A brand grows great when marketers plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit inBrand building is suffering from short-termism. How do we prove its worth it in the long term?
By Nick Palmer, Chief Strategy Officer - House of Brand

I was at the Mumbrella MSIX conference a couple of weeks ago, and there was lots of the same old talk about the power of long term emotional brand building. And I say ‘same old talk’ not to dismiss it, but more to highlight that it was the same and that it was old – it was exactly the same as what I heard at MSIX the year before, and no doubt the years before that too.

While the Field + Binet Long and the Short of It revolution has been rolling on for a good few years now, it feels like this revolution has largely been taking place at conferences, on LinkedIn and in pitches. There seems to be little evidence, with a few notable exceptions, of any meaningful change on the ground.

Are we surprised by this? We shouldn’t be. With the average CMO tenure purported to be just 2 years, and with the ease of measurement of short term impacts, it’s no wonder that the odds are stacked against getting marketers to build their brands in the long term.

I was listening to the excellent Son of a Pitch podcast the other day, and in particular the episode where they talk to Leif Stromnes. Putting aside the great conversation about a strategy to legalise marijuana, there were two particular soundbites – one from Leif and one from the hosts Max Learmont and Vince Usher.

The first (Leif’s) was that ‘Emotion is the gift that keeps on giving’, a nice line that very much encapsulates the main themes of the long and short of it. But the second, from the hosts, was the one I really latched on to – an old Greek proverb, gender biases and all, that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This gets to the heart of why, despite all the buy-in to the benefits of long term brand building, we’re still not seeing much change. It requires marketers to make the ultimate sacrifice and forego short term gains that they can own, for long term gains that will only be realised long after they’ve moved on to their next role.

How do we fix this? We (probably) can’t extend CMO tenure, but what we can do is neutralise the measurement advantage of short term impacts. That’s where brand tracking comes into play. Not the boring old flatline doorstop stuff, but the modern, sensitive, culturally connected tracking that captures these slow building emotional brand builds. This, together with the evidence that long term brand building works, is the gold that CMOs can take up the line to show that what they’re doing is working. So maybe we can extend those CMO tenures. And they can enjoy that shade after all.