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Why CMOs shouldn't sacrifice long term thinking for short term gains

Jon Wilkins

The battle chief marketing officers face with complexity has been cited by Forbes magazine as their number one priority: “The stakes are incredibly high. Traditional methods of competitive advantage are less effective; the customer experience is now viewed as the only source of sustainable competitive advantage… digital technologies are disrupting established business models".

An explosion in bandwidth and technological capability, combined with the omnipresence of content, means we are living in a time of communications abundance, which is both a huge opportunity but also overwhelming for consumers and communicators alike.

What appears to be compounding what is already a big structural challenge for clients and agencies alike is the feeling that technology has accelerated everything; that if you aren’t communicating real-time/24-7/always on/always ready then you are somehow a laggard.

Moving at speed requires a strong purpose

So there's a massive juggling act, one where the modern marketer’s ‘timeline’ has shifted significantly from the ‘good old days’. Then, most marketers perfected what we would call ‘mid stream’ excellence – highly planned, and orchestrated communications, which predominantly used campaignable assets to strike their message, through targeted (paid for) media right at the hearts and minds of the consumer.

The need for speed has changed this, and flipped it. This has required new skills to be embraced, both inside client organisations and from their partner agencies. A heady combination of real-time optimisation, real-time communications, news room set ups and crisis management overload has led to opportunity for the brave – and a lot of opportunities to get tangled up for those without the clarity of purpose to make sense of it.

At its worst, speeding up is a bit like a cart that used to be attached to a horse suddenly attaching itself to a Ferarri. A bit of a messy situation tends to occur, unless there is glue in place. The glue that holds it all together for a brand is a consistent vision and purpose.

I believe every brand should have a purpose; that they should stand for something, have a reason to exist and be at ease with this. Brands that have this always seem to always win, category by category. Why? Well these brands normally have a very high EQ. They balance out their ability to connect with their core customers, with a real sense of self-awareness and excellence in mid stream awareness building skills from yesteryear.

They also seem much more comfortable with the ‘live’ nature of communications. A strong sense of ‘self’ provides the editorial guardrails to create a more naturally engaging conversational personality, critical for a brand living in the ‘today’.

Brands with purpose are clearly understood, they tend to have fans, as opposed to customers. Fans that in the fast moving digital age act as propagators, delivering positive actions on behalf of the brand.

In this new marketing era the need to work in real-time is clear but all too often ‘time’ creates the pressure, which means that longer term thinking to ensure future success is being relegated.

This in itself is also dangerous territory for brands and agencies alike. As Syl Saller, chief marketing officer of Diageo, said: “Perhaps the most demanding part of the job is the bifurcation we all must juggle, delivering today and developing future possibilities. This month’s exec meeting was focused on this year – driving hard for every case, we were all about ‘now’.”

The IPA published ‘The Long and Short of It’ last year, highlighting the perils of an over focus on short-term metrics, from ‘likes’ to ‘clicks’ and the over reliance on real-time opportunity.

Its findings highlighted that the way long-term effects are generated are fundamentally different from how short-term effects are produced. It proved that long-term effects always produce some short-term uplifts, but the reverse was not true of short-term effects. An accumulation of short-term effects did not ladder up to anything meaningful or long-term.

Technology has enhanced a brand's ability to build longer-term meaningful relationships with their customers, whether than be through enhancing the emotional engagement and/or embracing greater usefulness and utility. But legacy structures mean that not all agencies are capable of delivering this.

At Karmarama we recognise a non–siloed approach improves our ability to meet client demand and we organise our strategists and creatives to be able to deliver ideas that work Today (in real-time), Tomorrow (through integrated campaigns) and in the Future (through properties and platforms that can enhance the customer relationship).

By embracing but also understanding the role that new technologies play in a marketing campaign, as well as putting the structures in place to use ensure that long-term strategies are never sacrificed on the altar of chasing short-term metrics, then a competitive client edge can be maintained or, better still, gained.

Jon Wilkins is chairman at Karmarama

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