Attention Span Is Dead, Long Live Attention Span
For years, we’ve been told that our attention spans are shrinking. There is so much information, so many channels and devices vying for our attention, that we couldn’t possibly focus on anything for too long. Combine that with economic pressures, shareholder expectations, and the race to keep up in the digital age, and you get something called short-termism.
Fueled by our fixation on metrics, short-termism is a concentration on quick wins to move the needle. It posits an immediate, attention-grabbing impact over strategically driven, brand-building initiatives that have a higher long-term ROI.
Shorterm-ism Is Shortsighted
This type of thinking is contagious because for those who are tasked with moving the needle – whether it’s sales, marketing, or social media analytics – the pressure to demonstrate an uptick in growth is relentless. While you may signal towards growth in the short-term, this strategy erodes the underlying brand equity and robs you of a chance at something sustainable.
Beyond being unsustainable, it sets up a false dichotomy – that short-term growth and long-term brand building are mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Investing in your brand is the easiest way to drive – and most importantly, maintain – growth.
Play the Long Game
McKinsey’s research covered more than 600 large and mid-sized publicly listed companies in the U.S. over the preceding 15 years. They found that firms with long-term strategies had 47% more top-line growth than other companies, 36% higher earnings, and added an average market capitalization of $8.67 billion.
Similarly, a U.K. study by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), which analyzed 500 effectiveness case studies over 20 years, showed that long-term campaigns were three times more efficient than short-term campaigns, three times more likely to drive market-share improvement, and 60% more likely to deliver profit improvement.
Brand Building Is Worth the Burn
So, if long-term brand building is much more conducive to growth, why do so many people fall for the trap of short-termism? Because brand building is difficult. We demand everything from brands. Consider this excerpt from Barbara E. Kahn’s book Global Brand Power:
“A brand must be elastic enough to allow for reasonable category and product-line extensions, flexible enough to change with dynamic market conditions, consistent enough so that consumers who travel physically or virtually won’t be confused, and focused enough to provide clear differentiation from the competition. Strong brands are more than globally recognizable; they are critical assets that can make a significant contribution to your company’s bottom line.”
That’s a tall order, but it’s a necessary one if you truly want to grow. A focus on long-term brand building doesn’t mean you can’t have quick wins. Sometimes, quick wins are necessary to boost morale or capitalize on a time-sensitive trend. It just means that each endeavor needs to ladder up to larger brand strategy.
In a conversation on brand building, Angela Richards, KFC’s Group Marketing Director, discussed the importance of creating lasting emotional connections, even when the immediate goal might be a short-term tactical one.
“We have a really big innovation funnel and a really strong retail calendar, but for us more recently, that functional retail calendar has morphed so the brand directs the retail calendar – and the brand’s job is to create that emotional connection,” she said. “It’s okay now to say we are less reliant on new product development to drive those sales, because that emotional connection of the brand leading the retail calendar is driving core sales and core growth.”
The Magical 60:40 Ratio
The big challenge for CEOs and CMOs is finding the perfect balance between the short and long-term. Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned IPA study highlighted the fact that long-term brand building campaigns and short-term activation campaigns worked best in synergy. Strong brands had better results from their activations channels and strong activations, in turn, drove more sales for the brand. On average, they found that “effectiveness seems to be optimized when around 60% of the communications budget is devoted to brand building, and around 40% to activation.”
Whether it’s the mad rush to keep pace with the digital era, the lure of immediate ROI, or simply a lack of education around the importance of brand building, many companies are sacrificing an enduring market share for quick wins. As McKinsey and IPA have demonstrated, correcting this balance is essential if you want your growth to last.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design firm in San Francisco.