Shiny Object Syndrome
A company unable to gain market share may jump for the next new thing
T-Mobile recently started running a commercial that very accurately depicts how desperate so many of us are to be current when it comes to technology. Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader sits down with a friend for lunch and excitedly announces, "I just got a 7." His friend sarcastically responds, "Good for you" and then shows Hader he already has version 8 of the same phone. Hader's pride immediately turns to embarrassment, his ride on the cutting edge having come to an abrupt halt.
The point of the commercial isn't to suggest upgrading your phone is a bad thing, or unnecessary. But the closing pitch, which is for T-Mobile's JUMP program, says you should be able to "upgrade when you want"-up to twice a year, if you were wondering-and "not when you're told." (For a 16-second distraction, you can watch the commercial here.)
Marketing professionals are among the most vulnerable to Shiny Object Syndrome, and it's easy to understand why. With the shift from print to digital, the growth in mobile device consumption and the pervasiveness of social media, the road to glory appears to have multiple paths. A new software program promises to simplify your marketing campaign. A blogger tells you the story of how a Facebook ad campaign supported by a unique online promotion led to thousands of likes and ultimately a new, million-dollar account. Your CEO plays golf with a technology executive who talks his ear off about mobile, and the next Monday he gives you the assignment of creating five new apps by Christmas.
All the while, marketing budgets and staffs aren't getting fatter. This is true within the middle-market, where it's common to see a partner responsible for marketing along with another key area of responsibility.
But if most marketers are so pressed for time while they get pummeled on questions about metrics and return on investment, shouldn't they be less likely to be distracted by the next shiny object? Well, that really depends. A company that is unable to gain market share may be more likely to jump for the next new thing because it feels like a lifeline. And telling your boss about your grand plans for an interactive tablet app with scratch-and-sniff capabilities sounds a lot easier than having a roll-up-your-sleeves discussion about why your pricing model needs to change, especially if your boss is an i-Pad enthusiast.
Investing in the next shiny object also makes people feel less inadequate relative to their colleagues, friends and even family. For example, a few years ago, I finally bought my first MacBook upon learning that my parents had purchased one and were already making slide shows and going to Apple classes at the mall. (I have since reclaimed technology superiority over my parents but am currently in a dead heat with my 13-year-old daughter.) Ultimately, the only known cure for Shiny Object Syndrome when it comes to marketing is to stay focused and deeply committed to your key objectives. If you're in private equity and finding deals is your top priority, everything in your marketing strategy should support that goal. If there's a way for social media to help expand your presence in a specific sector, find a way to incorporate it. But if industry events continue to be your best source of deal flow, stay focused on maximizing those opportunities, and don't shift budget away just to "check the box" on social media.
Remember, whether your bent is online or mobile, you need content to engage people on any format. I've talked about custom content in this column before, so this may feel repetitive, but there is no substitute for relevant, original content when it comes to engaging customers. A white paper or web seminar may not be sexy, and they certainly couldn't be viewed as shiny objects in 2013. But if your goal is to generate warm leads for the sales team, these assets do just fine, even without the shine.
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