The Long & Short of Marketing

November 18, 2020

Marketing, like finance, is a discipline where we’re often hedging our bets.

Clients are allocated funds “this year” (candidly, in 2020, it’s been “this quarter” or “this month”) to act now based on a future projection of the value of our efforts and the sales performance ultimately delivered.

The challenge for corporations and your agency partners is when you’re trying to play the short- and long-game, at the same time, and with the same dollar. It takes a kind of creativity that may be possible in a few magic instances, but it isn’t practical, and more importantly (for you and the agency), it isn’t scalable.

Short & Long-Term marketing activity

It’s not uncommon for clients to share their short-term needs and their long-term goals. Strategic agencies do far better—and by “do” I mean perform—when they have this context.

However, many companies are trying to achieve both immediate wins and long-term gains, to all audiences, more quickly than ever, and with a “single spend” that’s been green-lighted.

We’re all guilty of reacting and over-correcting, but we (corporations and agency partners) can’t keep doing that and expecting long-term results. If you only care about this quarter, this won’t matter to you. But we believe you care about next year as much, and perhaps more than this quarter, even if you haven’t had time to admit it.

Engaging With “The Big Short” Mentality

If you haven’t seen the movie, The Big Short, you missed out on some wonderful laymen’s explanations of the games we play to manipulate reality and value. To short the market is to borrow a security, expecting its value to drop, and then settle your debt at a profit when (and if) the security value drops below your short price. We’ll make an “apples to oranges” analogy, but we’re still talking fruit here.

I don’t suggest for a minute that those doing marketing right now feel that their company’s share prices are going to drop. However, there is a lot of “short-type” activity between the client and the agency. It looks like this, “We know this level of effort is valued at $50,000, but we want you to discount the work to $30,000 and give us longer terms to pay the effort back.” The client wins because whether or not the marketing performs, they have gotten a great value in the short-term for a potentially long-term payoff.

And, short applies not only to the value of the work but of time. We know that work done in the next 30 days is worth a premium to the corporation with a first-mover advantage on their message, execution, or engagement.

In another time, that premium might be monetized by the agency in rush fees, overtime rates, or moving other work out of the way to make room for higher-value work. However, at this time, there is no premium offered to the agency for this activity. In fact, the corporation wants a discount for premium execution because—they are under excruciating pressure, and they’re ready to move, but only if the agency can move in this short window.

A true agency partner understands these budgetary and time pressures, empathizes with you, and works shoulder to shoulder beside you. Just remember, your agency partners are also under these same pressures, and juggling demand from many who are trying to pull off a miracle. At some point, agencies aren’t being inflexible—they have simply done all they can do to stretch the days, the dollars and reality.

Spoiler alert: if you didn’t read Michael Lewis’s Liars Poker or watch The Big Short, you might not know that more people lose than win. Those who win in these scenarios can’t replicate their success or look themselves in the mirror on the other side.

These challenges of balancing short-term and long-term realities aren’t new to marketing. That’s why Harvard Business Review wrote about it just a year ago in How Marketers Can Overcome Short-Termism. Little did they know that in 2020 we would be staring down the barrel of Covid-19, making it even harder to recalibrate how we “remain strategic in the now”  as marketing professionals.

Engaging with “The Big Long” Marketing Mentality for 2021

When building a marketing program, you should model the future and back into your current reality. If, instead, you model for this quarter—and 30 days from now you model for “this quarter” again—you’ll stay in a reactive reality, and you will frankly never know if “it’s working.”

People who operate with a long-term view—growing market share, increasing the customer lifetime value (CLV) of ICPs, and reducing sales and marketing costs over time—don’t measure activity. Of course, there must be activity, but they measure the results of that activity over time. The goal is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t by getting smarter about what you do, when, and with whom.

When we know both the short-term reality and the long-term aims, the “collective we”—corporations, your internal marketing teams, and external agency partners—can build programs that deliver short-term wins while conserving budgets for longer-term high-value activities. Even better, we can allocate some of the “longer-term spend” into short-term tests to better optimize and perform for greater long-term market effectiveness.

All of this is something we inherently know. But 2020 has turned much of everyone’s focus into getting through the long days and the few weeks until the end of the quarter because the rest feels so unknown. The rest is always unknown…in good times and in bad, in bull and bear markets.

It is clear to us that we can’t short our way to a successful 2021. We’ve been in the arena with our customers through the shorts of 2020. We know the market can be crazy, but the marketing doesn’t have to be.

Your future will be found in the long and short of marketing. Let your agency partner help you hedge some key short bets while we get back to the business of taking a long position. The future of your brand—whether it’s your public share price or your private valuation upon exit—will not be decided today. It will be determined by tomorrow’s higher-value, longer-term customers, and we want to help you become invaluable to them.