The story is age-old. It’s said that Archimedes was the first to utter the term, having the very first “eureka” moment when he hit upon a solution to a problem given to him by a local tyrant. When, while in the bathtub, he thought to use water displacement to identify whether the tyrant’s crown had silver in it instead of being solid gold, he shouted out “Eureka!”, which translates as “I’ve found it!”.

Many other subsequent scientific discoveries have been described as having had eureka moments. Einstein’s theory of relativity. Newton’s discovery of gravity after getting dinged on the head with an apple. Eureka – the almost magical solving of one’s problems in a lightning bolt of inspiration. Eureka! The only word that has an exclamation point glued to it.

But in most cases, especially in marketing and business, eureka isn’t the solution – it’s just the starting point. It’s AFTER eureka that the work starts.

There are three issues with “Eureka!”:

  • You may be left waiting for eureka to get started

In marketing, people often wait for a eureka moment when developing strategies, positionings, and big marketing ideas. However, as I’ve said before (as has other marketing pundits like Mark Ritson, Tom Peters, Adam Morgan and Herb Kelleher), a strategy, even a brilliant one, is just a hypothesis. The magic of a strategy comes from its subsequent action and activation.

But unfortunately, people often wait and wait, because, as Mark Zuckerberg has stated, the idea of the “eureka moment” makes others feel inadequate for not having one themselves. This often prevents those with just seeds of an idea from getting started. Instead, starting with a beta version, a “quarter-eureka”, so to speak, is likely to be the best thing you can do.

  • Eurekas need to be activated on to be useful

Consumers don’t see your strategy, your hypothesis, your eureka. They only see and experience your brand’s behaviors, its communications, the combination of their experiences with the brand. Which is why the eureka itself is just the starting point. It isn’t until it’s activated on and experimented with and evolved in the real world that it gains power.

Eurekas require real work to bring to life. Real-world activation, adaptation and continuous improvement. Think about the many campaigns that have changed over time. Or the brands that have built off their original concepts. So while strategists are important to get you started, it’s important that you employ lots of “activists” to get you where you need to go.

  • Eurekas will evolve

The thing about eurekas – you may think you know where you’re going but you don’t. Because the real world is complex and layered and ever-changing. What you “know” today can change tomorrow. And no matter how crisp and clean and perfect your eureka seems in your PowerPoint strategy document, it simply cannot capture all the variations, nuances, and different realities you’ll be facing and planning for.

Plus, ideas don’t come out fully formed – you can’t see into the future to understand all that your eureka can mean or be. Things only become clearer as you work on it. As Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon, an Australian online gift retailer said, there are things she wished she had known at the start, but these lessons must be learned the hard way – through doing the work. And back to Facebook, the initial idea started as a way to connect the Harvard community. Zuckerberg and his colleagues had no intention to connect other universities, let alone the entire world.

What does this mean about Eureka? Don’t pop those champagne corks when you find yourself having one. Instead, smile and know that your work is just beginning. And get ready to pressure test, activate, adapt, and evolve. And then do it some more.

Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Insider 9/13/21

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