Experts
01 . 05 . 18

Peter Field: Short-termism is a dumb game

Words by: Print Power
You might look jolly clever focusing on the short-term, says the “Godfather of marketing effectiveness”, Peter Field – but really, you’ll be settling for mediocre results at miniscule investment
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At a glance:

  • Magazines, news media and direct mail continue to make a significant contribution to effectiveness.
  • Online has an edge when it comes to short-term effects. But over the longer term, things like fame, power and the authority of a brand are greatly enhanced by print.
  • A combination of equal parts print and digital is the smart play for marketers that want to be truly effective.

Print Power: What evidence is there that marketers should include print in the marketing mix?

Peter Field: There are a lot of good things going for print media. And we ignore them at our peril. The evidence, looking at the IPA database, suggests that print – and by that, I mean magazines, news media and direct mail – still makes a very significant contribution to effectiveness. The idea that they’re somehow redundant in the modern world is simply not borne out by the facts.

PP: In what areas is print most effective?

PF: We know that print has often, especially in the past, been used as a short-term medium – particularly by the retail sector. But if we’re brutally honest, online has the edge when it comes to short-term effects. Traditional media has been eclipsed by digital in this respect.

The area where print really excels, though – certainly over digital – is in the long-term. The pattern of effects for print are very much focused on brand building. And we find that things like fame, the power and authority of a brand, are greatly enhanced by print.

PP: If the evidence is there, why do some marketers remain unconvinced by print media?

PF: Marketers have been conditioned to believe that many established media are somehow yesterday’s news. There’s a lot of received wisdom and an extremely well-funded digital PR machine that fills our heads with messages that are not reflecting results.

But when you look at the research on the ground, we see that, certainly for the foreseeable future, a combination of print and digital – the two in balance – is the smart play.

PP: Is short-termism obscuring the benefits of print advertising?

PF: There’s no doubt about it. But short-termism isn’t entirely driven by the digital machine. Businesses are becoming more and more short-term focused. Blind to brand-built growth. Blind, because if all your measures of success are short-term metrics then inevitably there’s bias towards the kinds of media that deliver most powerfully in those timeframes.

It’s part of the reason why the digital world has promoted short-term metrics so enthusiastically. It plays to their strengths. It’s natural. And they’ve certainly fueled this obsession with short-termism.

Another very dangerous trend I see is that businesses are increasingly focused on ROI as their key metric for success.

Improving that ratio means either maximising profit or minimising investment – and it's easier to cut investment and settle for short-term response. It’s why we’ve seen traditional media face the chop. And sure, in the short-term you’ll look jolly clever. You can tick all your boxes, confirm to the CFO that you’re doing a wonderful job. But crucially, it means you’re settling for mediocre results at miniscule investment – and jeopardising long-term profitability.

PP: To what extent does print’s success hinge on marketers refocusing on the long-term?

PF: It doesn’t entirely, because print will continue to be used successfully in the way it has often been used in the past – which is as a response medium, particularly by retail.

But it does, to an appreciable degree, rest on the vital job of getting marketers to refocus on the long-term and not obsess over the short-term. Undoubtedly, it’s an important issue – but not just for print. This is vital to the entire future effectiveness of marketing.

There’s plenty of evidence out there that short-termism, when imbalanced, is a dumb game. Everyone now knows this. It’s clear that a longer term view delivers greater growth. Marketers just have to want to do it.

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