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Is Short-Termism Killing Marketing?

Published on Mar 10, 2021

Is Short-Termism Killing Marketing?
Lieu Pham
Lieu Pham studioID

“Deliver quarter on quarter performance!” has long been the rallying call of marketing, but are we being short-sighted? 

Over the past decade, marketers have answered the rallying call for ROI, working hard to prove how their departments can contribute to revenue through the use of data and technology, moving from a cost to a profit center. Coupled with the rising trend of embracing Martech solutions and a performance-obsessed culture, point-solutions and short-term tactics have become a marketer’s default. 

Today, many industry leaders lament the resultant loss of creativity and brand building — and they’re not alone. The 2020 CMO budget report from Gartner reveals that 33% of CMOs are prioritizing brand strategy over analytics, showing a clear breakaway from the ROI culture our industry has advocated for over the past decade. But instead of swinging the pendulum to the brand side, marketers should resist the urge to over-index on either. Instead, we need to recognize the critical role that each of these strategies play in growing brands, developing an integrated marketing approach that combines the best of both worlds, and makes good on the brand to demand continuum. But first, let’s discuss short-termism.

What We Mean When We Say Short-Termism

Short-termism is not a new concept in marketing, but one that’s gaining traction among marketers who are trying to right the imbalance caused by longtime neglect of its counterpart — brand building.  A survey of marketing executives by Warc found that short-termism is the number one industry issue, with 70% of respondents agreeing that brands have over-invested in performance marketing. Short-termism is what it sounds like: the inability to think long-term. And it’s an unwelcome by-product of our growing obsession with ROI and metrics.

Here’s what short-termism looks like in the wild: marketers funnel most or all of their budget towards demand campaigns or bottom of the funnel, leading to one or a combination of these problems: 

  1. High volume but poor quality leads 
  2. A small prospect pool 
  3. Selling to prospects before they’re ready to buy and alienating them as a result  

These are problems no marketer, or brand, wants to be stuck with. It’s important to recognize that lead gen campaigns and sales activation have a key role to play in marketing. But they can be enhanced and net stronger ROI if paired with brand-building activities. Many brands invest a ton of money into a campaign, tradeshow, or product launch and enjoy immediate success, particularly at the start, but any attention fades quickly. This is a missed opportunity because not enough has been invested into brand awareness and brand salience (the likelihood that a buyer will think about your brand in a buying situation.)

So while it’s tempting to focus all our efforts on the usual, quick-win suspects, it pays off to invest and plan. Doing so will allow you to target both; people ready to buy now and people who might buy in the future — this is how you can build a sustained pipeline. We have to remember: nurturing cold prospects into brand loyalists doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and repeated interactions with your brand at relevant moments. But we get it. It’s hard for marketers to play the long game and embrace ‘eventually’ when they’ve got ROI on the brain. Who can blame them when there’s so much pressure to deliver quarter-on-quarter results?

How Did We Get Here?

“You’re only as good as your last quarter” is a flippant summary, but often the reality of corporate life where performance is defined in quarterly blocks. The quarterly earnings pressure from the stock market triggers the need to focus marketing campaigns on achieving immediate customer wins rather than building new capabilities or creating long-term strategies. Because if we’re not measuring, we’re not benchmarking, and if we’re not benchmarking, how will we know how to maximize our investments?

Having incremental checkpoints is vital to the health of any marketing program, but we can’t put ROI on deadline, and we need to understand that some approaches and tactics take time to be effective. Those who work in the field know all too well the executive mandate to deliver wins immediately. So it’s no wonder that the industry became enamored with Martech and its cutting-edge ability to measure results, which led many to move away from the esoteric and hard-to-measure nature of brand building towards a more predictable marketing engine. With this came a deluge of ROI-first approaches that helped to show how individual tactics contributed to the bottom line. And to an extent, it’s worked to put numbers in front of our execs. But the often misuse of data and ROI has set us up for an unsustainable long-term approach.

Why Brand? Why Now?

This year will be a year of trepidation, a mixture of both optimism and caution. The pandemic isn’t responsible for the dominant trends of our industry, but they’ve accelerated many of them; increased investment in digital channels, the rise of D2C and eCommerce, longer sales cycles, more people involved in buying decisions, a desire from prospects to self-serve, and overall increasing complexity in the buying process. Arguably the most important of all is that audiences have become more hypersensitive, fatigued, savvier, and more adept at filtering information. 

