Focus on the short term and the long term will take care of itself.


One of the more regular events in marketing is the high priests descending from their mountain to condemn those humble sinners who have succumbed to the illicit temptations of short-term thinking. Like bible-thumping preachers, they warn of hellfire and damnation if we don’t change our ways. The trouble is that I’m not sure it’s making advertising better.

And so, like a pound-shop Martin Luther, I step forward and nail to media’s cathedral door, not 95 theses, but just one: Create a strong short-term effect and the long-term will take care of itself. Before digging any deeper, let me state some caveats:

  • The product or service needs to be good. As Bill Bernbach said, nothing kills a bad product quicker than good advertising.
  • The advertising must not be tied into a price promotion that will undermine brand value in the long term. Any fool can sell a product by slashing the price.
  • The measurement must be robust. I’ve discussed digital attribution in depth here; suffice to say, it’s not the droids I’m looking for. Good econometrics will provide excellent estimates of short-term sales uplifts. Measuring long-term effects via econometrics is difficult and imprecise due to the diffuse nature of repeat purchases and the lack of an independent reference with which to calibrate estimates. For measuring the long-term impact, loyalty-card data, which enables tracking of individuals’ repeat purchases, is superior.
  • I’m talking about real metrics. Click-through rates and brand awareness indices doth butter no parsnips; profit is the only metric worth a damn. And provided that your price remains constant, sales volume is an excellent proxy for profit. That’s right – marketing is about selling. Who knew?

Despite the distinct sound of pitchforks being sharpened in the distance, I will press on. The key question to the advocates of focusing on the long-term is this: how can selling a good product in the short-term possibly harm the long-term value of a brand?

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