Your business is the ship of theseus

Art of Message

Art of Message – December 8, 2023

The business case for rewriting everything

This post is about replacing everything in your business piece by piece, especially copy and content.

You must have replaced a bike or car tire. Or maybe car windows, if they were smashed.

With a car, what can’t be replaced? You could replace the seats, the stereo, the steering wheel, the engine itself, and even the air-freshening mint-flavored rubix cubes that hang from the rear view mirror.

Let’s say you do all that – replace everything there is. And now you’re driving your completely replaced car.

Is it the same car? This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, basically.

It’s like primary-school biology class, where you learn that each cell in your body is eventually replaced by a brand new cell that never existed before. Ten-year-olds asking, “Am I still the same person … who am I?”

Who knows.

In brand messaging for B2B tech, there are two core “ships of theseus”.

One is your business website, the other is your body of content  – all the videos, articles, books, and social posts you make.

These roughly equate to copy vs content and like a smashed car window, both can and should be replaced.

Replacing your smashed window of a website

At any given time, about 80% of website copy is out-of-date. Give me the URLs of any 5 websites in my industry and I will show you exactly how this is true. Does that mean it should be replaced immediately? Not necessarily; that’s a multi-pronged business decision.

But replacement should always be on the table and to make this decision, there are a few key indicators to monitor:

  • Significant new product or project is completed
  • New business model and/or pricing model is introduced
  • Key customer or employee leaves – or enters

There are more but you get the picture. If your copy and content is what you say off the phone, what you say on the phone should correspond to it.

BTW, this often means detaching yourself from copy you might like – letting go and letting it vanish.

Because what happens when you replace the copy on your home page? For all intents and purposes, it’s gone. For a high-traffic site, there might be archives on the web for a tiny percentage of it. There might be a search index cache. But it basically vanishes and that’s a good thing.

Everything about a business website can and should be in a constant state of replacement. Not for the sake of busywork, but for the sake of your website doing something – multiple things – better.

Keep in mind, the scope of our conversation here is as always B2B technology businesses. Don’t be distracted by the content practices of journalists, influencers, public figures, major brands, and newspapers. You don’t need to keep a record, that’s not your job.

Replacing your content marketing

Replacing your content has a different arc than replacing copy in your website (and presentation decks). It’s difficult to make content “vanish without a trace”. But often we’re not worried about vanishing it; displacing it is good enough.

One of the age old SEO rules is to prune. The questions to ask before pruning are:

  • Is the content still relevant to your evolving audience?
  • Does the content meet your evolving standards for quality?
  • Does the content attract the right visitors?
  • Do visitors engage with it the way you want?

Potential pruning action items are redirecting content, rewriting it, repurposing, or consolidating it – and perhaps just not linking to it from your website. This doesn’t necessarily mean it vanishes from the face of the earth and that’s Ok from a business standpoint.

A couple notes:

  • The exact same principle is applied to social content accross all platforms, though the action items are limited by the social platform in question.
  • Businesess that apply this principle to case studies or client success stories gain substantial leverage.

The rate of replacement in 2024

If you have ever built software from scratch, you will have noticed the same principle. The entire data and technology infrastructure will be probably be replaced multiple times in the lifecycle of a software product. What stays more consistent is the user experience – but even that evolves.

In fact, there are few areas of a business, if any, that cannot and should not be replaced. For example, the name. My business was called Message Maps the last time I wrote to this list; it’s now called Remap.

In the GenAI-era, is the rate of replacement faster than in bygone eras such as ancient Greece or the Trump administration.

The specific question for most businesses becomes, how frequently will every line of code, content, and copy that comprises their business’s website and content be replaced?

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