needs to keep the analysis accurate by avoiding pre-conceived beliefs or gray areas and instead focusing on real-life contexts. Companies should use it as a guide and not necessarily as a prescription.”

– From

One tool that marketers and business strategists use to organize their thoughts is the SWOT Analysis: each letter of the acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, respectively.
Doing a SWOT analysis forces business people to take an objective third-person perspective on the current situation and how their organization is performing within it.

If I were to label activists in the West as either “Diversity-Equity-Inclusion activists” or “Intellectual Dark Web activists”, these are some themes that begin to emerge:

Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Activism
  • Strengths: Grants individuals identity, claims to moral authority, well-represented institutionally
  • Weaknesses: Burnout is common, shaky epistemology, main tactics: blame/shame/accusation
  • Opportunities: Solidifying institutional power base, revising & clarifying epistemology
  • Threats: Growing public sentiment against their tactics & rhetoric


“Intellectual Dark Web” Activism
  • Strengths: Strong epistemology, respected & decentralized leadership, viable solutions
  • Weaknesses: Heavily intellectualized, poor representation among institutions, reactionary
  • Opportunities: Setting a positive vision, establishing new institutions, simplifying concepts
  • Threats: Potential for inter-community conflict, believed to be non-inclusive & dangerous (some are)

It’s undeniable that DEI activists have acquired a great deal of institutional power in the West. However, how stable is their grip on these pillars of our society, and are IDW activists investing their time in the most effective outreach activities?

For example, being a Diversity-Equity-Inclusion activist seems to involve an extraordinary amount of emotional labour, and burnout seems common. There are also are many aspects of the DEI worldview that are incoherent, absurd, or untrue: this makes the entire ideology unstable over time. Finally their main tactics are inherently adversarial, which is proven to be an ineffective long-term strategy.

Looking at this situation from a marketer’s perspective, I believe that the greatest opportunity for the Intellectual Dark Web lies in the difficulties inherent in DEI activism: where they are weakest, the IDW must be strongest.

There are many well-known mindsets, tactics, and tools that marketers use to steal customers from their competition, and I believe they may have some utility in this situation.

How do “conversions” happen?

In marketing lingo, a “conversion” is said to occur when a potential customer does something you want them to do. This may include purchasing a product but can also include non-economic activities such as watching a YouTube video, downloading a sample chapter of a book, signing up for an email list, or anything that serves to deepen the connection between a brand and an individual.

How marketers “maximize conversions” is a very deep subject, but one aspect common to all successful marketing campaigns is that they deliver the right message at the right time.

Before the internet and digital marketing, brands and organization had to compete for attention on commercials, radio, and billboards: they had very little control over the timing of their message relative to their customer’s life. The power of digital marketing (as many people are coming to realize) is that the reams of data produced by online activity allow marketers to deliver timely messages at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing channels.

For example, consider a social justice activist who has just lost several friendships over a minor difference in beliefs. What things are going through their mind? What things will they do to solve their problem?

Increasingly, people turn to Google or social media to find answers to their questions. Perhaps this individual does the same. What types of content are they seeking, what are they finding, and is it the type of content most likely to create a conversion?

Consider that “falsely accused of racism” is searched 50 times per month in the United States of America – what kind of content are these people currently seeing? What is the content that would be most impactful for them to see?

Not all of these people will be DEI activists, but some of them may be and it’s definitely worth a shot. There are hundreds of similar keywords just like this – hundreds of burning questions, each being dozens of times per month by people in similar situations. How well is the IDW capitalizing on these relationship-building opportunities?