Today’s customers expect to derive value from branded content and ignore overt sales messaging, but the commoditization of content has created a firehose of information that is overwhelming, and as a result, makes engagement more elusive. Every single interaction matters, so investing in an integrated marketing approach and fostering long-term relationships makes more sense, particularly in times of economic downturn. 

The latest BrandZ report revealed that the world’s most valuable brands saw their total brand value increase by 6% over the past year despite the economic, social, and personal impacts of COVID-19 and credit the results to brand-building strategies. 

In this context, brands need to resist the temptation to cut marketing spend or de-invest in branding. This is not the time to retreat but to solidify our base via strategic investments in brand building. As businesses start to recalibrate, brands are starting to realize that they need to secure a sustainable growth strategy to weather the uncertainty of our current economic outlook. 

In That Case, Shouldn’t We Pivot Fully To Brand?

Choosing between brand marketing or demand marketing is a false choice. You need to, and you can do both. Short-term success is necessary for long-term growth because you need revenue to run a business.  But without long-term marketing strategies, short-term strategies have nothing of substance to anchor to, and their success may be short-lived — like a spark that quickly goes out. How does this play out with sales?

  • If we over-index too much on brand, we build a strong future pipeline but neglect to generate necessary, immediate revenue.
  • If we over-index on demand, we don’t build customers for the future and risk alienating prospects by selling before they’re ready to buy. 

Let’s instead maximize the compound effects of an integrated approach that optimizes every audience touchpoint.

Enter, Brand to Demand Marketing

The key to sustainable growth lies in adopting a holistic approach that incorporates both short and long-term tactics that work together and effectively propel the efforts of the other. Long-term (brand building) and short-term (sales activation) is a marketing principle introduced to us by Les Binet and Peter Field back in a 2013 IPA study. The fact that this approach is only picking up wider traction now is a direct reflection of the current state of our industry. 

Marketers spent a good decade laser-focused on delivering tangible results, only to find themselves in 2021 with a pool of misaligned prospects and brands that have decayed — simply because they forgot to grow them while they were chasing ROI.  

We need a way out of this predicament. And the way out doesn’t involve favoring brand building over performance marketing, or long over short. Instead, it involves a balanced strategy of both brand and demand tactics tailored to your unique brand, its history, and your goals for the future. If you’re doing well in brand building, you may need to tip the favor towards sales activation to level out and vice versa. Brand and Demand strategies are convergent by nature, but we fell victim to approaching them as two distinct activities. Now it’s time to see them for what they are — two levers that work together to power a singular machine.

[📘 Related Reading: What is Brand-to-Demand Marketing?]

Add Content For the Win

Last year, market research firm FocusVision reported that the average B2B buyer’s journey involves consuming 13 pieces of content before contacting a vendor. There is a greenfield opportunity between brand and demand, and content is best positioned to occupy it. Content is the natural broker between brand and demand strategies, supporting both efforts, and in doing so, provides cohesion to marketing programs. High-value, journalistic content marketing accelerates this integration by producing content relevant to the customer knowledge journey, serving messages to the right people, at the right time, and on the right channels.

Content for brand building is a long-term commitment that provides numerous interactions with the audience when they seek it. For the brand marketers, content carries the narrative forward from an advertising campaign in substantive ways. For demand marketers, content opens up a storyline that nurtures prospects into better quality leads and provides a breadth of relevant demand moments to activate on. 

The Short of the Long

To drive success now and into the future, marketing leaders understand that we must invest in both brand and demand to drive long-term growth and get more out of our investment. We recognize that brand building impacts future demand for a product or service and lead generation strategies help us capitalize on the good impression created by brand building.

It’s time to unite these efforts and coordinate brand to demand marketing to work in unison toward mutually beneficial goals and outcomes. The opportunity lies in leveraging content to help define the story, extend campaign narratives, and create meaningful audience interactions throughout the entire funnel, ultimately nurturing prospects to conversion.

The marketers that can do so effectively will find themselves in a sweet spot where ROI compounds over time with a brand that can withstand recessions, societal shifts, and changing consumer behavior for years to come. The takeaway? It’s easy to think short term and focus only on quick wins. It’s harder to play the long game and drive sustainable growth with both strategies. Which marketer are you?

Ready to lead the way to long-term marketing growth?