Two weeks ago, a seismic shift in the law of the land rocked the U.S. One thing that keeps coming up in the news is how quickly the marriage equality issue was settled. Talk shows often claim that this shift started in the early 2000s, and now, “a mere 15 years later”, it had gathered enough steam to culminate in the Supreme Court’s decision. But is 15 years really an overnight success? And what about the activism that went on for the three decades prior to that?
What a concept, overnight success.
Of course, as the saying goes, it takes years to make an overnight success. How many? Well, similar quotes with different durations have been attributed to people as different as Monty Hall, Eddie Cantor, Lionel Messi, Steve Jobs, James Dyson, Biz Stone, and Jessica Savitch. And of course, they too at some point, were labeled overnight successes. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is that they proved the truth of this saying. It took each of them years of preparation and work to become widely recognized as an innovator and a success.
I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon recently as I’ve worked with a handful of brands that are, ironically, not struggling in their content and marketing initiatives. These are the brands that you hear about at conferences. They are the awesome case studies, the examplars, the ones that pop to everyone’s minds in answer to the question “Who’s doing this new content thing well?”
Wanna know a secret? They have problems, too. They struggle with politics. They fight over budget. They have silos. Their technology is old and hard to use. They lose talent to startup companies. They have to battle to keep their innovative marketing initiatives from getting cut.
How do they keep getting it right? What makes them overnight successes? They’ve been working at it a long time.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. What most of these success stories have in common – and this fascinates me – is that the teams didn’t start out thinking, “Let’s take a small idea and maybe it will incrementally turn it into something big.” No. They aimed high from the start – and committed to the long haul. It’s not that they didn’t plan to start small and iterate, but they aimed VERY high. They asked themselves, “What differentiating experience can we create using content? What experience would/could change our business?” (translation: “Let’s build something f’ing cool”). The journey of building that cool – eventually successful – thing was typically fraught with years’ worth of failures, reboots, begging, scrapping, and risking.
Recently Joe said to me on our This Old Marketing podcast, “No successful book sets out to be fifth best on the topic.” In other words, no one achieves success – overnight or otherwise – by aiming low. Yet, I see so many brands aim low with their content initiatives. They say, “who are we to try and drive an industry?” “What can we change, we’re just one company?” Then the attitude becomes “Let’s produce a bunch of okay stuff” because we can do that quickly and test to see if this content thing will reward them with overnight success.
As Mark Twain once said, “Overnight success is a fallacy. It is preceded by a great deal of preparation. Ask any successful person how they came to this point in their lives, and they will have quite a story to tell.”
What will yours be?
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.