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Why Every Company Should Play Both the Long and the Short Game

CreativityNicolas ColeComment

Every company faces the same two problems: How can we survive today, and how can we still be around five years from now?

If you are the CEO--whether the company is worth half a billion dollars, or is a small business--you are constantly faced with the challenge of balancing the answers to these two questions. You need to address what is immediate, what will allow your business to continue generating cash, and at the same time you want to make sure your efforts are not shortsighted.  Otherwise, you may flourish right now, but at the same time be setting yourself up for long-term failure.

In short: You need "double barrel vision."

This is a principle I have learned first hand from some of the best in business. Mark Beeching, Aaron Webber, and Ron Gibori, have actually founded an entire agency around this idea. What is it called? BGO: Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.

Mark Beeching is the former Global Chief Creative Officer of Digitas. Aaron Webber is the former CEO of Unicity International. And Ron Gibori is an emmy-nominated serial entrepreneur and Head of Creative of Idea Booth.  

Having "double barrel vision" is simple: Do what you need to do right now to drive your primary asset, cash, but also be aware of the bigger idea you're ultimately driving toward. The "decision sweet spot" is when your short term tactics all ladder up to the big idea, or as Mark says, "the long idea."

If every move you make is focused on the short term, you are suffering from brand schizophrenia. You don't know what your mission is, you don't know what you're driving toward, and you will end up working really hard just to spin your wheels. At the same time, if every move you make is focused on the long term, the big dreamy idea and gold at the end of the rainbow, then you might not survive the realities of tomorrow.

You need "double barrel vision."

Now, that's all great in theory. How do you actually do it?

1. What Is Your Reason To Believe?

At Idea Booth, every brand transformation starts with this question: If your brand disappeared from the world tomorrow, what would the world be missing? It's such an important question to ask. And as soon as you ask it, you'll know whether you really have a mission worth fighting for, or if your Reason to Believe is something along the lines of, "We are the best tech company in the world." Ok, that's not quite good enough. Why are you the best tech company in the world? What value do you provide that is different from everyone else?

This exercise isn't something that gets done in five or ten minutes, so be patient. But once you have your Reason to Believe, you have your "long idea." This is the big vision you are aiming to create a year, three years, ten years down the line--and it's important to always keep that in focus.

2. What Generates Cash For Your Company?

This is where Aaron Webber's expertise meets the creative vision Mark Beeching and Ron Gibori bring to the table. Aaron writes actively on Quora about the importance of generating cash. At the end of the day, cash for your business is the only thing that matters. If you don't have cash, you don't have employees. You don't have an office. You can't keep the lights on, you can't continue reinvesting into your company. You need to wake up every day and face the harsh reality that without cash your business will die. In Aaron's words, "You can't fudge cash."

Generating cash is the second "barrel." It's the short term, the immediate--and it's also what every single business owner spends far more time worrying about. But hyper-focusing on this "barrel" and ignoring the "long idea" is where, down the line, you begin to run into problems. You aren't aiming towards anything. You are just trying to keep your business afloat.

3. How To Maintain "Double Barrel Vision"

The key to having both--like a camera, focusing on the "long idea" in the background and the "short term tactics" right in front of you--is to be very clear about how the two can work together.

If your short term tactics are focused on cash, but have no related value to the long idea, then they are weak tactics. Yes, they might work well in the moment, but they are not sustainable. And if they do become sustainable, then the fundamental Reason to Believe for your business has changed. Your tactics are now laddering up to a different idea. That can be ok, pivoting happens, but it's important to be aware when it happens so that it is an intentional pivot and not an unintentional one.

This is where a lot of big ad agencies and media companies go wrong. They sell brands on "one-off" campaigns intended to drive immediate revenue, or immediate attention, or immediate press, with no real regard for the "long idea." Where does the brand want to be in five years? And is this one campaign featuring a celebrity really going to get you there? 

How you select your short term tactics should be based on the following:

  • Does this tactic ladder up to my Reason to Believe?
  • Does this tactic fit within the brand mission, voice, and persona?
  • Does this tactic generate immediate results? (In the form of press, cash, etc.)

If your tactics fulfill one of the above, it is a weak tactic. If your tactics fulfill two of the above, it's worth considering. And if your tactics fulfill all three, then it can be extremely valuable to your company.

Don't get caught in the trap of looking through a single scope for your business.

You need "double barrel vision."