Close

Effies international judge Chris Baker on the harmfulness of short-term thinking

Founder at Bacon Strategy and Research London and this year’s international judge for the Effie Awards Chris Baker is enjoying his first visit to New Zealand.

Baker acknowledges it’s a country far away from the rest of the world, but says it’s not something marketers should get despondent about. He sees great ideas, great thinking and great insight in local work and the issues plaguing the industry are no different to those around the world.

As a judge of the Effies, an awards show recognising campaigns that have created genuine lasting changes for their businesses, the issue he’s here to combat in both his judging, workshop and keynote is short-termism.

Baker says that short-term campaign isn't always a bad thing, but it only works when it runs within a broader long-term strategy. And it's this latter part that the industry has lost sight of.  

“Long-term isn’t just running the same ads or doing the same thing continuously, it is driven by a broader brand purpose and sometimes a broader communications idea or platform,” he says.

“You can be doing new stuff but very much always on the same journey.”

And it’s not just a lesson for New Zealanders, with Baker seeing this problem in all markets around the world.

This year, the Effie Awards organisers have attempted to ameliorate the focus on short-term thinking through the backwards extension of the eligible entry dates, allowing for long-term success stories from the last two years to be included in the event. 

The category descriptions, entry forms and judging forms have also been revised to put the focus on longer-term thinking.

With those changes, Baker says the awards have started on a journey to put a greater emphasis on long-term but he still has some suggestions for improvement. The first is a category for returning papers that write the next chapter of campaigns entered the previous year.

While there’s nothing stopping brands entering every year with the same category, he says a category that focuses would encourage more longer-term cases to be brought to light and learning from those to flow through the industry.

On a similar note, Baker’s other suggestion sees him reflect on the IPA Effectiveness Awards in the UK. He calls them the gold-standard in terms of rigour because they are held every two years and therefore all work entered has had time to prove its lasting impact. There are also fewer entrants, with the 2016 event only seeing 72 papers entered, so the bar he says is higher.

Compare this to the local Effies where we had 200 entries and 100 finalists across 17 categories, and it's clear that the local definition of effectiveness probably still relies quite heavily on a short-term interpretation.

Baker says the annual cycle isn’t aligned with long-term thinking as it tilts towards recent campaigns, which makes it difficult to measure true effectiveness.   

“A brand and its purpose is the ultimate organising tool”

To help marketers get a long-term perspective on the campaigns, Baker suggests considering the brand and its purpose before thinking about the campaign. He says if there’s a strong sense of purpose that sits across everything the business does, then all the work that’s created can feed into that.

It’s the ultimate organising tool for communications he says, compared to thinking solely about a campaign that has a finite life and runs across limited touch points.

For example, campaigns often don’t include a customer service aspect, despite that service being a big part of a customer’s experience.

And when determining that purpose, he reminds marketers that it doesn’t have to be a social one. In fact, social purpose can be dangerous territory for a brand to play in.

“Who was the Fearless Girl campaign for?” he asks and it’s a question I, and a lot of others he points out, cannot answer.

State Street Global Advisors is the answer, and it was created to promote State Street’s Gender Diversity Index, but people really only know for all of its awards, including multiple Grand Prix at Cannes (somewhat ironically State Street Global Advisors was recently fined US$5 million for allegedly underpaying women and minorities).

It’s one of many femvertising campaigns that Baker says have seen great involvement with people but have a very tenuous, connection with the brand and what it offers.

Giving an example of a brand that has a clear purpose, but one that’s not social, Baker talks about Amazon. Given the company prides itself on selling everything, its promise to be the "Earth’s biggest selection and being the Earth’s most customer-centric company”, aligns with its service and its a correlation customers can easily recognise.

To move away from irrelevant purposes that don’t create a connection between creative and the business, Baker suggests marketers need to step out of the marketing communications bubble and engage with the broader strategy and growth ambition of the business.

"Are we running campaigns and activations or are we running businesses?"

Unfortunately for marketers, engaging with the business in a capacity beyond advertising can be challenging as businesses are siloed with walls built around different aspects.

Marketing is one silo, says Baker, and data and information don't penetrate the walls.

To explain, Baker references research by Harvard Business Review that shows in some instances, less than10 percent of boardroom time is spent discussing marketing. In a survey of 30 large US companies, more than one third reported their boards spend less than 10 percent of their time discussing marketing to customer-related issues.

Because of this, while the businesses think long-term about infrastructure and investment, marketers are left with little influence over the business and as a result, their work can have little impact on the business.

Baker also suggests the way in which businesses report progress inhibits long-term thinking as it forces marketers to justify what they’re doing multiple times a year in some cases.

“If you have to justify what you have to do every day, it would change how you behave and you wouldn’t take on anything with a long-term gestation because it would deflate your short-term output,” he points out, summing up in a nutshell why marketers steer clear of anything long-term.

“Things don’t always come out as planned, but a lot of the time people don’t have plans

In the digital world, the temptation to steer clear of work that requires long-term investment is even greater as an instant response to a campaign is easier than ever.

Reach and likes on social media can come at little cost to a business but Baker says it’s only worthwhile if that reach and those likes translate into a behavioural change in consumers and that behavioural change translates into revenue.

“The real question you should always be asking is how does this turn into money?” he says, and the answer is always more robust than having a general sense it will do well because a lot of people have seen the campaign.

Instead, it’s about knowing who the audience is, what you want them to do, and then what the value is to that—is it a social benefit or revenue and profit?

“The absence of that and the answering of the question ‘how does this turn into money?’ both before the event and demonstrating it after can mean people treat marketing as a discretionary expenditure of the business that’s done when there is money.”

Of course, he says you can’t always predict what’s going to happen, but there are benchmarks and data that can produce a strong hypothesis.

It’s here Baker raises the point of ROI and how marketers need to change the way they look at it. Many tend to think in terms of spending as less as possible, but instead, they should be thinking about how to get as much as possible.

“It’s an unfortunate accident that’s happened,” he says. “In trying to make marketing and advertising more commercial and accountable, you focus on ROI and payback but it can lead to an obsession with ROI, which leads to companies spending less.”

Spending more might not have as high of an ROI, but the return is sustained and ongoing and therefore in the long-term, the profit is bigger.

Putting it simply, he says short-term campaigns with high ROIs attract deal hunters who are encouraged to stock up. The sale of items is simply brought forward and it risks building a weak sales period following the campaign.

“It’s like crack cocaine really,” Baker saying that while instant gratification of quick-fire sales might feel good, it often does nothing for the brand in the long term. 

This story first appeared at StopPress.