Marketers approach long-term planning armed with data and strategic frameworks. Business school classes are filled with cases and proactive approaches for long-term decision-making. Alternatively, short-term marketing decisions must be made quickly to react to barriers, competitive threats, and opportunities. There’s little universal wisdom to provide guidance, and insights can be scarce.
As such, you could fall into the trap of relying only on long-term planning. But short-term decisions are just as vital to your company, especially when you need to course-correct to stay on track and meet your goals. Successful marketing requires strong strategies for both now and later. That’s why it’s important to look at the decision-making process to create a better approach for any timeline.
The Long and Short of It
Thinking long-term is all about defining a goal and setting strategic priorities to meet that goal. The outcome might be something like investing in brand marketing to improve awareness or developing new messaging to neutralize competitors’ strengths. Most companies use the same tools and methods for these decisions.
When planning for the future, marketers try to skate to where the puck will be with the help of trend forecasts. Consumer research and shopper insights are also vital for understanding customers’ wants and needs with this approach.
Short-term decision-making involves completely different methods. It comes into play when there is a need to close a gap, fix a problem, or respond to an unexpected change. Marketers need to evaluate which short-term methods can be executed quickly and proven to have an immediate impact.
The short-term marketing tactics that work tend to be a form of price promotion. Companies know, for example, that a sale offering 10% off will generate incremental revenue. But using price is a slippery slope. Competitors might react with lower prices in the future, and shoppers can be trained to watch for sales instead of buying at the regular prices. And, of course, discounting lowers gross margins, something marketers would rather avoid.
How to Strike a Balance
Although you might feel better prepared to make long-term decisions, you’ll miss out on a limited window of opportunity by solely focusing far down the road. By doing some work upfront, you can learn to balance short- and long-term decision-making.
Here are steps you can take to be better prepared for short-term decisions:
1. Assume the Worst
Yes, you have solid long-term plans and the right marketing strategies to support them. But you can also bet that something will go wrong at some point. Sales gaps are often created by things outside of your control, such as competitive activity, poor in-store execution, and bad weather. If you plan for the worst, you will be better prepared to address short-term revenue issues.
2. Know Your Opportunities
Identify three to five opportunities that you expect will pay back in one to two months. Include a mix of price- and non-price-related options. Try creative pricing strategies, like offering a gift card with purchase rather than lowering the shelf price. Email campaigns are also a proven method to create urgency. And don’t discount other digital marketing tactics that can drive more in-store sales.
3. Do Some Early Testing
The challenge of making short-term decisions is the lack of information to back them up. When you’re pressed to implement a tactic to close the gap, you need a high degree of confidence in the expected short-term impact across in-store and online channels. Sales lift studies are a great fit for measuring the short-term impact of marketing.
With the right insights tool in place, test marketing tactics as early as possible, so you have the knowledge in hand when you need it. For example, blast your email subscribers with a compelling message that creates urgency. Then, measure the incremental sales impact among the people who received the email. You can perform similar experiments with display ads, video, and even addressable TV. Then, test combinations at varied frequencies and again measure the impact.
4. Secure the Budget
Most marketers try to reserve at least 10% of their budget for testing and learning. Testing priorities are often biased toward long-term results. This bias isn’t a bad thing. Marketing that supports and builds the long-term health of a brand is certainly positive. But it’s still important to reserve funds for testing marketing levers to improve short-term results. As one former boss told me, you must earn the right to do something special (i.e., marketing with long-term impact) by delivering results in the short term. Fortunately, testing and research give you a good idea of your top options as long as you secure the funding and use it wisely.
Long-term decisions come with the benefit of more data and more time. Short-term decisions can feel more harried and uncertain, so it’s easy to see why they might take a back seat to strategic pursuits. But thinking ahead about inevitable short-term needs to boost sales will ensure you don’t miss your budget. Strategy is sexy, but results count. With discipline, you can deliver both.