Change Conversations blog

4 min read

In Marketing, Don’t Mistake a Shiny New Tool for Your Goal

By Pat Heffernan on 12/21/17 8:25 AM

Magpie2 bird_i-love-shiny-things

One day as I flicked through a group of RSS and Twitter feeds for a client in education, I came across a sketch that made me chuckle in recognition. Bill Ferriter, a.k.a. @plugusin on Twitter, posted a reminder for educators: “What do You Want Kids to Do With Technology?” I chuckled to myself because several of the wrong answers listed for educators also regularly bedazzle small businesses and nonprofits into confusing a new tool (or shiny object) with a marketing goal.

Kids-Technology-Education_BillFerrier_flickr image

Why Tools are Mistaken for Goals

It’s an easy mistake for a busy marketer to make. After all, it’s common to set goals once a year, codify them in the sacred marketing plan, and then do a deep dive into day-to-day implementation with all of its details on myriad channels, tactics and tools. Specific metrics and regular reporting (a good thing generally) can reinforce this confusion by listing each tactic next to its agreed-upon measure. Goals, especially long-term goals, can get lost in the daily hustle.

Tools are Sexy

The latest shiny object is often all the talk at every social function, blog and trade journal. It can be easy to lose perspective. Although every client’s audience and goals are different, just look at some of the new tools we’ve explored the potential of on this blog over two past years:


  • Newsle
  • Google+
  • Prezi
  • Pinterest
  • Storify
  • Evernote
  • LinkedIn’s new functions
  • Various Visual Tools


  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Canva
  • CRMs (Customer, or Constituent, Relationship Management)
  • LinkedIn's new functions
  • Facebook’s new video and advertising options
  • Various Video Tools

Marketers Current Seductions

Building on the example for educators, here are the marketing tools and shiny objects I see being confused most often with marketing goals.

 Table2 Comparing Marketing-Tools-Vs-Goals

Change Marketers cannot afford this mistake

Confusing tools with marketing goals is the antithesis of a consistent, integrated marketing effort. Nonprofits and values-based businesses have a shared communication goal — changing minds, the challenge of moving beyond creating awareness to motivating action. With your time often over-loaded and your budget under-resourced, losing sight of your audience and your goal is a mistake you can least afford to make. But the pressure (from well-meaning board members and volunteers) to use a hot new tool can be intense.

Shiny Object Self Defense

The best response to a request to use a new tool is to ask others (or yourself) a series of five questions expanded on in an earlier post.

  1. Are your customers there?
  2. Can you ‘own’ it?
  3. Can it offer synergy with other marketing efforts?
  4. Is there a market advantage from being in early?
  5. Do you have the capacity to do it well?

Every organization will answer these questions differently, of course. If you can answer “yes” to 3 out of 5 of these questions, I generally think this new whatever is probably worth exploring further. If you answer yes to 5 out of 5, jump on it! It may still turn out to be a short-term infatuation, but it’s more likely to be a tool that will advance your goals and something you won’t want to miss adding to your marketing toolbox.

Have you seen other marketing examples of shiny object syndrome? Let me know what you think in the Comments below — or if you prefer, via Twitter. LinkedInGoogle+, Facebook, or Pinterest. (No shiny objects here.)


Get Your Shiny Object Self-Defense Checklist


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.


Check out our Guide to Inclusive Language to help you communicate
  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

About Change Conversations

The Change Conversations blog is where changemakers find inspiration and insights on the power of mission-driven communication to create the change you want to see.


Creative Commons

Creative Commons

© 2009- to present, Marketing Partners, Inc. Content on the Change Conversations blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License to share as much as you like. Please attribute to Change Conversations and link to ChangeConversations.

Creative Commons License may not apply to images used within posts and pages on this website. See hover-over or links for attribution associated with each image and licensing information.