Have you ever wondered why people are perpetually drawn to the latest and greatest products? Whether it’s the latest model of a hot car, a recently updated iPhone, or even a new pair of shoes, it seems that “shiny and new” always wins out over “tested and true”.

According to research out of Belgium, our culture’s obsession with all things shiny may be something inherent to human nature.

The “Shiny” Bias

A team of Belgian researchers found that people’s preference to shiny objects actually might relate to one of our most basic instincts; our need for water. In the tests conducted, researchers blindfolded participants and then gave them each a piece of paper. Half of the participants were given a glossy sheet and the other half were given a matte sheet. Those who had the glossy sheet rated it as higher quality and more attractive than those who had the matte paper; even though they couldn’t see it.

‘It is humbling to acknowledge that despite our sophistication and progress as a species, we are still drawn to things that serve our innate needs–in this case, the need for water.’

The “New and Improved” Bias

Another team of researchers at the University of York found that people also have a bias toward new and improved items. In this study, participants were asked to play the same video game, but in the second round, they were told the game was driven by an artificial intelligence system. Researchers found, not surprisingly, that participants preferred the game they believed was more advanced.

“ The expectation is that something new must be better than the thing before.” -Walter Boot (Psychologist)

The attraction to products that are shiny and new seems to go beyond the level of preference, it’s a truly human impulse, part of who we are. This doesn’t just apply to consumers and new products but it also involves how we run our businesses and new marketing ideas as well. Our bias towards shiny and new extends into all aspects of our lives.

Does Your Business Suffer from “Shiny Object Syndrome?”

I recently stumbled upon the term shiny object syndrome (also known as SOS). This syndrome is described as a growing trend where business owners get distracted by the latest and greatest fad. SOS can derail focus and lead business owners down a path that is not right for them, or their customers.

As research has shown, just as consumers are drawn to shiny and new, the same applies in marketing. There is a draw to the newest applications, gadgets, and emerging social media platforms. The latest trends are highly attractive and immediately catch the attention of owners and entrepreneurs. But with so many options and an endless supply of “new,” it is easy to get overwhelmed. This is why it is imperative to understand the trend, your business, and your target audience.

Before jumping on the next passing bandwagon, take a step back, and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are your customers there? (Are they users of this new platform or application?)
  2. Does it align with your business’s brand and values? (Sometimes what’s new isn’t always what’s right. Analyze each opportunity carefully and decide whether it makes sense for your business to participate.)
  3. Is it advantageous to your business to participate? (What do you stand to gain from investing time and money in this new endeavour?)
  4. Lastly, do you have the capacity to do it well? (Possibly the most important question of all. Be honest with yourself.)

If you answered yes to fewer than four of these questions, perhaps this is something your business should explore further. If you answered a resounding yes to all five questions, then forge ahead!

So what do we need to remember about novelty biases?

People’s preference to shiny and new objects is deep-rooted in human nature and is related to our survival instincts. It is in our makeup to be drawn to the latest trends. Simply put, we can’t control ourselves!

However, it is important to remember that Shiny Object Syndrome can derail focus, so stop and think before jumping on the latest bandwagon and do some research first. Don’t be blinded by newness…always make sure it is the right choice for your business and your clients.

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