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Martin Weigel on Fighting Short-Termism in Marketing
“The work. The relationship. Your brand. And your business.”
That’s what Martin Weigel, the head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, believes is at stake when marketers chase short-term metrics rather than strive for meaningful, long-term growth. We have to do what we can to keep our eyes on the horizon.
That’s tough because there’s an undeniable power in the concept of “now.”
Say you offer a four-year-old a choice: one marshmallow now or two in 20 minutes. We know that two is more than one, and therefore the experience of eating two fluffy treats is better. But many kids would have trouble waiting. And if you were offered a choice between $1,000 right now and $1,250 a year from now, there’s a good chance you would rather take the quick grand.
We’re hardwired to appreciate immediate actions and results over those that take time. The word “faster” is almost always more positive than “slower.” Activists don’t want change a few decades down the road. Shipping is better than not shipping. It’s your money, and you need it now.
In Weigel’s view, however, this mindset poses risks to the way marketers do their job. He believes that in we’re more likely than ever to prioritize data that is available now and that informs the near-term. “Marketers have always felt the pressure to demonstrate results,” he says. “The patience to allow ideas time to have their effects has long been in short supply. That has now been compounded by the availability and immediacy of data.”
Weigel will speak in detail about that pressure—and the temptation of immediately available (but ultimately inconsequential) data—this week at our Transition conference in New York.
It took time and introspection for Weigel to get to where he is today. “Too much of a dreamer to be an investment banker, too talentless to be a concert pianist, too scared of heights to be an astronaut, and John Webster’s work imprinted on my young and impressionable mind all meant I would find myself in advertising,” he says. “But not before five years in qualitative research.”
He’s been in planning for the past 21 years now—a period of time that’s widely been characterized by change for marketers. However, he’d rather focus on what’s stayed the same.
“These are indeed exhilarating times. But we still build around the needs, wants, and desire of people,” Weigel says. “The fundamental brand building mechanics of value and presence have not been rendered obsolete. The subprocesses of utility, pricing, and the creation of physical and mental presence still remain foundational. The necessity of time, investment, and creativity have not evaporated.“
However, it can be tough to take the time necessary to build brand when you’re under pressure to prove your worth.
It’s doubly difficult when there is data available right now that speaks to your marketing efforts. Statistics like week-over-week changes in social media reach, interactions, page-views, shares, and the like are all quickly aggregated and compiled. And they speak to real-time behaviors; here are what brand followers are doing right this second.
“The lure of this data is not only that is it immediately available, but that by its very nature it is highly responsive to communications activity,” Weigel admits. The risk, however, is that “it is short-term data. And short-term data leads to short-term perspectives, short-term objectives and short-term strategies.” On the other hand, “profitable brand-building is a long-term enterprise.”
The view that growing a brand takes time has strong support from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, which maintains a database detailing the effectiveness of nearly 1,000 campaigns from over 700 brands in more than 80 different product categories.
The IPA found that large profits over time are largely a result of increases in both price and sales volume. But while sales volume can be activated somewhat quickly, pricing needs time to build—that means the marketing campaigns that drive the most profit are most likely to be long-running campaigns (see the orange line below).
That means that if you’re solely focused on moving sales with short-term campaigns, you’re effectively padding the numbers—they aren’t indicative of actual growth over time. You might make more money now, but you could have made even more—and you could have kept it going.
Marketers that focus on long-term brand building are helped (paradoxically) by people’s preference for making quick decisions. While we like to think we’re completely rational consumers, the truth is we often rely on emotional heuristics and gut instinct to make our purchases; we don’t typically dig deep into a cost-benefit analysis of our different shampoo options. Instead, we think to the brands that are mentally available and that evoke positive emotions.
In other words, the goal is to become part of a customer’s decision-making shortcut—but there aren’t shortcuts to accomplishing that.
A brand simply doesn’t spring to mind over night; it can take years of distinct and unique messaging for a brand to become stuck in a person’s pysche. This is why we associate “Just Do It” with Nike, why the term “give me a break” is now tied to Kit-Kat chocolate bars, and why I managed to remember J.G. Wentworth’s “I Want It Now” slogan years after I last saw its commercial.
As important as long-term brand-building is though, marketers still need to demonstrate the value of their efforts to a C-Suite that is chronically focused on meeting the next quarter’s goals. Weigel provided some tips to executives struggling to maintain that balance and keep people’s eyes on the biggest prize:
- Take both a medium- and a short-term perspective.
- Treat effectiveness as an input, not just as a post-activity audit.
- Be clear from the beginning about what your model of effectiveness is—how you intend the work to work.
- Identify the relevant metrics—measure only what matters, not merely what can be measured.
- Publicise the model and get stakeholder alignment on it up front.
- Invest in the resources (agency or internal) required to properly evaluate medium- and short-term effectiveness.
- Publicise the results amongst all the key stakeholders.
To see more highlights from Transition, read the full collection of speaker profiles here.