There’s a growing tension in marketing between the need to achieve short-term sales results and the ability to continuously improve long-term results such as brand profitability and share growth. Unfortunately, we only have ourselves to blame. Our relatively recent fascination with the ability to measure just about everything in real time and adjust our campaigns to optimize performance has caused us to take our eye off the ball of long-term success.

The importance of this was demonstrated in a study published by The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) which examined the results of 996 campaigns from over 700 brands*. The types of campaigns that performed best with long-term metrics, such as profit and share growth, tended to perform worst at generating short-term direct response. And the converse was true, as well. Campaigns that drove short-term direct response most strongly, underperformed on longer-term metrics. The implication is that a succession of short-term response campaigns will not achieve the same level of business success over the long term as campaigns designed with year-over-year improvement in mind.

Long-term results cannot be achieved by piling short-term results on short-term results.
– Peter Drucker

This isn’t about arguing in favor of one approach or the other. Both are important. And planning for both is essential. Short-term results favor a direct approach using immediate behavioral triggers, such as promotional pricing, incentives or new product features. Long-term results favor a brand building approach that strengthens the esteem of a brand and builds an emotional connection with prospective customers.

Given that there seems to be less patience for brand building than ever, the best way to frame this challenge and plan for both long and short-term performance is to divide your universe of non-customers into two groups: long-term prospects and immediate prospects. Each needs a little something different to push them along.

Long-term Prospects

Long-term prospects have either limited familiarity with your brand or perceive it as a less-than-ideal fit for themselves. Your challenge with them is seduction. That means building awareness and familiarity while emotionally priming them for eventual conversion. What do we mean by emotional priming? Behavioral economics research has shown us that human behavior and decision making is driven more by emotional or irrational factors than logical ones. So “priming” long term-prospects for the emotional connection needed to future conversion is the most important aspect of a brand building effort. That rarely happens overnight and you won’t accomplish it by touting your brand’s features and benefits—or trying to tempt long-term prospects with offers.

The IPA study offers support for this approach. It found that people who aren’t actively engaged in shopping for a product filter out (i.e. ignore) rational product messages and offers. However, they are much less likely to filter emotionally persuasive messages, which were also shown to have a significantly greater impact on brand favorability.

Immediate Prospects

Immediate prospects have some degree of familiarity with – and attraction to – your brand, but have yet to try it. Your challenge with them is motivation. Marketers often address this by trying to reduce the risks associated with trying a new brand. And they typically do that with promotional pricing. While effective for conversion, the use of promotional offers can have negative consequences that must be considered. They can increase customers’ price sensitivity, reduce loyalty and alienate current customers that not have benefited from those offers.

An effective way to address this is leveraging the external factors that can lead your prospects into a motivated state. The most common is dissatisfaction with their current brand caused by things like changes to a product offering, its availability or pricing. Motivation can also be tied to life stage triggers such as marriage, divorce, moving, having children, a career change, etc. Take time to explore what the external drivers of motivation are for your target audience. You can then use ongoing competitive intelligence and social media monitoring to help you identify and capitalize on those opportunities—without necessarily needing to discount your pricing.

Balancing Your Efforts

If you have more non-customers than customers, you probably have a lot of long-term prospects. And success with them will require a sustained high-reach effort, especially for those that have consciously chosen not to purchase your brand. So, is it worth it? Given that most of your immediate prospects were once long-term prospects, the answer is yes. And unless you court them, you’ll likely see a decline in your universe of immediate prospects over time.

Even though your universe of immediate prospects is likely smaller than that of long-term prospects, it can be easy to overemphasize their importance. Since converting them achieves what is most likely your ultimate goal of sales, it’s not uncommon to overspend on this audience vs. your long-term prospects. While this isn’t the kind of thing that lends itself to a one-size-fits-all approach, the IPA study found that brands who did this successfully spent an average of 60% on long-term efforts and 40% on short-term.

The Bottom Line

While allocating a standardized portion of your budget to both short-term and long-term prospects is a good place to start, having strong tracking and analytics in place can help you customize the balance for your brand. And be mindful that your optimum balance will probably change over time. As your market share, product offerings and competitive landscape changes, so should your balance between brand response and brand building efforts.

Brand Response
Brand Building
Timeframe Short-term Long-term
Segment Immediate prospects Long-term prospects
Challenge Motivate Seduce
Objective Conversion Brand affinity
Targeting Narrowed focus, high impact Broad focus, high reach
Messaging approach Leverage or create a motivated state (target circumstances or triggers; use promotional offers in moderation) Create awareness, familiarity and an emotional connection

* The Long & Short of It, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 2013

Peter Infante
Peter Infante

Chief Strategy Officer
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