As marketers, we're in the business of growing our firms. We do that by earning the right to sell to customers.

To understand the most effective way to earn the right to sell, researchers into marketing effectiveness divide the way that firms market their offerings into two camps.

  • Short term campaigns designed to drive purchases immediately. Offers and discounts fall into this category but so to do things like ebooks, email campaigns and webinars.
  • Long term brand building designed to increase salience in the mind of your customers. These activities are the sponsorships, the far-reaching ad campaigns and the brand investments that don't pay off as much short term.

In consumer goods, Specsavers is a great example. Their "should've gone to Specsavers" campaigns are classic long term. The shorter executions would be two for one discounting or free eye tests.

Both these earn the right to sell. An ebook (arguably) earns the right to follow up and start a conversation. A long term campaign hopes that when the time comes to buy, the increased positive perception of your brand brings the customer to you.

When done well, both of these approaches work. But they do not work equally well. 

Sam: The data below comes from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and covers a decade of research into marketing effectiveness. Worth knowing about for any marketer.

You can see the difference here between short and long in how each moves the needle. In the short term, up until 6 months, the short term effects come out way ahead. The long term tells a different story.

The data from tens of thousands of marketing campaigns shows that short term plays are less effective than brand building when measured over a longer timescale.

Marketers usually measure and attribute activities with a short term mindset. Even the concept of attribution lends itself to short, measurable activities over the bigger picture stuff. 

Measuring the benefit of investing in your brand is tougher than showing which deals can be traced back to an email campaign. In the long run, investing in a brand is a more effective way to earn the right to sell.

The short term focus only gets worse when the economy does poorly.

From the same IPA data we can see that when firms contract their marketing spend, for example during a recession as experienced after 2008, they tend to reduce their long term campaigns in favour of the short, more measurable executions.

The reasons behind this are obvious, there is more need to justify spend when jobs are on the line and growth is slow.

The risk is that by focusing on the short plays, marketers drive only rapidly decaying benefits that don't contribute effectively, sustainably or materially to the bottom line in the long run.

Put another way, gambling on the quick wins to demonstrate value in the short term hurts the marketing function and the firm in the long run.

So how to balance the short and the long.

Lots of this analysis comes from Les Binet and Peter Field. They are the "godfathers of marketing effectiveness". Their book is called "the long and the short of it" and it's a decent read for the savvy marketer.

The book isn't called "Only go long every time" for a reason. You have to balance the long option and short. Not rocket science and not new ideas for marketers. Where Peter and Les go further is to look at the ideal split for maximum effectiveness.

A 60% long and 40% short mix was found to offer the maximum benefit. After 40%, adding any more spend into the shorter campaigns can actually detract from the effectiveness of the spend as you try too hard to squeeze sales that aren't earned.

That's the key to all this. Marketers have to earn the right for their firm to sell. If your market knows your brand, values your offerings and thinks of you when its time to buy your firm can sell. If they don't know your brand or value what you do - no amount of door knocking will get a foot in the door.