SME marketing: balancing the short and long-term views

Rebecca Manville, the managing director of digital marketing agency Dotted explains how to balance long and short-term goals in your business.

At one point or another, almost all SMEs will face the same conundrum: how to offset long-term goals against short-term targets. This is a crucial balance for businesses to get right, especially for newer companies and start-ups.

In recent months, more and more marketing professionals have identified an increased emphasis on short-term targets and measurement, particularly in relation to campaign planning and strategy development.

For many, this has led to what feels like an all-consuming focus on data and insight at the expense of creativity, and an over-reliance on the latest analytical technology while they dealing with seemingly ever-changing goals.

After surveying 250 in-house marketers earlier this year, we discovered that more than a fifth of those in SMEs feel a focus on short-term KPIs prevents them from spending enough time on the creative aspect of a project. Furthermore, nearly six in 10 said senior management won’t support pure brand-building, but instead, focus almost exclusively on measurable activity.

These findings highlight how crucial – and how difficult – it can be for businesses to balance the short and the long-term view, in a climate that is so often driven, and measured, by data and analytics.

Short-term goals = long-term success?

This apparent ‘creative deficit’ within marketing has meant that many teams and agencies feel they are not given the freedom to generate new ideas.

Our research also revealed further tension, as some departments find themselves struggling to keep up with the increased demands for data-driven strategies. Although the majority (86 per cent) of creative teams said they had access to customer data, a fifth (20 per cent) of marketing leads are still not confident in their teams’ ability to interpret and use it.

John Townshend, creative partner at advertising agency Now, argues that unfortunately, for many high-level executives, creativity in marketing is tantamount to ‘mucking around’, regarded as a practice which doesn’t directly generate leads, or contribute significantly to the meeting of short-term targets.

However, there is still very much a case for imagination within this industry, in helping to achieve that all important point of balance between short and longer-term plans.

Not only do more creative approaches allow marketers to see beyond data, but they also work at pushing the boundaries which so often dictate how each organisation’s priorities are ranked.

Analytics vs. imagination: a balancing act

Of course, no business could achieve success – in the long or the short-term – without keeping a close eye on KPIs and overall revenue, but, in the context of strategic development, it is crucial to ensure that a balance is achieved between creative and analytical ways of working.

Data provides actionable insight, which helps minimise any risks involved in decision-making, but this alone isn’t enough. In this ever-changing industry, the best way to achieve success is to develop strategies that allow these two apparent opposites to come together in harmony. Instead of being in competition, data and creativity should be seen – and used – in conjunction with one another, to inform, support, and compliment campaign planning.

Dedicating time and resource to creative projects might seem like a bigger investment in the short-term, but this doesn’t mean it won’t drive results. When used alongside data and insight, creativity becomes more strategic, more streamlined, and ultimately, more impactful.

How can businesses make sure they get it right?

A good example of this is branding. Undeniably vital for any organisation, this is a process that can be both time-consuming and heavily creative, involving discussion, experimentation, testing and development.

However, without a well-developed brand strategy, a business is highly unlikely to last. Successful branding is what gets a company noticed, remembered, trusted, and eventually, established within the market, but it could never be achieved by relying on data, or indeed, on creativity alone. Individually, each field encompasses a valuable skillset, but together, this is made invaluable.

From a practical point of view, it is crucial to remember that no part of any business can reach its full potential within a vacuum; each individual aspect, department or field is dependent – to some degree at least – upon another. As such, the best, and most lucrative marketing strategies are those that utilise a broader variety of skills – such as data and creativity – each one building on and enhancing the others.

Five key tips for balancing long and short-term goals

  • Communication

When faced with the pressing challenge of balancing long and short-term targets, it can be easy to neglect the fundamentals. Whatever your particular field, or position within a company, communication is essential. Regular communication not only improves understanding, but also facilitates discussion and the development of new ideas.

  • Experimentation

There’s no denying how important it is to meet deadlines and targets, but in today’s ever-advancing world, marketers shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. When done strategically – and supported by data and insight – this can often yield far more results than playing it safe.

  • Bridging the gap

Those tasked with plotting roadmaps and developing long-term strategies will know that the gap between onset and completion can feel insurmountable. At times, it may seem as though there’s no possible way to meet short-term targets without compromising or cutting corners, but thankfully, this isn’t the case. Balancing individual deadlines and skill sets, with a more fully-developed, longer-term outlook, will help teams to prioritise without leaving important anything behind.

  • Collaboration

This may seem obvious, but no marketing department will achieve long (or even short) term success if its members can’t work in genuine partnership. When done right, collaboration allows different skillsets within a team to build upon, and enhance one another, in a way that is vital for driving results.

  • Trust

Whatever the industry, this can often be the differentiator between success and failure for a business. Trusting in your employees’ – and your own ideas – is absolutely essential. Giving your team the ability to make decisions which impact both the short and long term is important, as it significantly increases the level of engagement of every staff member. A work culture with this level of trust is much more likely to succeed than one which puts results before people.

Find out more: Dotted

Further reading on marketing

Choosing people over process: Is it time to ditch KPIs?

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.

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