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Building a Long-Term Vision in a Short-Sighted World

September 11, 2020


Building a Long-Term Vision in a Short-Sighted World

Strategy has been in the spotlight for the better part of this year, and for good reason! We had our game plans coming into 2020, but the evolving situation rewrote the playbook. We’ve had to go back to the drawing board on strategy time and time again over the past six months or so. We've had to adapt to each phase of the new normal.

Now we’re coming up on the end of the year. Lots of us are caught between the short-term kind of planning we’ve been doing for the last six months and the kind of longer-term strategy we want to put in place. We want to be able to think about what to accomplish in 2021 and beyond. But how can we do that when we’re still not sure what next week will look like? Things might feel like they’re getting back to “normal,” and then you may be like me and watch the news for the first time in a month (a personal choice) and feel overwhelmed with the media selling risk and fear.

This tension between long-term strategy and a short-term world isn’t new. The pandemic has only made it more pronounced and noticeable. And with that focus, we have to ask a big question. How can we build a long-term vision in a world that’s so focused on the here and now?

1.   Branding Must Be a Long-Term Effort

Like I said, this isn’t exactly a new problem. Marketers like us know that building a brand takes time and effort. You can’t snap your fingers or post once in awhile and expect everyone to love your brand.

Even the most successful brands aren’t overnight success stories. Most have had long journeys with ups and downs in their narratives, points where they’ve surged forward and points where they’ve backpedaled. Apple’s a great example—Steve Jobs’ company has been around since the 1970s! Apple looked like it was going to be the name in consumer computer electronics. The 1980s and 1990s rewrote that. Between Apple’s own internal struggles and Microsoft’s rise, Apple faded into obscurity.

Then came the iPod and suddenly Apple hit its stride. The iPhone, introduced a few years later, shot the company into the stratosphere. It’s difficult to imagine a time when the majority of people didn’t use an Apple product. If you look back, though, it took the company the better part of 30 years to get anywhere near being a household name, let alone a must-have brand.

So we know we need to focus on the long term. We’re not playing a short-term game, even when it looks like “overnight” success is possible. And even if it were, once we’ve hit that level, we have to maintain our newfound customers’ trust in us. We have to keep building and growing.

So long-term brand success means a long-term vision and strategy. The goal post that ultimately you are seeking to deliver to the world. And we have to know our brand identity from the outset. We have to use that knowledge to steer us through whatever market conditions we find ourselves in.

The means we need to be planning for the future as soon as we can. We need not just one-year plans, but five- and ten-year plans too. We need to envision where we want to go—and we need to be willing to put in the work to get there.

2.   The Problem of Short-Termism

We know how important long-term strategy is, but it comes up against a big challenge: short-termism. Businesses—much like people—are usually focused on the here and the now.

Think about a problem like climate change. That’s a long-term thing and it needs a long-term strategy. It's hard to get people to think about it when they have more immediate needs. How are they going to pay their rent this month? How are they putting food on the table?

Same thing with taking care of our health—it’s hard to think long-term. We do what we want in the moment, without much thought to how it might affect us 10 or 15 years from now.

Business is in the same way. Marketers need to be able to show sales and consumption results so they can secure their budget now. We have to show what we’re doing is working now. Otherwise, we risk budget cuts, not getting the approvals we need.

A great example is research. We rarely get the budget to do research for research’s sake. Instead, we have to prove how this study is going to help us solve an immediate problem. We have to ask pointed questions to solve today’s “issue,” instead of having open-ended conversations with customers that could lead to a big “a-ha!” moment about where we should be trying to go in the next six months or even the next two or three years.

The pandemic has highlighted short-termism and pushed it to the fore. It’s tough to plan even a few weeks ahead when you don’t know what lockdown restrictions will look like tomorrow.

So, for the last six months, we’ve been stuck in this sort of start-stop pattern. We can make contingency plans and “what-if” plans for different scenarios. It’s become much more difficult to strategize in a market where everything is changing so much, so fast. Consumer behaviour has changed as much as government rules.

3.   Short-Term Thinking Leads to Short-Sighted Solutions

Like the climate change problem, it’s difficult for us to think long term in this environment. Instead, we’ve been faced with a series of very immediate problems. We’re being pressed to think short term, to solve these issues as soon as possible, and to be prepared to jump to another plan of action if things change.

The problem here is that we end up running around, putting out individual fires, solving individual problems, without much thought for the bigger picture or how these “solutions” are going to affect us later on.

Leveraging social media to chase claims or positioning ideas that competitors have because they seem to be selling and not realizing how off-strategy those paths are for your brand and needs that are being bought. The all-to-often discount pricing that can harm a brand for its lifetime, as consumers are trained to only buy when the brand is on sale or worse that the brand’s benefit feels discounted. Or off-strategy promotions that drive the immediate sales numbers for the month but confuse and potentially harm the overall relationship with your best customers. 

A brand’s life is as long or short as the an organization’s stomach to invest when times are bad, to stay true to what their best customers are ultimately buying. The key is to understand the anchor or brand essence and pivot in a natural way ensuring communication, product delivery, promotions and sales targets are defined to ensure the longevity of the overall business vs. hitting short term numbers.

You get the picture.

4.   How Can We Move Towards Long-Term Brands?

A long-term vision is the blueprint and remedy for short-termism, that the whole organization can rally around understanding the deeper why behind decision made, therefore ensuring that long term the value of the brand assets never decline. Knowing that—our roots (essence), our unshakeable foundations—helps us maintain a consistent vision for the future.

It’s one that will hold up even in the face of shifting markets, changing workforces. Because the core of our brand should never really change. If we know our true purpose, then we have an anchor to ride on in even the stormiest of seas.

So our long-term strategies should start with that core truth: what is our purpose? Why are we here? What is our brand bringing to the table that no one else can bring?

We can build flexible strategy for both long-term and short-term situations around that truth. But we have to know it before we can build around it. If we don’t know what our purpose is, it’s a lot harder to plan—we might try to be everything to everyone. Instead of shifting what we’re doing, we should shift our messaging to better resonate with our customers.

Once we have the why, we can build the how. And the how is what can change. The how can shift to address whatever situations we find ourselves in—always speaking to the why of our brands.

If we want to communicate trust to our customers, we said that in a different way before the pandemic. Now, our messaging features people in masks and lists of measures we’re taking to protect people. We might have switched our strategy from billboards to social media ads to make sure we’re reaching our audience.

Our how changed, but our why stayed the same.

So start with the why, and long-term strategy will become clearer!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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