Marketing strategy: play the long game

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Many marketers operate in a world blinded by short-termism. But if you look past the joy that comes with instant gratification, there is real value in a long-term marketing strategy.

Kate Thompson

A lot of marketing exists to drive positive results in the short-term: a spike in sales revenue, an explosion of social media mentions, some PR coverage, or maybe capturing new customer data and generating leads. 

Because of this we’re often focused on middle- or bottom-of-funnel activities like product or price promotions, or more tactical executions like influencer campaigns and social media competitions.

It makes us feel like we’ve done a good job when we can regularly report that everything has improved as a result of a burst of planned activity. Some of us even use these short-term metrics to determine brand health and forecast ongoing and future success. 

While this could be partly true, the reality is that successful brands are built over years, not quarters which means there’s a lot of untapped potential in our business if we’re not looking to the long term. 

Brand-building is essential to long-term success

For those into marketing and advertising theory, you’ve probably already read Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and the Short of It

It’s a great piece of research published by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) that highlights the tension between short-term performance marketing and long-term brand-building and goes into great detail about how and why the two must co-exist. 

In a nutshell, if you want your brand to grow and remain relevant in 5 or 10 years and beyond, you have to invest in emotionally engaging brand campaigns with about 60% of your media budget (depending on your category) and support this with powerful (and rational or price-driven) performance campaigns. 

What’s this got to do with content marketing, social and PR?

Now, I recognise a lot of what we do in content marketing, digital, social media and PR could feel a million miles away from all of this academic literature, even though I’m sure we all agree that growing, engaging and influencing audiences takes a sustained effort and requires a lot of persistence and patience.

But it’s really important to consider the research and think about what we can take from it, and how we can inject some of the thinking into our day-to-day. 

Especially if we’re involved in more integrated activity, have a seat at the table during marketing planning, or we’re tasked with shaping the creative – some argue that up to 80% of marketing return is a function of the creative and the content

Here’s a few situations where you might be able to evolve your thinking: 

  1. Content marketing planning
    A lot of content marketing is very tactical, and sometimes it can be focused on an execution in just one or two channels, or a short-term monthly content calendar. Rather than planning things in isolation, take time to think of the bigger picture.

    Step back and consider how the story, content, or campaign could be experienced and what might need to happen to elevate it and integrate it so you can deliver a consistent brand experience. Perhaps there’s different layers to the story, or something so interesting and multifaceted you can explore and discuss over the long-term. What you want to avoid is hoping for a lot of random or loosely related pieces of content to have a cumulative impact and think about bigger strategic and creative ideas that have the power to endure and be broken down into many parts. 
  2. Storytelling and creative
    Not many businesses can afford to invest in major integrated marketing and advertising campaigns, and the ones that do tend to be in-market for no more than a couple of months of the year. So, what happens during those moments in between counts (also known as the ‘always on’ for everyone else). Especially when you consider brands are what people perceive plus the sum of their experiences with them.

    Choosing the right stories to tell day in, day out – and the best way to tell them – is crucial. In some ways you need to think of every piece through the lens of the brand, a responsibility often left to content and PR teams. We all have to make sure everything we do and say brings the brand platform or strategic proposition to life, or at least reinforces the brand position in an authentic way.
  3. SEO
    You have to be in it for the long haul with a search-oriented content strategy.  HubSpot has suggested it takes 400 blog posts to see substantial return on investment (ROI) so it’s important to commit the brand to be aligned with certain concepts and as a result, keywords, and consistently publish useful, relevant and engaging content.

    This is bigger than a handful of 500-word blog posts each month, so make sure some content goes into depth about relevant topics and marries up to what people are searching for. Articles with more than 1,500 words are more likely to be in the top position on search engine results pages too; organic placements that influence brand perception and trust. 
  4. Audience development
    A lot of performance marketers are obsessed with growing a database, and CRM marketers are keen on what behaviours are being displayed as a result of communications. Both are important – it definitely pays to focus on the engagement and participation when you’re thinking long term, not just the size and scale of the audience.

    Beyond these data points, try to get an understanding of people’s perceptions of the brand and track them over months and years. You might also want to find ways to activate them as individuals or as a community to drive advocacy. This is an activity that won’t return immediately but taps into something that’s more powerful than anything: word of mouth.

Marriot's Storybooked inspires you to travel through emotive and stunning content.

Case study: Marriot Hotels 

A content brand I have long admired for its ability to balance short- and long-term effectiveness, and lead with content and storytelling, is Marriott International

I’m sure that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the group significantly, but if we can look past that for a moment, this is a business that has been committed to the future and next generation of travellers who are changing their behaviours with the introduction of platforms like Airbnb, and have invested heavily in content and publishing platforms like Marriott Traveller and a variety of social media channels too.

Their approach includes many layers: from advertising campaigns and fame-generating storytelling (check out The Two Bellman), to inspirational content (check out StoryBooked) and helpful articles, and promotional offers and partnerships. They’ve also got a thriving database across different clubs and programs with Marriott Bonvoy. And *almost* everything they do is appealing to people on an emotional level (given that’s easier to do with travel than most things) and delivering a distinctive and unexpected experience, in a consistent and brand-relevant way. It could be why they’ve won so many accolades for brand and content marketing.
But if you’re still not convinced, have a look at the Content Marketing Institute’s April 2019 piece that highlights an American not-for-profit’s approach to looking ahead. 

Bottom line is that we need to play the long game and look past short-term performance campaigns and vanity metrics to determine success in all things brand, content and marketing. 

Kate Thompson, strategy director

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