Stop worrying about short and long-term in marketing

by Nigel Hollis | March 05, 2018

I recently proposed to a group of CMOs that short versus long-term was a meaningless distinction and that successful marketing requires building and triggering memories across the buying cycle so that people are predisposed to buy your brand and pay the price asked. Here’s why.

Short-term versus long-term is just one of a long list of brand building principles that appear to be in conflict: focus on users not buyers, grow penetration not loyalty, change behavior not attitudes. We seem to delight in creating oppositions: you should do this, not that. But with most of them, the more you delve into the subject the less obvious it is that one thing is ‘right’. Things often turn out to be complementary not contradictory and that the balance needs to vary depending on the brand and its context.

The more that I have thought about the topic of short versus long-term the more I have come to believe that the distinction between the two is a spurious one. The effect of a ‘short-term’ price promotion might be long-term if it gets someone to buy the brand for the first time, increasing the probability that they will buy again. Equally a brand building ad might remind someone to buy the brand again, generating an incremental sale. Which is short and which is long?


My belief is that we need to take a more consumer-centric view of how people buy in a specific category and tailor our marketing efforts across the buying cycle. Brands consist of all the memories, feelings and ideas accumulated over time. These memories help condition demand, and if properly activated when someone is searching or shopping will improve the probability of purchase. Overly focusing on any one stage in the buyer life cycle is likely to result in sub-optimal growth.

Take the argument that marketers should focus on users not buyers. Surely any user at some point in time chose to buy the brand and before that their only knowledge of that brand likely came from random exposure to the brand in day to day life: seeing it used, hearing it talked about and, occasionally, paying attention to an ad. I am not arguing that customer experience is unimportant, far from it, because if you do not minimize churn growth is going to be hard to come by, I am simply saying that we need to see usage as one important stage in the process growing a brand not the only one.

Brand-related memories influence future brand choices, whether those memories come from exposure, search and shopping or usage. And while usage is likely to have the biggest influence on whether people buy again, let’s not forget that people are not choosing based on the actual experience, they are choosing based on memories of their brand experience. So perhaps the best way of defining short and long-term is how long it is likely to be between exposure to a marketing event and when that person is likely to buy the brand. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Nigel, March 23, 2018

    Thanks for the comments.

    Paul, I agree. The trouble is that too much of our "hard" data is focused on the shopping window leading up to the purchase decision. The influence of priming could be huge but it will not be recognized as such. This is why brand recognition is so important, it triggers ideas and associations that make people more likely to buy. All brands might benefit from an off shelf display but the ones that people are predisposed to buy will benefit disproportionately. 

  2. Satish Kumar, March 07, 2018

    i don't know about this long and short marketing. it's difficult to differentiate, until and unless you exactly know your individual customer behavior and buying pattern. New users are also important to influence and you can't leave behind your customers who have become a sort of your brand ambassador. In this changing marketing scenario, we need to think differently. Rather than "knowing your customer, let customer know you". 

    In this rich data world, brands already know everything about their customers and new acquisitions. they have already invaded their privacy and have gone beyond the traditional route. Now, it's time to stop and allow customers to invade your privacy. Openness is reality and brands need to open their heart to be honest with the customers. Let them know about your operations, your ethical and moral grounds of operations, sustainability strategy and your purpose of existence.

    We really need to go backward, from knowing your customer to let customer know you.

  3. Paul Edwards, March 06, 2018

    I so agree:'people build brands as birds build nests' etc.

    I also think we underestimate the extent of priming in our purchase decisions - implicit assumptions about quality in Waitrose vs Asda for example

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