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Need help passing the marshmallow test?


By Nick Kendall

EVERY MONDAY MORNING we sit at our round table and “start the week.”

Our chats always begin with a review of the weekend’s main events - be they personal, political or cultural (often centring, it has to be admitted, on football woes and Netflix chit-chat.).

Inevitably this Monday’s roundtable began with reflections on the world’s own roundtable at COP26… or as The Economist labelled it “COPOUT26.”

We contemplated its failings and reflected on how we had got into such a “fine mess” in the first place.

We revisited a roll-call of the usual villains – oil companies, rich people, the Americans, the Saudis, the UN… SMERSH, SPECTRE etc.

So far, so normal Monday.

Then we got more serious. 

The failure, we concluded, was our OWN (mankind’s that is, not Electric Glue’s).

Our failure is a failure of foresight, a failure of empathy (for the future), a failure to imagine the world for our children and their children.

In short, a failure to think LONG in a short-term world.

broken image

There is no doubt we now all suffer from the tyranny of the short-term.

And not just in marketing!

The challenges we face in business lives are a function of powerful forces in our everyday lives, be they economic (the relentless imperative of quarterly earnings reports) or political (a consciousness of the next election is an ever-present driver of public discourse) or cultural – not least in the world of social media.

Our social platforms feed us with short-term dopamine hits. The clock is the next click. 

But, as this last point tends to bear out, the forces of short-termism are, let’s face it, essentially an inherited strand of our psychological make-up as human beings.

As anyone knows who has distracted themselves with “The Marshmallow Test” on YouTube, the human brain is trained by evolution to eat the marshmallow in the hand, rather than wait for the deferred reward of marshmallows later.

So far, so truism, I hear you say.

But the next part of our roundtable chat got us, inevitably, inexorably to the hard part… so, what do we do about it? 

In particular – how might Electric Glue help our clients think long-term in a short-term world?

After all the brands we help build are, by definition, “cathedral” projects.

Indeed, the very exercise of brand valuation is rooted in the security (or not) of long-term revenues.

Certainly I have never encountered a brand that was built in a burst, nor even an annual media plan!

And it is a truth not always acknowledged that achieving true effectiveness tends to be a slow process, incremental and cumulative over the long-term.

So, here are the seven ways the EG team have come up with to help us all “think long-term in a short-term world”. Or at least attempt to balance the tyranny of the short-term. 

Seven Ways to think Long Term in a short-term World 

1. We shall pin our clients’ BHAGs to a metaphorical wall so that our every meeting is acted out in the context of that vision.

2. We will glue ourselves into our clients’ 5 year plans and work out precisely how that translates into hard numbers – revenue, share, penetration, usage, loyalty.  

3. We will agree with clients our single long-view priority metric for the brand.

4. We will picture precisely and vividly our thinking not only your current audiences (i.e. the last year’s /month’s data) but what your future audiences will look like in 5 years.

 5. We will strive to develop a “media property” that is as powerful as any "creative property." We will strive to make that media property a central part of the brand’s world.

6. We will work with our media partners to picture the “art ofthe possible” i.e. what the partnership might deliver as part of the value exchange over the long-term/next five years, as well of course, in the here andnow.

7. In particular we will engage with the client’s plans across the 3 P bottom line (people, planet, profit) in order to understand wider rules for communication e.g. encouraging sustainable behaviour change, recruiting future like-minded talent, supporting our role in society.)

ADMITTEDLY, THEY ARE NOT quite as profound as the 10,000 year clock nor the “seven generation thinking” advocated by the Constitution of The Iroquois Nations. 

Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people andhave always in view not only the  present but also the coming questions, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the grand - the unborn of the future nation.” 

But at least instead of just “starting our week” at our Monday round table we have started alonger-term debate. 

(By the way we quickly had to rearrange our “start the week” arrangements… after all, the here and now doesn’t stop no matter how hard you try!). 

And after the meeting I was inspired to touch base with our longest partner – Iain Kennedy, CMO of Rightmove, who has interesting views on this sort of topic.

The Rightmove partnership has existed since Electric Glue’s start in 2015. It has borne ample fruit over the seven years. Share of portal time has risen from 74% to 90% (Rightmove annual results) and the share price has risen from £2.15 in January 2015 to over £7 today.  

Iain’s perspective on the challenge of how to think long in a short-term world is, as ever, simple. 

In the real world, without the long there is no self-sustaining consumer demand andultimately no margin. But without the short, there is no immediate consumption, nor success metrics. It is possible to deliver both, but you need to work with them and hold them in balance. Stop treating these things as an either/or. You need to treat these two impostors just the same. You need to treat them as one.”

Wise words from Iain.

We would love to hear yours…

This article was the lead item in our very first newsletter - Gluesletter 01. If you want to receive a copy or subscribe to future editions, why not drop us an email, here.

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