By Michel Hogan
A friend advises a business which keeps getting distracted by new opportunities before the old ones have a chance to take root. He calls it “shiny object syndrome”.
And while each business area will have their version of shiny objects, it’s a term I have used to describe the way organisations approach what they call brand(ing) and what I call marketing.
Here’s how shiny objects happen. Maybe the organisation isn’t performing to expectations, or perhaps people are a bit bored with the look of the past year or five. The agency or the consultant gets a call to provide ‘a fix’. And before you can say ‘rebrand’, all sorts of fun shiny objects start showing up. New names. New logos. New taglines. New websites. New ads. (And usually in that order.)
As Rene Russo’s character says in the movie The Thomas Crown Affair*,
“It’s diversion, make a lot of noise over there and over here you can take 100 million bucks off the wall without anyone noticing.”
Only, in this case, the diversion of the shiny objects being dangled won’t get or fix anything (and hopefully they won’t cost you 100 million) because the issue is more deeply rooted.
The real issue might be product design, service structure, distribution channels, customer service, or execution and alignment of any number of the other core business functions of a successful organisation.
Sure, sometimes the marketing is the problem, and by all means don’t ignore that side of things. Just don’t start there, and before you commit to it, make entirely sure it isn’t acting as a diversion from other less shiny things that need attention.
Going cold-turkey from shiny objects is hard — after all, it’s fun stuff to work on, and tangible outcomes happen relatively quickly. The other work that needs doing is likely not fun and probably won’t deliver fast results.
And that’s where discipline kicks in. Stick with it. Say no to distraction. Do the process work that makes everything else tick. Focus on what promises you are making and keep them.
Here are some ideas to help you avoid shiny objects.
- Before you embark on a new project or initiative ask ‘why are we doing this?’ (not what it is or how it will get done). Then keep asking until you are sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
- A simple question is an antidote to the urge — what does the history of our brand have to tell us? The history can tell you a lot about how you arrived at this point. More importantly, your history can clue you into why you do what you do and how you do it. It can highlight what your customers and employees love (and hate), show you opportunity and room for improvements. Most importantly, it can tell you what to keep, honour and defend.
- Drop the pebble in the pond (any action or decision) and follow the ripples across the organisation and stakeholders to make sure you’ve considered all the possible impacts and outcomes (good and bad).
- Come up with at least two other ways you could achieve the outcome you want. You might still go forward with the original idea, but at least you’ll be confident you’re not merely grabbing the first shiny object.
- And last — beware of brand boredom syndrome. It drives a huge chunk of so-called ‘brand’ work done by the creative industry, and can be downright deadly to your organisation. Just because you’re a bit weary of your brand markers doesn’t mean anyone else is.
There are a lot of shiny objects out there. Exploring new markets before the old ones have delivered results. Following the latest management fad. Embarking on culture change without knowing what you are changing. Using technology because it is the new thing.
I’m sure you can come up with your own…
Achieving a successful brand result means avoiding distractions no matter how shiny the object.
This article was first published on SmartCompany, and this updated version can be found in the upcoming book “The Unheroic Work.”
Michel Hogan is an Independent Brand Counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep.
* The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, directed by John McTiernan.