We read something very important over the weekend that had us saying:
Proper credit is due to Tom Roach, author of today’s Very Important Article, which is entitled The Wrong and the Short of It. If you can spare 15-20 minutes for a careful read, we heartily recommend it; otherwise, we’ve done the tricky digesting for you and we’ll be reviewing Roach’s key points in two parts.
Roach starts by pointing out that marketers love false dichotomies. The simplest reason, of course, is that people love false dichotomies and (most) marketers are people. False dichotomies like ‘Good and Evil’ are the first ways we organize the world as kids—and these structures remain useful into adulthood, even after we’re capable of processing more, because they reduce the cognitive strain of understanding situations and making decisions.
But marketers have extra reasons to love false dichotomies. First of all, marketers are under pressure as moneymakers—and like anyone under pressure, they’ll be looking to simplify their world, not muddle it. Secondly, marketers love buzzwords, many of which pair up into false dichotomies. Roach provides this (incomplete) list of marketing false dichotomies:
From here, Roach turns his attention to the biggest and most dangerous false dichotomy in all of marketing: the Long Term vs. the Short Term.
To get a better view of this central problem, three reasons that we marketers are especially likely to polarize into Long-Term vs. Short-Term camps:
Some people don’t have the luxury of seeing both sides. Simply put, survival is a short-term concern. This is true whether you’re a business trying to stay above water or a professional trying to stay employed. If you don’t manage in the short term, the long term no longer exists.
We don’t always realize it’s happening. The Long-Term vs. Short-Term debate is pretty good at hiding under other labels; Brand Marketing vs. Performance Marketing is the buzzwordier version of the same idea. The exact terms shift from context to context, but the same theme persists.
Everyone has a bias depending upon the roles they play and the tools they use. Content marketers, for example, tend to be long-term thinkers because content is a slow burn by its nature; salespeople, by contrast, tend to be short-term thinkers because they work in the present moment. In much the same way, the tools themselves are often “biased” in one direction or the other; a self-serve ad platform, for instance, will naturally invite short-term plays and short-term practitioners.
Business health and growth requires Long-Term and Short-Term to work together, which is impossible if marketers treat them as opposing ideologies. The answer, as usual, is somewhere in the middle here.
Reality in Graphics
It’s too easy for marketers to think of the Short Term and the Long Term as strategic opposites when they’re not. This doesn’t just create a semantic, sentimental, or philosophical problem; this kind of fundamental misunderstanding, habitually (mis)applied, can damage a business’s profit centers and long-term potential.
Because of the close interaction between short-term and long-term marketing activities, it’s silly to pick sides between them. Remember that a single cause can yield multiple effects, some of which won’t make perfect sense together. Starting here:
Any marketing activity, no matter its intention, will have both short-term and long-term effects. Most of the time, it’s easy to overlook the secondary effects because we’re focused on the results we DO expect from an activity. Still, here’s what we’d see if we “zoomed out” to the right distance:
Both lines describe the same marketing activity, but (simplified somewhat) red stands for short-term and black for long-term. For instance: if you’re sending a marketing email, the red line will represent any resulting sales while black will represent your degree of presence in the audience’s mind. Since they’re connected, changing the shape of one line will change the shape of the other; if the red line spiked higher on the left, the black line would start lower on the left and taper to zero faster (and so forth).
But the graph above only represents a single activity. What about the whole milieu of marketing activities? This next graph represents a collection of marketing activities taken together over time, and it starts to show us how the Short Term and the Long Term help build one another up.
As you can see, there’s a natural, cyclical flow to Sales Activation (yellow). When you run promos or launch new products—or do anything which motivates buying behavior over a short period—your sales spike above baseline levels, then taper back to normal. By contrast, Brand-Building (orange) is continuously evolving in some direction, hopefully upwards.
It’s easier to see the symbiotic mutual benefit between short-term effects and long-term effects if you think of business like bodybuilding. In this case, Brand-Building is your overall strength and muscle mass, while Sales Activation is the amount of weight you can lift today. You build long-term brand value the same way you build muscle: by exercising your short-term power toward its limits, over and over again (with some rest in between).
Having explained this, the equal-and-opposite benefit should make obvious sense. Yes, your muscles get bigger and stronger with repeated short-term exercise—but it’s also true that, as you become stronger, you’re able to lift more (and more) weight in any single workout. In business, the recurring cycle of sales and promotion slowly builds up brand value, which then increases the average value of each individual sales cycle. Like this:
So finally, we come full circle to the dangers of this false Short/Long dichotomy. If the graph above is a shift towards a healthy (budgetary) balance between Sales Activation and Brand-Building, then the graph below shows you what happens when you un-balance the equation in favor of short-run Sales Activation—and since that seals the point, we’ll stop here and just let you look.