Sugar hit or long-term brand investment: the great marketing debate

Invest in content marketing or chase the alluring sugar hit – it’s an age-old debate that has dominated marketing discourse for years, if not decades.

We’re sure you’re familiar with the power of long-game content, the kind that is valuable, memorable, and emotive, but how does this approach stack up against short-term activations, which drive a surge in sales and an immediate ROI spike? 

And how should you assign your marketing budget to the 2023/24 financial year? Which approach will be more effective for your brand in today’s digital landscape? 

Can your long-term investment content marketing deliver the same outcome as a quick sugar-hit campaign? Let’s discuss. 

The allure of the sugar hit

As experienced marketers working with some of Australia’s biggest brands, we’ve seen first-hand the power of long-term brand building through strategic digital marketing.

Brand building through content does as its name suggests: it builds your overall brand image and incites an emotional response, one that nurtures your audience and converts them into customers. 

 This likely won’t happen straight away. Generally, a consumer requires many touch points with your brand before they take this next step. Recent research says this could sit anywhere between 20-500 encounters with your brand. It’s an investment, but one that is enduring. 

We also understand the importance of the sugar hit – the instant return from a targeted short-term paid media campaign is not to be underestimated. These promotions are more focused and through the campaign design, creative copy, and targeting, are designed to yield immediate results. 

But to build a memorable brand that can ride through the lows (and let’s be real – for many brands, that’s right now), it is essential to think of the long game and find the sweet spot between the two. 

All too often, we see brands pumping out back-to-back short-term campaigns, sales content that hooks the consumer in and gets them to take action.

And when executed well, these campaigns deliver quick results and a tidy ROI. But what foundations are there for your brand if you strip back these ads and get back to basics? What is the long-term impact of your marketing strategy?

And what is the impact if you are, let’s say, running a recurring 50% off sale? Is this repetition doing more harm than good and devaluing your brand? 

Customer retention in focus

As we know, customer acquisition is 4-5 times more expensive than customer retention. Both have their place. 

But it’s your content, be it organic social, emails, video or long-written form, that will keep your audience invested for the right reasons. 

How will staying front of mind change how they feel about your brand? What’s going to prompt them to buy from you again and again? 

And are they buying into your vision? So much so that when economic times get tough (ahem, a global pandemic rolls in) or there is a lull in the market (hello, right now), the brand you’ve built has an engaged following that will help you make it through to the other side.

Or if you need to turn the tap off on paid advertising, is there enough substance and juicy brand-rich content to generate consistent sales? 

Can a content-first approach still generate short-term wins?

The traditional school of thought has been short-term campaigns drive immediate sales, and it’s more challenging to attribute a brand-building approach to content with instant success. 

However, recent studies looking into the 2023 market challenge this premise and explore the power of brand-building ads for short-term sales. 

In a recent MarketingWeek op-ed, the author points to the marketing classic The Long and Short of It by Peter Field and Les Binet and uses this text to anchor their views and findings on today’s landscape.

Any marketer worth their salt will be familiar with this 2012 text, which is well-known for its standpoint on the 60/40 activity split: the recommendation for brands to spend 60% of their communications budget on long-term brand building and the latter 40% on the short (sugar hits).

According to MarketingWeek, ad tracking undertaken over the last four years by research firm System1 found short-term campaigns don’t build the brand because they are “too good at product-based activation”. This we already know. 

“Indeed, the better they are at shorter activation, the less likely they are to be good at brand building,” MarketingWeek states.

But it said the same cannot be said for long-term brand-building ads. 

“There are many cases where an ad that builds the brand for the long term also drives short-term sales,” they state.

“The short of it, for the most part, does little for long-term brand building in most cases. But the length of it delivers on both fronts. And the implication for marketers is doubly significant.” 

This op-ed is an interesting read, resounding our views and findings we’ve noticed from our 8+ years of running content marketing and paid media campaigns for our clients at Made Great. 

This doesn’t mean brands should pour all their funds solely into brand-building. ‘Sugar-hit campaigns are relevant and a key part of many brand’s marketing strategy. It’s essential, though, not to get lured into all the instant gratification without building a solid brand as the backbone.  

As MarketingWeek states, “For those reasons, the short of it will always have a place in every marketer’s armoury. But the danger of overinvesting or only investing in short-term tactical activation now becomes all the more apparent, given the general inability of this kind of advertising investment to build a brand for future sales.” 

Your marketing spend, Made Great

We’re passionate brand-focused marketers who intend to evolve your business or organisation right alongside you.

Our ethos is building brand affinity through value and best-practice methodology for longevity and trust.

As an agency, we stand for what is true and are passionate about how we work. We’re not just about the quick sugar hit. Our team of digital marketing strategists will find a unique sweet spot and balance for your organisation between the long and short of it to give you lasting, successful results and a solid sustainable brand.

If you’d like more details, send us an email at: [email protected]

Your brand,
Made Great!

We’re your strategic partner for marketing Greatness.

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