Diminishing Returns: Why short-term tactical marketing is harming long-term strategic brand performance.

Diminishing Returns: Why short-term tactical marketing is harming long-term strategic brand performance.


Just for a moment, let’s spare a thought for marketers. With endless COVID-19 pivots, accelerating changes in consumer behaviour, evolving media consumption, the ‘great resignation’, resource pressures, and the need to keep abreast of the latest technology platforms, tools and data-driven-insights, it’s no wonder many marketers feel undervalued and overwhelmed.

Currently there are over 9,000 martech solutions available to the industry – a decade ago there was just 150!¹

Understandably, it is common for smaller marketing teams to find themselves under-resourced and therefore stuck in day-to-day execution, without the time or space to think strategically.

There are multiple reasons for the reliance of marketing departments on short-term or habitual tactics: paralysis caused by tired agency relationships, limited senior leadership support, knowledge gaps, lack of capacity, organisational resistance, or a combination of these. Marketing teams are left feeling fatigued and de-motivated, dealing with plans and budgets that can be interrogated and refined only once a year, and with the added responsibility of social media and content development thrown in by management for good measure.

During the pandemic B2B buying interactions jumped from 17 to 27! Previous there had only been a slight increase every couple of years.²

I can understand this fatigue. Just as COVID first came to our shores, and not long after the diagnosis of a family member with a low-survival cancer, I stepped into a marketing role for a not-for-profit supporting Australian’s living with these devastating cancers. Like all the incredible people I worked with over that two and half years, I was driven by the desire to make a difference. Like many others working in lean marketing teams, I spent my time ‘getting it done’.

As someone with extensive experience working with clients to develop and execute strategic campaigns and marketing strategies, I should have been all over the strategy. The reality was that I was constantly faced with the time challenges and barriers thrown up by ‘the doing’ and couldn’t find the time or the headspace to think about creative, strategic opportunities and develop a solid plan. It was frustrating and demotivating.

When you assess the impacts of the past few years on marketing teams, it’s the capacity to define strategic intent and the resulting supporting plan that often falls by the wayside—to the detriment of the brand and business. The development and delivery of content across a range of determined tools can easily become the sole focus of the team, with longer-term strategy put to the side. The lack of time and opportunity make it challenging for marketing teams to think differently about longer-term objectives and best way to deliver these through a clear plan of action and strategy.

‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.’ Sun Tsu

Without a strategy in place marketing teams risk undertaking activity that doesn’t align with overall business objectives, ad hoc decisions are made, priorities become misaligned, market share can be lost, opportunities for operational efficiency missed and profitability impacted.

In their time-proven article on strategic intent Hamel & Prasad argue that companies often ‘trim ambition to match resources’, with resulting targets that are not deserving of personal effort and commitment. Under resourcing evolves into demotivation and ultimately departure.

What we should all be striving for is a strategic intent that inspires and motivates across an organisation, that provides a lynchpin for all activities undertaken in the name of the organisation, that informs a plan that takes into consideration both short-term tactics and long-term brand building and speaks to the heart of the customer.

This issue is possibly a symptom of the bigger problem of ‘quarterly capitalism’ or short-termism in business. KPIs have become more financially focussed and measured in weeks or months, without due consideration to longer-term planning.

A recent study³ by McKinsey found that the average lifespan of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared. Today, businesses, burn bright, chase profits, and disappear. Is it any wonder that marketers are expected to do more with less?

However, those businesses that adopt longer-term strategic thinking, underpinned by purpose and as an accompaniment to day-to-day tactics, tend to retain and motivate teams.ˆ

Marketing operates in complex and dynamic environments that are always changing – there are levers being pulled and focus shifts occurring all the time. A myopic focus on delivery comes at the cost of building long-term orientation. Many marketers are required to live in a world of short-termism but there is opportunity to utilise existing agency partners to help you with the nuts and bolts. They can truly add value to your organisation by helping free up mental space, providing opportunities to think and plan, and allowing teams to improve their craft which is a true motivator for many working in the creative space.

Your agency partners can offer you genuine collaboration. With a very clear focus on outcomes, you can build successful long-term partnerships. A trusted partner can help marketers lighten their load, so that they can lift their eyes up and look to the horizon.

¹ Statista: Number of marketing technology solutions available worldwide from 2011 to 2022

² Forrester: 2021 B2B Buying Study

³ https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-you-will-probably-live-longer-than-most-big-companies/

ˆ https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/help-your-employees-find-purpose-or-watch-them-leave

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