The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 6: Long-Term Thinking in Marketing

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

This week’s breakthrough idea is from Daniel Hillis, co-founder of The Long Now Foundation.

“When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future.

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. So much, in fact, that thinking long-term has become a breakthrough idea.

Long-Term Thinking in Marketing

Marketing is not immune to this. Conventional wisdom is to continuously try new ideas and discard them when they are not successful.

You can blame it on marketing technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, or Neil Patel. Whatever the reason, many entrepreneurs don’t commit to their goals long enough. Many more get consumed by vanity metrics.

Long-term thinking requires envisioning your business’s future and building your marketing around that vision. Chasing vanity metrics is easy because vanity metrics are visible. But how do they connect with your long-term goals?

The Goal Path Framework

Finding long-term marketing success relies on shifting your focus away from vanity metrics, and towards your long-term vision. As a rule of thumb, I recommend using the Goal Path Framework by Julian Shapiro.

With The Goal Path framework, you start by drawing a line on a piece of paper:

Time and Resources ——————————> Ultimate Goal

Along that line, you place the steps required to reach your ultimate goal. As an example, if your ultimate goal is to launch a Substack, your goal path will probably look like this:

  1. People visit your page

  2. People subscribe to your Substack

  3. People open your email

  4. People read your email

  5. People click links in your email and take action

Vanity metrics—the metrics we’re at risk of narrowly focusing on—are always found at the beginning of a path. That’s because the earliest steps, such as website visits and email subscribes, are the furthest from the ultimate goal. When we over-optimize either of these early steps, we see extremely diminishing returns if few people are then subscribing, reading, and clicking.

The above validates my own experience. Intense marketing experimentation may be beneficial in specific niches, say e-commerce and FMCGs. But for online entrepreneurs in niche markets (many of which are naturally capped by organic search demand), this fast-moving approach rarely builds towards long-term momentum.

Creating Value With Long-Term Thinking

If your business is a vehicle for creating value, you may think of your website as a resource. Creating value from scratch (writing content, recording a podcast, improving your website, and coming up with a good marketing strategy) requires a long-term commitment.

This reflects in how Google marketing works. Building your organic visibility is something that takes place over time. And more often than not, it depends on your market niche as much as your efforts.

For example, it took close to 8 months for my travel SEO article to rank in the top 3 for “SEO for tourism”. Yet 90% of people quit blogging within a few months from starting. When you build things, committing long-term is essential.

Moreover, long-term doesn’t necessarily mean slow. For example, it took around two months for my Kajabi SEO article to make it to the featured snippet (Google answer box), practically at position zero.

Final Thoughts

While high Google rankings are welcome, they are also a vanity metric. What’s important is how online visibility can be part of a coherent vision for the future.

In my case, the goal of the content I create is to provide value to my audience of online entrepreneurs. For this to work, people need to be able to find it. But that’s only one of the steps required to reach my end goal.

Stay inspired,