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Adam Morton 

Why are marketers ignoring the data on short-termism?

Why are marketers ignoring the data on short-termism?

In a time of economic and political turmoil, the marketing industry needs to take a leaf from its own book, writes Adam Morton

Every marketer (and agency) seemingly knows about the dangers of short-termism when it comes to building brands. There have been reams of research and articles on the subject, perhaps most notably the IPA’s iconic The Long and the Short of it report back in 2013.

And yet, despite the continual weight of evidence that has built upon that original finding, businesses and marketing teams continue to under-invest in the long-term health of their brands and continually focus on short-term gains and the lowest hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things are going to change anytime soon. In fact, the issue will be exacerbated further by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and a possible recession to follow, with many reports already highlighting that brands will be looking to reduce investment.

Of course, it’s understandable. Focusing on the immediate future and cutting budgets delivers shareholder gains and often improves today’s bottom line. But still, the last 20 years of marketing have provided so much evidence for the other way of thinking. Real, lasting, long-term growth demands long-term thinking and investment in brand health. Brands that continue to invest during economic downturns are those that emerge as market leaders on the other side.

And that leads to the big question: in our data-obsessed industry, why are many continuing to ignore the data? Or alternatively, if the data isn’t being ignored, perhaps the situation is even worse than we thought. Does that mean marketers are aware of the evidence but powerless to do anything with it?

If that is the case, then it suggests the marketing function is still failing to demonstrate to the rest of the business the value in what it does, with marketing continuing to be viewed as a tax and not an investment. Surely we can’t still be languishing in those bad old days?

Marketing departments have unparalleled access to data and technology and so have the potential to be the greatest force within the business. In fact, they have the ability to understand the customer like no other. If that’s really the case, what’s holding us back?

It might well be an issue of trust. Over the last few years we have experienced a torrent of ‘fake news’, and it could be argued that that Brexit has highlighted the ‘self-interest’ rather than ‘serve’ nature of politics. Yet despite all of this, at the end of last year an IPSOS MORI poll showed that advertising executives were the least trusted profession, below both journalists and politicians!

Of course, marketing is more than just advertising, and many argue that its increased focus on only one of the ‘four Ps’ (promotion) has been to its detriment. But putting that to one side, the research does suggest a lack of belief in our profession.

In certain instances are marketers their own worst enemy, keen to align themselves to short-term objectives and vanity metrics in order to quickly prove their worth and get that bonus before moving on? Coupled with this marketers can rush to ensure they are seen as agile, adaptive and in tune with the pace of change rather than concerning themselves with ‘the long-term’... how very old school it seems, they say.

This desire, for instant rewards in the good times and the need to be in vogue, hampers their potential to prove their worth when times are tough. A truly selfless marketer with a view on sustainable growth would be more than happy to sign up to objectives aligned to long-term brand and business success.

Likewise, when there is positive business momentum, is that not the time to prepare and educate the business of the best course of action when times get tough? That’s when marketers can really come into their own as a force for driving the brand.

With so much turmoil underway and on the horizon, perhaps the marketing industry needs to take a leaf from its own book. Examine the data and use it to derive valuable insights. And when the data tells you to think more long-term, do so.

By Adam Morton is managing partner, client services at media agency UM

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