If you want to learn how to thrive in competitive environments just take a look at the NFL to discover the real secret to success, production. At 3.5 years, football players have the shortest average career lifespan of all the professional sport leagues. To survive you have to thrive. And to thrive means you have to consistently beat your opponent and the guy beneath you on the roster.
For companies, there are a lot of parallels to football when it comes to marketing performance. If I’m “bro-ing out” with the sports metaphor forgive me. In this case I think it just works. Let me explain.
In order to beat an opponent in football you have to make plays. In other sports your opponent can lose through poor performance. Not in football and not usually in business. Now plays come in many varieties. You can catch a pass in the end zone and hear the adulation of the crowd and you block the guy in front of you and win the praise of a coach. Marketing teams find themselves in similar situations. You can launch an advertising campaign that successfully positions your company as an industry leader and you can analyze KPIs and marketing metrics to optimize campaigns.
In both business and sports, executing on a plan enables goal achievement. Developing skills and experience is typically the foundation to consistent execution, whether you’re catching passes or converting website visitors. The focus then shifts to developing repeatable behaviors so peak performance becomes second nature.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a conference room brainstorming for your company’s “next big idea” or developing a new, “winning strategy” you’re actually drawing up your own version of the famed Hail Mary pass. Desperate actions are sometimes necessary, and the allure of new possibilities is often irresistible, but is a drastic decision needed to win?
Football strategy evolves through creative thinking, risk taking, failure and faith. For marketing organizations, new technologies inspire advances in strategy and tactics. Coincidentally, those tech companies are also the creative thinkers, risk takers and failures who kept faith and figured it out. My digression aside, the competitive nature of football and marketing means what’s new quickly becomes copied to nullify competitive advantage. But, if everyone has the same strategy, and is more or less calling plays from the same playbook, how can you win? Simple put, superior execution.
Coaches develop superior execution with their teams at practice by articulating and reinforcing the plays that make up their game plan. Marketers call this process strategic planning or project timelines. Practice is also the time coaches’ mentor and train players. The marketing equivalent is when managers measure and optimize campaigns. Just as coaches’ experiment with new plays, marketers try “test and learn” programs to create a advantage.
It’s important to recognize new tactics can create dazzling plays – maybe even help score touchdowns – but alone they don’t win games. Victory in business and football is achieved by setting a strategy and fulfilling it through superior execution.
Football fans can’t resist the temptation to “Monday morning quarterback” a player’s decisions if their favorite team lost that prior Sunday. It’s a natural reaction to channel your frustration into what one believes is constructive criticism. Companies are prone to similar activity. When performance slips people often second-guess decision-making. To remedy the situation, executives often suggest new strategies or big ideas to ignite a new winning steak. However, just as watching football and understanding the plays doesn’t make one a qualified coach, nor does observing or experiencing marketing. Often, the key to unlocking the potential of your marketing organization has less to do with altering strategy, and more to do with your team’s ability to execute.
Legendary Raiders owner Al Davis, a naturally gifted marketer by the way, conceived the catchphrase “Commitment to Excellence.” For football coaches, excellence is achieved by highlighting weakness or breakdowns in execution during practice so players can overcome them during game time. Business leaders can do the same by promoting the players on their team that focus on winning through improved execution of marketing programs.
For organizations to realize optimal performance, the people inside them must be committed to getting better every day. It’s the focus on process rather than outcomes that separates champions from players.