It has been the rule of the game for years: use short-term brand advertising for immediate results and sales activation, whereas long-term brand building – well, it can hardly contribute to any short-term sales. A recent analysis by brand consultant and former marketing professor Mark Ritson challenges this concept and proves that most of the ads that score excellent in brand building also score high in sales activation.
In a recent Marketing Week article, Ritson explains that a great deal of the short-term sales booked against the short-term activations are being actually caused by longer term brand investments. He also elaborates on how to approach investment in advertising. The basis for his analysis is the popular publication “The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies” by Les Binet and Peter Field, and Ritson takes its theory one step further.
Intrigued? Check out our selection of actionable insights and get ready to fire up your marketing strategy:
- Effects accumulate over time. According to Ritson, the idea of ‘the long and the short’ struck a chord with marketers because it emerged at a very particular moment in the history of marketing, when new digital media formats were revolutionising much of marketing thinking. But along with some genuine advances and improvements, this digital turn also favoured a focus on shorter, almost immediate timelines. A definition of “the long and the short of it”? The long of it was all about the top of the funnel, a three-year-plus timeline and an emphasis on brand building. The short of it was more about the bottom of the funnel, a 12-month or shorter horizon and a focus on sales activation.
- The long and the short are not binary. Both, by definition, serve the same ultimate purpose. But they do so at two completely different speeds. Every brand beats with two different pulses:
The short of it, sales activation, is easier to identify: anything that attempts to evoke an immediate response from the market: Visit our website. Buy our new burger. Test drive our latest car. Purchase a sofa while it’s at this special, special price.
In contrast, the long of it is any communication that intends to create long-term memories, which might then result in enduring changes in human behaviour: building awareness of our coffee brand with consumers who do not know us, yet. Driving consideration among consumers who don’t think our beer is for them, or for this occasion. Getting consumers to think our premium brand is premium, i.e. objectives don’t ask for an immediate response. Instead, they look to set up the market in a manner that will later benefit the brand – especially if this longer-term brand advertising is complemented by the appropriate amount of shorter-term tactics further down the funnel, to activate these consumers later and engineer a sale.
- Think media-neutral. According to Ritson, many marketers confuse the long and short with tactical absolutes. They ask which media are superior for short activations and which ones are for long-term branding. He considers this approach wrong. Because while some media suit one end over the other a little more, any medium can serve either master, or both. Ritson explains that this issue comes up a lot when marketers shoe-horn digital media into an exclusively short-term tactical box, adding that there is no reason that digital media cannot also perform brilliantly as long-term brand-building tools, too. The long and the short of it, like everything in marketing, should be media-neutral.
- The threat of short-termism. According to Ritson, an emphasis on proving the value of advertising and marketing squeezed many marketers towards more immediate and easier-to-measure sales spikes – the kind usually delivered by shorter-term activation campaigns. That same trend worked in reverse to reduce investment in longer-term brand-building efforts that demanded more advanced statistical skills and seasoned marketing knowledge to justify them. By going short, most marketers did make more money in the upcoming year, but most also started to lose potential profit in year two and onwards.
- Avoid double-duty campaigns. Is the separation of advertising into long and short executions preferable, or even possible? Long drives some short. Short can also drive long. Marketers could and did run ads that attempted to satisfy both short- and long-term objectives within the same 30 seconds. And it sometimes worked. But the chance of these ‘double-duty’ ads, as Peter Field calls them, working – and working better than a campaign consisting of different long and short executions – was not zero, but it was small. And that should not be a surprise. Ritson explains that marketers have been misled into thinking that it was only the time frame of the two approaches that was different. In truth, it was much, much bigger than that. The long is about brand, TOFU (top-of-funnel), mass market, emotion. The short is about targeted, rational, BOFU (bottom-of-funnel), product messaging. It’s very hard to straddle these paradigmatic differences in a successful ad too many times.
- Apply the two-pots strategy. Statistically speaking, you are better off taking your advertising budget, dividing it into the two pots according to the appropriate balance, and then achieving long and short objectives with different ads – ads that are only eventually united within your overall annual brand campaign. Long was then free to set up short. Short could then close the deal and fund more long (and short) advertising.
- The long of it delivers on both fronts. The ad tracking work of research firm System1, and its near real-time database of almost 18,000 ads measured over the past four years, proves that short-term campaigns don’t build brand, because they are too good at product-based activation. In fact, the better they are at shorter activation, the less likely they are to be good at brand building. However, the long does deliver the short. When the 18,000 ads are reviewed according to brand-building potential, from a star rating of 1 (poor long-term market-share growth) to 5 (outstanding), there is a different relationship between long and short. As an ad gets better at the long of it (achieving a greater star rating), it also gets better – on average – at delivering the short of it, too (a higher spike rating).
To sum up, it is possible for long-term brand building ads to also deliver short-term sales activation; in fact, the better an ad is at brand building, the more likely it becomes that it will also deliver on short-term sales too. The short of it, for the most part, does little for long-term brand building in most cases. But the long of it delivers on both fronts. And the implication for marketers is doubly significant.
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