WARC Prize for Asian Strategy judge Siddhant Lahiri invites us to remember the benefits of long-term thinking in an increasingly impatient world.
Almost by definition, strategy is long-term. As traditional strategists will say, strategy is defined as a long-term roadmap to achieve certain objectives (often with several in-built short-term tactics). Thus, strategy was always viewed as something lasting and durable, and anything quick and immediate was seen as a ‘tactical’ piece.
However, things change. These are times of little patience and ‘always-on’ turnarounds. Today, ‘moment marketing’ and capturing the Zeitgeist digitally are key imperatives. Short-termism is increasingly becoming an acceptable, perhaps even dominant, version of brand strategy. So bye-bye to anything that takes months to build – forget years!
So it becomes more important to understand the value of a platform or a brand strategy built over time. It’s delightful to watch a brand grow and reap benefits which short-term thinking wouldn’t bring. When brands like Dove spend more than 15 years exploring Real Beauty, or Nike spends three decades providing inspiration and innovation under the Just Do It imperative, and both go from strength to strength, it’s a testament to how well classical brand positioning and strategy still works.
The power of long-term thinking: three winners
This year, we saw three cases from different parts of Asia that showcase the power of long-term thinking:
- Times of India (TOI), one of India's largest newspapers, has a long-standing reputation for taking a stand on social issues. As it connects with millions of Indians, it’s a bold move – there is much to lose if it offends people. At the same time, as a leading newspaper, it is also its duty to help shape the national discourse. The newspaper’s use of its classifieds page to help the LGBTQ+ community come out to their loved ones was timely and brave. It also connected back to TOI’s core product.
- SK-II is a US$1bn luxury skincare brand in China. It has spent the last five years building its Change Destiny platform and has started important conversations around societal pressure on women to marry. In 2019, Meet Me Halfway saw Chinese women appeal directly to their parents.
- Harpic’s long-standing mission is to keep India clean. This year, it chose to drive a sense of pride in toilets, so that the desire to keep it clean would follow. This was especially brave – and necessary – in rural India, where even the mention of the word ‘toilet’ is avoided.
The long-term thinking behind these campaigns helps the brands achieve something that short-termism doesn’t. While there are merits in working towards short-term goals as well, there are three key benefits to developing a brand strategy and position over time.
- Imagery (reputation and leadership). There’s a reason why Dove and Nike are at the top of their fields. They are considered leaders, and their communications is lauded across the marketing world. It’s a similar case with the brands discussed above: each one has spent the time to reach leadership status in their respective category. And more than sales and market shares, their true leadership status lies in their thought leadership. So much so that, even if some other brand surpasses them in sales, they typically lead the category conversation and recall.
- Differentiation (in a world of product homogeneity). We live in an era of product homogeneity. A newspaper is a newspaper is a newspaper. A toilet cleaner is a toilet cleaner is a toilet cleaner. There is limited differentiation at a product level. Even in the beauty category, each brand has an ingredient story and a USP. Therefore, in a sea of sameness, what truly helps a brand stand head and shoulders above the rest is the associations it has built. And associations are not built overnight.
- Business results. Each brand has seen their business results go up from the day they started building these platforms. So clearly, even sales and market shares tend to salute long-term strategic investment.
Get the balance right
After a point, the numbers speak for themselves: long-term strategies and positioning go a long way in building equity and differentiation, as well as driving the bottom line. Short-term tactics definitely have their place too, and as wiser minds than mine have mentioned, a 60:40 balance between short- and long-term thinking can take a brand far.
Yet in an increasingly impatient world, it’s always a good idea to remember the benefits of going long.
An abridged version of this article appears in WARC’s 2020 Asian Strategy Report.