In a volatile business environment like this, there’s often pressure to shift gears (and budgets) from long-term brand building to short-term performance marketing that drive quick sales.
I recently re-read Tom Roach’s excellent 2020 essay called “The Wrong and the Short of it.”
His piece goes after one of the classic “false choices” in marketing — a binary decision between short-termism and long-termism. As he puts it:
“Short-termism and long-termism are both just wrong-termism. So let’s end the false choice between long and short-term marketing tactics, maximise the compound effects of getting them working together in harmony, and start to close the value-destroying divide between ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketing. It’s limiting marketing effectiveness and brand growth, when we’ve never needed them more.”
Marketing has long struggled with this divide, but the rise of digital marketing has widened the gap. Most of the tools, data, and reporting are geared overwhelmingly to short-term sales activation.
As Les Binet puts some of the challenge in an interview:
“The addiction to the short-term is not a new phenomenon, but it has got a lot worse. One of the problems is that for short-term activities, you get immediate feedback: responses, clicks, or short-term sales. If you are a marketer who’s spending money and nervous about what you’re getting for your money, you can immediately see that this stuff pays back. It’s become easier and easier to see these short-term effects, because we have more granular short-term data that comes through faster and faster …
“All businesses now have short-term metrics, which can distract them from long-term growth. I think that’s the real reason why business is becoming short-termist. It’s not quarterly reporting. It’s not the short tenure of marketers. It’s the data.”
As many businesses panic and shift everything to door number two, this creates opportunities for marketers who can create the elusive door number three — continuing to invest in both the long-term and the short-term, in order to see a boost in both.
I like how Tom Roach puts this goal:
“Brands should be aiming to create long-term communications engineered for immediate success. Advertising that, in the words of the great Jeremy Bullmore, sells ‘both immediately and forever.’”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: