How marketers can overcome short-termism

By Christine Moorman & Lauren Kirby

Marketing is all about strategy—or is it? To find out, the August 2019 CMO Survey asked US marketing leaders: “How much time do you spend managing the present versus preparing for the future of marketing in your company?” Overall, 341 leaders responded by reporting they spend 68.5 percent of their time “managing the present” and only 31.5 percent of their time “preparing for the future.” This finding holds across company size, sector and industry. We’ve identified four drivers causing marketers to focus on the present at the expense of the future:

1 Pressure for short-term earnings: Marketing’s role is often viewed as a lever for driving short-term sales instead of long-term growth.

2 Too few strategic roles: Marketers are often assigned only tactical roles, such as managing social media or promotions.

3 Role ambiguity: Marketers may focus on immediate priorities to make quick wins and protect what they can control.

4 Compensation structure: Short-term success can lead to performance bonuses; long term strategic objectives can help build equity in the firm.

So, what should you do if your marketing organization is caught up in the chaotic whirlwind of the present?

Adopting a future focus

  • Allocate time every week to think long term: Strategic planning should not be something that happens once a year.
  • Invest in marketing capabilities: Organizational-level knowledge and skills embedded in key processes are engines that drive success.
  • Drive decisions from data: Marketers report using marketing analytics to make decisions only 39.3 percent of the time. This is too low.
  • Focus on growth: Marketers should be encouraged by senior leadership to take calculated risks that align with corporate growth.
  • Deepen cross-functional ties: When marketing partners with R&D, digital, technology, operations and finance, its sights are set on critical firm-level outcomes.
  • Fund marketing for the long term: Building growth takes sustained investment.
  • Demonstrate the impact of marketing: The more marketers can demonstrate their impact, the more likely they are to receive additional resources to promote strategic planning.
  • Don’t compete on price—build value: A buoyant economy can create such a shift as customers worry less about debt and more about quality.

It’s human nature to focus on easy tasks that keep business humming, but over time this short-term mind-set delivers diminishing results. Marketing can lead into the future with the right support and right focus.

Christine Moorman is a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where Lauren Kirby is a second-year MBA student.


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