Introducing the ‘marketing sandwich’. The perfect metaphor for the long versus short debate

Think of marketing as a sandwich, with the bread representing brand building and the filling performance marketing. Separately they do a job, but the true magic only happens when they come together.

Secret Marketer

When I was interviewing a head of brand to join my team recently, one of the reasons she gave for wanting the position was “to work with a career marketer”. Her last boss was apparently something of a ‘marketer-by-accident’. You know the type: bright, analytical, product centric, but sadly creatively inert, with little courage or conviction. Zero experience in building a brand. A good friend to finance though.

Then at an all-agency briefing for our next big campaign I sat in a room with account managers, content strategists, planners, creatives, PR types and media, and it was blindingly apparent, I was the most senior person there. Quite literally.

And when recording a podcast recently the interviewer introduced me as a ‘veteran marketer’. Veteran? I’m not sure it was a compliment.

When I started my career fax machines were cool and the colour copier was the most profitable cost centre in the agency. No one had email, the internet was a germ of an idea in Tim Berners-Lee’s mind, and creative presentations were done with marker scamps and an overhead projector.

Our marketing sandwich needs both a filling and slices of bread. Without either, you get a sort of salad, or something rather plain and dry.

Back then things were much simpler. The role of marketing clearer. Advertising done well was all-powerful through simple ideas. Great advertising and marketing campaigns became part of the lexicon of life. It was craft. It was culture. I would love to see even a small bit of this focus, impact and simplicity return today.

Recently, I’ve read a lot about the virtues of the long and the short. Having been around the block a few times… apparently, I have been reflecting on this modern wisdom.

‘It’s about long-term value’: How brands are tackling effectiveness measurement

The arguments are being made about brand building versus focusing on meeting short-term sales growth. Sometimes protagonists describe them as opposites. Methods inherently incompatible with each other. This is, of course, nonsense. You can, and indeed should, in my veteran experience, consider delivering both short-term sales growth and long-term brand strength in parallel.

Let’s think of marketing as a sandwich. Our marketing sandwich needs both a filling and slices of bread, or ciabatta if you are Gen Z. Without either, you get a sort of salad, or something rather plain and dry. I like my marketing sandwiches to be… well, sandwiches. Much like I like my marketing campaigns to be wholistic campaigns.

The recipe is pretty straightforward (though I am not entirely convinced this metaphor has the legs needed, but here goes). First, get your loaf of freshly baked segmentation and select the right thickness, to give you that slice of addressable audience. Then, put aside the tasteless margarine, and find a high quality creamy butter or some millennial mayonnaise. Think of this unctuous delight as your brand message, your human truth, that everyone can recognise, appreciate and connect with. Bringing these two lathered slabs together with a hint of salt, provides the dramatic overture, much like the high impact media you need to use to grab attention, entertain and build memories.

But your sandwich cannot be bread and butter alone – no matter how delicious. No, no. In our mighty marketing bap, we need a bit of filling. Something to give us instant relief and the sensation of delight. This is the filling of performance marketing. Little pickles, some chunks of cheese, maybe a bit of lettuce, a little dollop of piccalilli. Like the best performance activities: highly targeted to give maximum taste sensation, lots of flavours like an assortment of bite-sized media formats, importantly hints of aromatic spices – what our product teams might call features or attributes. A riot of flavours. A medley of efficient formats and hard working persuasive messages.

The bread and butter does the essential bit – a great source of slow burn energy. Like brand building, often taken for granted, overlooked and underinvested in. The filling, is our short-term trading activity, it lifts the bread and provides the taste kick. The sense of eating something fulfilling and useful, even though the hit is short lived and soon forgotten on its own.

Your sandwich cannot be bread and butter alone – no matter how delicious.

And there we have it, a new concept in the lexicon of brand bullshit metaphors. The brand marketing sandwich, sitting alongside temples, icebergs and onions.

With that I’m off to get my lunch. One of the joys of being back in the office is the freedom to go out and grab lunch at Pret. Perhaps today I’ll have a bite of the old reliable. You guessed it, the mature cheddar and Pret pickle sandwich. What else would you expect?

Our anonymous marketer has spent years working for big brands in large organisations. They have seen what you have seen, been left scratching their head at the decisions (or indecision) of others, had the same fights. They have also seen the possibility and opportunity of marketing. In this regular series, our marketer on the inside will unpick the failings, articulate the frustrations and speak up for marketers everywhere.