I must start out by warning all of you terrific readers that I am feeling quite contrary this week. Perhaps winter has just dragged on wayyyy too long here in Washington, DC, or perhaps it is the fact that I just moved house and have had it up to here, as my mother would say, with contractors, flooding basements, and all the other joys of homeownership.

But for whatever the reason, contrary I am. So this week I am deviating from my usual brand mantra that “brands are about long-term relationships.” Instead, I am saying that maybe brands are about the short-term, at least some of the time.

Now, while some of this can be chalked up to the contrary mood I am in, I have been thinking a lot recently about this idea, and specifically about whether there is a place for branding in a short-term format. And, honestly, I think there is.

I do realize that this flies in the face of much of the theory of branding. After all, brands are all about building equity--which takes time--and about creating a niche in the marketplace that is sustainable and virtually unassailable from the competition. Brands are about creating loyal, long-term relationships that are bankable winners for companies. Loyalty, commitment, value, trust: Those words are sacred to brand managers and the touchstone on which they plan all brand marketing efforts. And by and large they should continue to be.

However, maybe consumers do at times need brands that are more like dating, and less like marriage. After all, sometimes you have a specific need--one that exists just in a moment, one that is not long-lasting. We are a fast-moving global society, and sometimes we want--or need--something now.

We don't want the chore of setting up a relationship, but the thrill of trying something new. We want to be on the cutting edge and to embrace the unknown, rather than be comfortable with the known. Consumers want--and even seek out--variety. Here is one place where short-term brands can fill a niche.

What Exactly Is a Short-Term Brand Anyway?

It is a brand that has a short “shelf life,” and also leverages the infidelity customers have with brands in order to succeed. With the rise of the global marketplace, and the ability for consumers to be more familiar with a greater variety of brands than ever before, comes a need on the consumers' behalf to try more of these brands.

However, to take the idea a step further, what if the idea of short-term brands were to be combined with the strategy for long-term brand success?

I wondered as I started to theorize about the idea of a short-term brand if there was anything out there on this concept. I was really surprised to find only one work on this idea. Dan Herman has written a paper titled “Think Short” about what he sees as the reasons and the place for short-term brands in the marketplace. But, besides that paper, all I could find was a reference to a conference presentation from the brand consultancy Kindred/Keziah about what they called the “one-night-stand brand.” And that is it. So maybe I am not onto something, but then again, maybe I am….

Think about it: Today's market is more fragmented, more saturated, more fast-paced, and more capricious than ever. There are so many options available, and the overriding social forces that push us to be cool, be cutting edge, and be the first on the block to have the great new thing are strong.

People are inherently fearful of missing out; no one wants to be last. Therefore, while brands are still at their root about building equity and long-term, profitable, and loyal relationships, perhaps the spark needed to get to that point with the consumer is through an intoxicating whirlwind of wooing, the heady early days of a relationship when all is exciting and new.

Marketing in its current form has the consumer in the driver's seat. As marketers, we need to realize and embrace that consumers are trying to make us reactive: react to their wants, their needs, and their perceived and future wants and needs. In order to keep relevant to the consumers, brands must be proactive; we must at least share the driver's seat.

Brands must stay on top of trends, and integrate them in their long-term brand personality, and use them to update that personality as well. Brands are all about being germane. If the consumer sees no use for your brand, you can say “sayonara” to loyalty, and eventually profits.

You might be reading all this and wondering why you as a brand manager need to undertake this effort. As Dan Herman stated in his paper, “The main reason to plan Short-Term Brands is the fact that consumers have made many brands 'short-term' anyway. The data presented indicates that the chances that a new brand will succeed in the short-term are larger than its chances to succeed in the long-term. Consumers' willingness to try a new brand does not fall short of their willingness to try a familiar and extended brand. In fact, it might even surpass it.”

Short-term branding may well be the blueprint to keep your brand exciting, germane, and fresh, while creating a platform for future growth. Brand managers must couple their need for the long-term perspective on loyalty and growth with the need of the consumer to be stimulated, hip, and still find reliability in something new.

And herein lies the key, I think, to making short-term branding work. You can not let the process over take you; it must be managed. Short-term branding is not all flash and no substance. That is a recipe for failure.

But, all relationships need some spice now and then, so why not align short-term brand strategies with long-term ones to find a recipe for success?

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at Kristine@canterburygroup.net.