But I think it’s fair to say that as digital becomes less of a ‘trend’, marketers are realising that a focus on short-term ROI through optimised digital media campaigns may have come at the expense of long-term strategy, brand building and customer lifetime value.

At the Festival of Marketing 2019, Mark Ritson’s headline talk was all about reminding the audience of the fundamentals of effectiveness, beginning with brand codes and distinctiveness.

Binet and Field’s famous study, The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies, may have been published in 2013, but it’s taken half a decade for the message – that 60% of comms investment should go towards longer term marketing and brand building activities – to truly percolate.

Luckily, Econsultancy has issued a reminder, with the publication of a new report, Developing Future Strategy: Long-Term Thinking for Marketers.

As the report author Martin Talks writes: “Long-term future thinking can make the difference between whether an organisation thrives and survives or is swept away by the next big trend, technology or customer preference. Longer term thinking should go beyond thinking about a specific brand and consider those technologies and trends that could accelerate and disrupt a sector, or even change society”.

Though you might have a CFO forged in the recession of 2008 and steeled for tough times in 2020, brand building is needed to gain the excess share of voice needed for exactly these circumstances.

Why are marketers not thinking long term?

I mined the report for some pointers… 

They are too ‘busy’

Budgets, SaaS tools, managing up, managing down, upskilling ­– marketers just don’t have much time, especially as many of their teams are under pressure to be ‘efficient’ (i.e. do more with less).

Unless time is ring-fenced for long-term thinking, business as usual will overwhelm marketers’ time.

They don’t know why the business exists

Econsultancy’s report notes: “Future thinking will be best focused when an organisation is clear on why it exists and what its purpose is. How the organisation delivers on that purpose will vary depending how the future plays out. New technologies will enable new ways of delivering on that purpose and new ways for marketers to tell the brand story, but the purpose of an organisation should remain constant. It should also be lived in all that organisation does, not just in its marketing.”

Whether you’re sceptical about brand purpose or not, the question of business purpose is surely important for strategy.

They don’t have data

Historical and real-time data are essential for basing thinking in the correct context and can be extrapolated forward to help indicate what are likely or even inevitable developments.

They aren’t thinking creatively

It can be hard to be creative in an open-plan office, but imagining the future may indeed be a creative exercise, as is opening minds.

They lack the right process

Strategy mapping, setting OKRs (objectives and key results), conducting scenario planning. Download Econsultancy’s report for a full ‘Future Thinking Process and Toolkit’.

They don’t communicate their thinking

Communication with senior management is vital, especially as the tenure of marketers can be shorter than other executive roles. Buy-in is needed to ensure continuity.

It’s not easy to predict the future

“The future arrives later than we expect, until it arrives earlier than we expect.” – David Wood, Chair of London Futurists and Principal of Delta Wisdom.

Or, as Bill Gates put it after famously revising his 1995 book, ‘The Road Ahead’, in which he had played down the importance of the internet – “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

The future for marketers may only mean 5-7 years, but as Talk’s writes in the Econsultancy report, “Marketing’s role in an organisation is going to change and may even disappear in its current form. A marketer’s ability to think long term about their own future, as well as their organisation’s, will determine whether they are individually successful.”

Developing Future Strategy: Long-Term Thinking for Marketers