Stick to your true north - build greatness for the long term

In January IPA Bellwether reported, that after six consecutive years of growth, UK marketing budgets stalled in the final quarter of 2018.

What does this mean? Well, according to the report based on a study conducted with 300 marketers selected from the top 1,000 UK companies, it means that we're all freaking out about Brexit (fair), and as such consumer and business confidence is down - i.e. people aren't spending money and businesses are contracting (with budget cuts, redundancies and cost saving) or shifting their spend.

The report shows, as demonstrated in this less than attractive diagram that as a result of this lack of confidence (and arguably, many other factors) marketers are shifting their spend quite significantly into short-term sales promotions and events-led marketing activities and eschewing the longer-term, more strategic brand building and relationship development activities.

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(Observation on this diagram: an events based marketing strategy over time, can be a fantastic brand building exercise, particular when experience counts for so much in a world that values the convenience of online. 'Internet' is also not a particularly helpful description of any marketing activity. Digital marketing can be used to great effect over the long-term, it's just that it is primarily seen to be a short-term activation channel. Perhaps the suggestion here is actually, budgets are ploughed into activities that are easier to measure/demonstrate 'success'.)

This all-out short-termism though, is a mistake.

It may seem like the obvious thing to do, even the right thing to do, in times of economic uncertainty or falling sales. Depending on your available resources, it may seem like the only thing to do; to spend as little of your marketing budget as possible promoting this event next week, or that new product, or this sale or that film, but to focus only on the now leaves you exposed for the future.

As I've said on a multitude of other occasions, marketing, great marketing, that actually works, is founded on outstanding customer relationships. Moreover, relationships are built over time, through storytelling, through consistency and strategic, long-term brand building activity.

The fear of investing budget in the long-term when you're desperately worried about your sales in the short term is all too real. However, it is the single best chance you have of your customer relationships (and ergo, your brand) weathering the storm.

All of these eggs should not be in this basket.

All of these eggs should not be in this basket.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Or, all your marketing budget down one route.

The alchemy of successful marketing comes down to developing a strategy that keeps you Here and takes you There (wherever your 'There' is), to allocating your budget in such a way as to drive short-term sales (because you need to keep trading, right?) and long-term brand growth (because your vision and mission are way bigger than your sales target).

As marketers, understanding this and then developing strategies, allocating budget and deploying resource is only half of the battle though, because the real struggle comes at Board level.

By their very nature, long-term branding building exercises are expensive and take time. In times of uncertainty or financial stress, it's often difficult to get a Board onside - 'we want to spend more money and more time on this' is not an easy sell.

So, what's the solution? There's no a silver bullet (sorry about that), but for your consideration:

Strike a balance; a healthy mix of short-term tactical promotions vs long-term strategic customer relationships development is the recipe for success, you'll have to fight for it, but stay strong!

Think long-term; it is just not sustainable, for a business, a marketing team or humans themselves to gallop from one short-term promotion to another without a meaningful long-term purpose, what is your North Star? What is your guiding principle? What is the point of all these frantic sales promotions? Surely not more frantic sales promotions.

Understand your customers; for a long-term fruitful (aka profitable) relationship, you need listen to what your customers or audiences want from you as an organisation and find the sweet spot where their 'wants' meet your aims.

Deliver in short-term; unavoidable, so, what processes, resources and tactics can you get in place that allow you to bring products and campaigns to market in a way that does your product justice but does not have a disproportionate impact on your business and budgets?

Educate your Board; marketing is an investment not a cost, marketing is an investment not a cost, say it with me, marketing is an investment not a cost.