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First and Goal: 7 Marketing Lessons from College Football

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by: Todd McCormick (@TMcCormick2011)
21 October 2013

Anyone who knows me somewhat well will tell you that I spend my fall Saturdays watching Alabama’s Crimson Tide roll over its competition. This year, I’ve noticed many commonalities between football and digital marketing.

They both:

1) Start with a great game plan.

In football, teams require a solid plan that outlines their offensive plays and covers every possible move by their opponents. The same holds true in marketing. Take the time to build carefully thought out marketing campaigns and study your competitors’ preferred strategies, and you’ll stay one step ahead of them in providing customers exactly what they need and want. In business, as in football, it’s all about gaining important yardage. Like making a big run or throwing a touchdown pass, marketing automation can give you the leading edge.

2) Count on a seasoned coach.

Alabama’s legendary leader, Nick Saban, has won four national championships, three of them with Crimson Tide. He’s so focused on winning that just last month GQ called his drive “pathological.” Even when he’s on top, Saban is thinking about the next game and how he can recruit his next big player. His relentless dedication to winning has made him one of college football’s most successful and highest-paid coaches.

Like great football coaches, marketing leaders must have drive, vision and experience — and refuse to give up. At the same time they plan strategically and study industry trends, marketing executives must be nimble enough to create programs and teams that respond in real time to individual customer behaviors.

3) Rely on the gospel of data.

In football, player stats help a coach predict behaviors and outcomes. In marketing, knowing as much as possible about your audience enables you to predict what content will resonate most strongly with your contacts. It’s no longer enough to know each customer’s email address and first name; you also need to track that individual’s behavior across the Web — including social media platforms — to understand where and when a person clicks, posts and buys. That’s why a winning marketing plan executes best on an automated platform — one that’s driven by customer data and automatically triggers campaigns across platforms. Deep data allows you to interact with each “player” individually, on his or her terms.

4) Train and test for every variable.

A coach like Saban doesn’t snooze on the sidelines; he’s ruthlessly attentive, analyzes every play, and then makes responsive adjustments to his strategy. Great marketers must do the same: analyze and test their campaigns, constantly assess what’s working and what isn’t, and make necessary tweaks. To hone the most personal, targeted experience for each customer and prospect, the best marketers continuously A/B test, monitor key metrics like click-to-open rate, and track marketing’s impact on revenue. The precise results that marketing tools yield are one of the reasons CMOs are slated to spend more on technology than CIOs within a few years.

5) Sync the moving parts.

When a quarterback takes the ball and steps back from the line of scrimmage, he studies the entire field and the movements of his teammates in seconds. The Crimson Tide’s quarterback, AJ McCarron, is one of my favorite athletes. He’s a team player who coordinates well with his wide receivers, his efficiency ratings are at top of the NCAA, and he rarely makes mistakes.

Similarly, for an automated marketing plan to work, a lot of variables must be processed in a short period of time. What will happen if a customer clicks on a certain link in an email? How will a landing page display based on the entry method? How often will a message be pushed to a prospect, depending on that prospect’s perceived level of enthusiasm and engagement? Having a plan that’s versatile and reactive is like having a quarterback who’s a contender for the Heisman.

6) Be open to new moves.

A willingness to be innovative, and not simply rely on what has traditionally worked, separates good football teams and legendary ones. In marketing, the same drive to innovate is vital. At Silverpop, our audience is extremely tech-friendly, so we live on the forefront of new technology, which is why we introduce tools like our new Universal Behaviors and Revenue Analytics capabilities. Our clients are industry leaders in no small part because of these tools.

7) Do it all for the fans.

Being national champions isn’t the only goal of a football team; being beloved by your fans ranks nearly as high. For marketers, the game is always about happy fans — and engaging and entertaining them just like a great ‘Bama game engages me. Roll Tide!

For more of my thoughts on how sports and marketing collide, read 5 Ways to Moneyball Your Marketing, According to Billy Beane.”

Related Resources:

1) White Paper: “Creating Real-Time Individualized Campaigns Around Every Imaginable Buyer Behavior

2) Blog: “It’s in the (Shopping) Bag! 3 Ways to Send Holiday Sales Over the Top in Q4

3) Blog: “Tim Duncan, Sports Illustrated and the Perils of Broad Segmentation


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