Two salutary lessons this week to remind me that the syndrome of target fixation is a genuine entity that is a vital component not just of marketing but also commercial business and wider aspects of life in general.
First of all, a close friend who is a successful international rugby player hung up his boots after a brilliant career. Aside from being a talented sportsman he is also an intelligent and astute person who has made contingency and will be moving straight into a very lucrative career with a leading financial institution. Despite this, understandably, he was feeling whistful when I spoke to him, thinking very much about what he was leaving behind instead of being able to primarily focus on where his future is taking him.
Secondly, I fell flat on my face into a muddy puddle while out walking my dogs, because I was worrying about what my Jack Russell was up to behind me rather than focusing on where I was going.
There are two sides to this coin. In the second World War RAF combat pilots identified a syndrome called target fixation. Fighter pilots realised that they put themselves in a very vulnerable position if they were so focussed on a target that they weren’t aware enough of peripheral threats. They were instructed never to follow a target down if they had hit it and it was falling to earth. Beware of threats and focus on the next move.
If you want to hit a target you have to identify it and focus on it. You can’t hit a target if you haven’t identified it and if you aren’t careful you can select the wrong target – one that is not achievable or which brings less reward than something that might be simper to reach. If you focus overtly on a target you might also not be aware enough of impending threats. If you take your eye off your target altogether though you might find yourself picking yourself up from a metaphorical muddy puddle.
The lesson of target fixation has specific resonance in terms of marketing and PR. First of all, in terms of setting objectives, which is always the first and greatest challenge at the start of any campaign. A campaign is a journey and like any journey you need to set out with a clear understanding of your destination, otherwise you will not be able to identify what constitutes success. A successful campaign will always measurably achieve a pre-identified objective.
The second lesson is in terms of understanding your audiences, because it is vital to know as much about them as possible, so that you can successfully target them, communicate with them in language that resonates with them, raise your profile with them and ultimately motivate them to behave as you want them to.
So, the retirement of my close friend and my unfortunate, unplanned muddy puddle interface have together reinforced some vital lessons. Choose your targets with care, don’t take your eye off them, look at what is ahead of you rather than dwelling on what is behind you, understand where you are going and how to get there but don’t focus so much that you forget to look out for impending threats and better opportunities.