A Defining Distraction - Sonder
Definitions are important, but not at the expense of productivity. It's easy to be distracted by definitions. Whole industries can find themselves wasting time and money on definitions.
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A Defining Distraction

It’s easy to get carried away with defining things – be it problems, technologies, behaviours, marketing strategies, media etc. Definitions can quickly become a distraction, one that chews up mental energy, time and therefore money, without adding anything substantive. Worse still, over thinking definitions can divert attention away from the act of productivity. This sort of distraction distraction can happen to an individual, a company, or an entire industry.

Last week I was drawn-in by a news headline along the lines of “content marketing is not advertising”. There have been plenty of similar headlines banging around for years. Why are we still trying to define content marketing? The general public aren’t sitting around trying to define the type of content they’re watching/reading/listening to (they just know that it’s marketing trying to sell them stuff). If an activity is so difficult to define and a consensus cannot be reached, does it dilute its importance? Does it even help us to have a rock-solid definition?

Recently, a friend told me about a lengthy debate they’d had with some friends on the definition of sport. According to their definition, surfing; cycling; running; swimming; golf and many other “sports”, aren’t strictly sports. For millions of people, all these activities are absolutely sports, but even if they’re not strictly defined as sports, who cares? People still enjoy the act of doing these things. There are whole industries that are built around them, industries that contribute to our economy. Does a definition of sports really help humanity? Probably not.

In the world of owned media, there are grey areas as to what constitutes an owned media asset. The definition of an owned media is simply a connection with a customer that you (the business) owns outright and controls. This connection can be physical (in the case of instore media, signage etc.); digital (websites, apps, email etc.); or human (staff interactions, telemarketing, experiential etc.).

So, where’s the grey? Well, social media could once be considered a form of owned media, because the audience was the brands followers. That’s all changed now and social has effectively removed itself from owned and earned media status to become a JAFA (Just Another Form of Advertising). Long term sponsorships are another grey area. When a brand takes a multi-year deal that encompasses naming rights and media assets, they are effectively buying them long term. So, is this not a form of ownership? Strictly speaking no. But brands that treat sponsorships like owned assets, tend to get more value from the sponsorship.

We need to be careful when the defining of a thing eclipses the thing itself. When people think a definition is worth arguing about, we need get below the surface to understand why. Often it has more to do with the people involved in the activity and how they want to be perceived and therefore regarded by others. Sure, sometimes a clear definition is important to aid understanding, but not at the expense of cracking on and being productive.