What will it take to think long term?

It’s pretty easy to get down on marketing as a discipline. You don’t have to read many blogs these days to hear a litany of frustrations about marketing’s short-sightedness – from its reluctance to recognize consumers as people to its unfortunate habit of quickly relaxing back into decisions driven by immediate ROI rather than long-term significance.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who occasionally feels a pang of guilt for playing a role in what has become a highly intrusive and overwhelming enterprise. Half of my mail is complete junk advertising that never gets looked at once. I can’t enjoy any semi-organized event without seeing sponsors’ logos plastered everywhere. Then there’s the fact that it takes me 5 minutes to find the plain old peanut butter that I like on the shelf because there’s about 100 choices and the labels seem to change every week. And then the reality that even after looking for 5 minutes I get home and half the time I still have the wrong kind.

My personal belief is that marketing bears a heavy responsibility for contributing to our culture of (over)consumption. It’s also really hard to justify helping people sell something that is bad for you or just wasteful, whether that’s cigarettes, sugar-laden drinks or even just a crappy plastic toy that’s going to break and get thrown away. And there’s no doubt in my mind that marketing works subliminally meaning that you’re going to be influenced whether you want to or not.

So maybe it’s just the Catholic in me, but I do feel guilty every now and then. Few of us would argue that marketing needs a paradigm shift – a big one. If you’re reading this blog you’re probably a kindred spirit who isn’t very passionate about doing traditional marketing. It lacks meaning. And its only purpose is to sell, sell, sell. So why does it seem like we spend so much time beating our heads against the wall to get people to see a bigger long-term vision?

I once asked a colleague of mine who used to direct marketing for Coca-Cola why they came out with a new flavor every few months. His answer was pretty direct – it was the easiest way to get a bump in sales to hit their quarterly numbers. I wouldn’t try to imply that this is a conscious strategy for Coke, but it did make me think about what would it take for marketing to think long-term. It made me realize that what we really need to change is the whole way that businesses operate. As long as companies are driven by short-term stock price, the dynamic isn’t going to change and marketing is (understandably) going to follow suit.

So what is the paradigm shift for the corporate sector? Is it about being driven by a higher purpose rather than just profit? Is it even possible for capitalism to co-exist with the idea of foregoing short-term profit for long-term relationships? I’d like to think that there is a model where the objective isn’t to get as rich as possible, but just make enough money to be a healthy enterprise, giving back everything else to the community – including giving me back my time by making a conscious choice NOT to market something to me just because you can potentially make a little bit more money off of it.

Love to hear your thoughts…

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