Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote about skating to where the puck is going has been endlessly quoted in business writing, so much so that it’s become something of a cliché of guides to future planning.

Its message, however, doesn’t appear to be as widespread. A recent CMO survey pointed to the fact that just 31.5% of US marketing leaders spend most of their time “preparing for the future,” with more than twice as many participants indicating they spend their time “managing the present.” 

Marketing Essentials

The survey, reported in the Harvard Business Review, highlights one of the realities of modern marketing — far more time is spent dealing with the present, rather than plotting out a cohesive strategy for the future.

Overcoming this approach is one of several keys for brands and businesses that aim to achieve marketing success in 2020. Below, we’ve explained why.

Thinking Long-Term Can Help to Reduce Risks

Search online for tales of once-dominant companies that were eventually forced out of business by their competitors, and you’ll discover lesson after lesson in why it’s so important to think long term as a marketer.

Earlier this year, Inc. reported that Blockbuster — the once-ubiquitous video rental company that ceased operations in 2013 — had the opportunity to purchase Netflix in September of 2000 for a paltry amount of just $50 million.

Describing the meeting, Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph was reportedly impressed by the pair of shoes worn by Blockbuster’s then-CEO John Antioco, noting that the CEO’s loafers “probably cost more than [his] car.”

Blockbuster eventually passed on the opportunity to acquire Netflix, confidently claiming that the dot-com hysteria, which was then at its peak, was “ completely overblown.” 

A lack of hindsight can explain part of this decision — after all, in 2000, it was difficult to see what Netflix would eventually become. Another aspect is the fact that, at the time, the strength of Blockbuster as a business was significant, at least when viewed in the short term.

While focusing on the next quarter or your current campaign can be a winning strategy, it isn’t always an effective way to insulate your business from risks. Thinking long term, as today’s top companies invariably did, is far more likely to shield a business from risks and threats. 

Being First to Tap Into New Trends Offers Myriad Benefits

New data from the marketing cloud platform Acoustic indicates that AI and machine learning will be among the top marketing trends of the next year. Unfortunately, a sizable number of otherwise savvy marketing teams aren’t yet prepared to make the most of these technologies.

The report, which was covered by Clickz, notes that there’s a significant skill gap between older generation corporate marketers and digital-native marketers, with many corporate marketers falling behind when it comes to comprehending and adopting emerging technologies.

AI and machine learning often dismissed as buzzwords, are among the technologies that are most poised to change the way we approach both digital and offline marketing in 2020, as well as beyond.

By having a forward-thinking approach to marketing strategy, it becomes easier to identify these technologies as they emerge and successfully implement them into your campaigns as doing so becomes feasible.

Brands That Think Long Term Tend to Survive and Prosper

Beyond the technical advantages of thinking long term as a marketer, there’s a simple truth that has become more and more obvious over the last few years. Brands that think long-term, at least in the context of their respective industries, tend to be best poised to prosper.

For example, Amazon has spent the better part of two decades spending the money it earns, all as part of a long-term growth strategy. While the stock is currently trading sideways, the brand’s long-term approach has allowed it to develop to an unprecedented size.

Likewise, other brands that planned for today the better part of a decade ago are enjoying real results for their foresight, particularly American technology brands such as Facebook, Google, and Apple.

While there’s no need to plan an entire decade into the future — and, in some cases, doing so may harm your business rather than help — planning a marketing strategy that puts you ahead of your competition soon, but not now, can be a smart way to win in the long term.

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