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Online Marketing 101: Are You Prone to Shiny Object Syndrome?

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Don't fall victim to Shiny Object Syndrome -- a malady that afflicts many otherwise talented marketers who tend to see new digital channels, trends and buzzwords as silver bullets that will blow away their target audience. I'm frequently approached by marketers hype-notized by this or that sexy, new digital marketing tactic -- from to gamification to Instagram to Vine.

This often occurs when we choose emerging media simply because it's "innovative," rather than helpful in achieving a particular goal. If used for the right reasons, emerging channels can be very powerful. But if used oafishly, they can flop magnificently. And not too many entrepreneurs have time for magnificent flops.

Fortunately, there is an antidote for Shiny Object Syndrome. Here are five questions to consider before taking the plunge with a new digital marketing tactic:

1. What problem are you trying to solve?
Have a goal to achieve so you can measure your success. Innovation is about finding ways to fundamentally do things better. It's not about using fancy new tools for the sake of using them. If you don't know what it is you're trying to solve, the likelihood that an emerging digital media tactic will solve it falls from slim to none.

Related: How to Build a Lean and Efficient Business Plan

2. Will this reach my customers?
Will a specific tactic you are considering to use actually get to the customers you need to reach? For example, many small businesses are focused on a specific geographic region, but most digital platforms have no geographic boundaries. Others skew heavily toward either women or men or a specific age range. Ask yourself: Will you be reaching the audience that actually has the capability to buy your products? Will you be spreading yourself too thin? Small business by definition means limited resources. Don't squander them.

3. How do people use this channel?
Every emerging media opportunity serves a different purpose in people's lives. People interact with Facebook differently than they do with Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit or Foursquare just as they engage with smart phones differently than they do with tablets or PCs. For example, people use Pinterest for inspiration on fashion, dinner ideas and home decorating. If you're in the business of selling computers, repairing sinks or filling cavities, marketing on Pinterest is likely a waste of your time. The goal is to be relevant and add value to people's lives. Before you choose, think how people use.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Target Market

4. Do you have the right resources?
I once had a teacher who told me there's no such thing as a free lunch. It's easy to look at things that aren't paid media as free. But even "free" things take resources. They take talent, skill and time. Do you have someone on your staff who can dedicate the time required to market effectively with this tactic? Before you start grasping for shiny objects, make sure you have the resources in place to be successful with whatever channel you choose.

5. Can you be awesome?
Do you have a truly great idea for a way to create impact with an emerging channel? Maybe an emerging channel is the right way to go. Digital marketers tend to focus on ROI, but the returns on being awesome can be huge. Walgreens gave flu shot vouchers to people in need whenever someone checked into a Walgreens store on Foursquare, donating more than $6.3 million. They more than made up for the cost in publicity and goodwill. That is being awesome.

If you are thoughtful about why you're using this channel to reach your audience and you have a great idea, go for it. That's a recipe for success. Just be sure you have a handle on the what, where, how, when and why.

Related: How to Build a Brand Experience for Customers

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