The Bright Shiny Object Syndrome of Marketing: Avoid it or Assess It?

Occasionally I enjoy trying new restaurants with my wife and family.  But it seems whenever we discover a culinary gem, so does the rest of the world.

Everyone has experienced this at one time or another. The restaurant starts generating buzz and the next thing you know, it becomes next to impossible to get a reservation. Then suddenly, as fast as the hype appeared, the crowds follow the hype and move on to the next culinary hotspot.

There is a lesson in this for all marketers: the temptation of the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.

The Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is a growing trend that can distract marketing organizations, business owners and even entire companies.  There is always some “magic bullet” around the corner that is going to transform our business. As a result, we condition ourselves to look for and implement every “next big thing” in marketing that comes along.

The result? Marketing organizations become distracted and lose focus. By pursuing every single shiny new object that comes into sight, marketing organizations lose sight of their core strategy and what has served them well so far.

A lot of this comes down to human nature. Even though we are marketers, we get tempted by hype and hyperbole like anyone else.

And as marketers, it is our nature to be creative, innovative and open to new ideas. We have all seen what happens to companies that lag behind the adoption curve: they lose ground and lose market share.

The Internet: Putting the Shiny Object Syndrome on Steroids

The Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is alive and well in the marketing profession, particularly in digital marketing and social media. There are so many social-based platforms, apps and networking communities out there, that it is hard to keep track of all of them. For every Facebook, there are 100 lesser-known options all proclaiming to be “the next big thing” for your business.

In my marketing career, I have tried to balance proven strategies with new ones that show promise and potential. As I have managed creative teams and mentored marketing employees, I have been careful not to squelch their enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new ideas. After all, innovation is the lifeblood of marketing.

But there are many cautionary tales about the short shelf life of many of these bright, shiny marketing objects.

Lesson for Marketers: The Demise of Digg

Take Digg.com for example. Just years ago, it was one of the first successful social news-sharing sites on the Internet. The site was getting 20 to 30 million unique visits a month and was once valued at $164 million. Then, after several changes to its user interface, the site’s once-loyal user community abandoned it in droves.

This summer, Digg.com’s monthly traffic dwindled to 4.4 million unique visitors. It was then sold off in parts for about $16 million.

Digg’s social media user community lost 80% of its traffic and 90% of its market value.

Businesses rise and go bust all the time. But the question I ask is what about all those companies, businesses and marketers that made the Digg.com platform the focal point of their social marketing strategy? This is the danger of going “all in” on a single shiny object, particularly one that was still in its infancy and had not been fully proven.

Bright shiny objects will always be a part of the marketing profession. The Internet is a giant global laboratory, and there is no end to the pipeline of new ideas and initiatives that can tempt marketers and businesses.

The key thing is to assess them, not avoid them.

My Takeaways for Marketers:

Here are my recommendations for turning Bright Shiny Objects into solutions (and not a paralyzing syndrome):

  • Stand for something. You need a core marketing plan. If you do not stand for something, then you stand for nothing. Your marketing plan has to represent the proven, foundational strategies and tactics that work for you.
  • Strike a balance between your foundational strategy and new ideas. Encourage your team to be innovative, but don’t gamble or rely on a single social platform. As Digg.com teaches us, a community can evaporate incredibly fast.
  • Investigate and pilot them. Dedicate a manageable amount of resources and staff to assess those shiny new marketing objects. Establish a small pilot team and pilot the ones that show the most promise for your business. If something shows potential, then you can grow it and incorporate it into your marketing mix.
  • Recalibrate marketing priorities. We all know marketing budgets and resources aren’t limited. Something has to drop off your marketing radar to take on something new.
  • Remember the customer. It’s easy to fall temptation to the latest hype and buzz, but don’t lose focus on what is best for your customers and your business. If it does not provide benefit to both, you would probably be better off avoiding that bright, shiny object!

And last but not least: define goals and benchmarks for the pilot, specify what success looks like, then track and measure and decide early if this is what you expected. If it isn’t, accept to have failed and move on. After all speed and readiness, to learn and fail fast, to course-correct and to know when to move on are critical for success in marketing and business.

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