When Moving Too Fast Invents the Shipwreck


This week I spoke at Content Jam, a wonderful event in Chicago that focused on all the opportunities that a new approach to business content would afford. This includes content strategy, content marketing, social content, and even the optimization of traditional marketing content.

I met the VP of marketing at a mid-sized medical-devices company, who told me, “I’m here because I want to see if we’re the only ones who’ve failed as miserably as we did.” His company had created an online community that integrated their customers-only thought-leadership community, their document repository, and their technical thought-leadership folks from inside the company. Their new content-technology platform had promised this kind of integration, and so they quickly pulled all these components together as a new way to open up their thought leadership to prospective customers.

The community devolved into a “bitch-fest” (as he called it) about the products, customer-service issues, etc. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t turn the topics around. Since they’d opened the thing up publicly, intending for it to serve as an owned-media marketing platform, the senior brass worried that the competition would use the negativity against them. So they killed the whole initiative.

I told him I thought that was a mistake.

I reminded him of something that the French cultural theorist Paul Virilio said: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” This, of course, means that when you invent something, you also invent the potential for that thing to go wrong.

I see two lessons here. First, when you create a content-driven experience, understand that you are creating the possibility of that experience going awry. Plan for success – and for shipwreck. If the medical-devices company had considered the potential for the public conversation to turn negative, they might have pivoted to address the customer-service and product issues head on. Shutting the platform down certainly didn’t make those issues go away. 

Second lesson: Don’t move fast just because you can. Don’t shortcut your planning and strategy just because today’s technology enables you to act quickly. Fast and agile are not synonymous. Moving fast is not the same thing as moving fast in a smart way. Most of the time, focusing on speed is what causes the ship to wreck in the first place.







Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.