5 Lessons Every Marketer Can Learn from College Football

Anyone who has spent time with me on fall Saturdays can probably tell you that I pull for 2 football programs. One is my alma mater, the University of Alabama, and the other is the University of Michigan. These storied programs have been at the forefront of college football history and produced some of the greatest players in the history of the game.

But there are also some commonalities between football and marketing.

1. Build a sound game plan.

In football, teams need to have a solid game plan. Coaches spend hundreds of hours every season watching film of their opponents. From this preparation they develop a sound game plan, a plan leveraging their own strengths and opponent’s weaknesses.

The same holds true in marketing.

Marketers need to build a solid game plan for each of their campaigns. It isn’t enough to say “we need to create a campaign.” Instead, you need build campaigns with very specific goal – target – wins.

By understanding exactly what your win is and building campaigns that are designed to accomplish specific goals, you are laying the groundwork for a championship team.

2. Be ready for anything.

Coaches like Nick Saban, Lloyd Carr, Bear Bryant, and Bo Schembechler don’t snooze on the sidelines. They were and are ruthlessly attentive to what is going on during every play. They analyze and make adjustments to their strategies as necessary throughout the game.

Analyzing and testing alternatives to campaigns in real time is necessary to running successful campaigns.

Planning is important, and it gives you the groundwork needed to take your campaign live. But that doesn’t mean that everything will perform perfectly. Making real time adjustments to a campaign is one of the most important things a marketer can do. To hone the most targeted, personal experience, you need to A/B test, monitor key metrics, and continuously adjust to new developments.

Making adjustments to your campaign can ensure that you are successful despite unexpected obstacles.

3. Work as a team.

When a good quarterback snaps the ball, he doesn’t just take a couple of steps back and throw the ball downfield. Simultaneously, he is monitoring his offensive line, watching for the blitz, and studying the coverage. In some cases, the quarterback may even be watching for open running lanes. But beyond what he is doing, he needs to know his receivers will be running their routes and that the pocket will hold.

Without a clear understanding that each teammate will do their job, even a great quarterback will be rendered ineffective.

Similarly, for a comprehensive marketing campaign to be successful, everything must be working together. You need to know exactly which links will lead to which landing pages, which email will be sent for every form submission, how often audience segments will be displayed certain messaging. Everything has to work together as a team to convert your audience.

Having a plan that is versatile and reactive is like having a Heisman winning quarterback as your game manager.

4. Be open to new opportunities.

I can remember my dad telling me about the introduction of the wishbone offense in the late 1970s and 80s. Some offenses were quick to take it up, including Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Now, many teams have opened themselves up into the spread offense.

These coaches have looked to new innovations to improve the effectiveness of both their offense and defense.

A few years ago, you may have been one of the marketers who dismissed new channels like social media or SEM. You may have even discounted the potential for digital advertising in the ‘90s. Hopefully, however, you now see the opportunities presented by these new channels and their abilities to target specific audience segments.

By welcoming innovation and new channels, you can evaluate their performance in your industry and create better campaigns that convert your audience.

5. Rely on a good coach.

Lloyd Carr won a national championship in the late ‘90s, Nick Saban has won 4, and then there is the legendary Bear Bryant with his 6 national championships. These coaches, even when they were on top, were always focused on the next game. Their relentless dedication to winning made them legendary coaches in some of college football’s most successful and prestigious programs.

Marketers need the same visionary leadership for their teams.

Like these great football coaches, marketing leaders must have drive, vision, experience, and a healthy refusal to surrender. At the same time they have to be able to set larger, strategic goals for their departments and study industry trends. On top of that, marketing leaders need to be able to tie together disparate skillsets to achieve a larger goal.

Having a leader who can connect the various disciplines necessary for modern marketing is important to the success of any marketing department.

Just because football and marketing seem very different doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from the great coaches and their squads. By implementing these lessons you will see continued success throughout your entire marketing operation.

Oh, and Go Blue.

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