Villing & Company

Moneyball marketing

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There are two things I am rather passionate about.  Sports – especially baseball.  And marketing.  It’s not often these two worlds converge, but over the last couple decades, a common thread has emerged.  That is the dependence (some might call it over-dependence) on big data.

Data is a great tool.  Properly utilized, it can be a great equalizer.  For small market baseball teams.  And for marketers with small budgets.

As depicted in the book, Moneyball, and the movie of the same name, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, questioned conventional wisdom about baseball player evaluation and certain in-game strategies. He is widely credited with revolutionizing baseball. Along with his assistant, Harvard-educated statistician Paul DePodesta, Beane used data-driven “sabermetric” principles to run his team in a more effective and efficient way.

In a similar way, the rise of data-driven analytics has revolutionized marketing. We can now tap into “big data” to glean customer insights and behaviors as never before.  We can formulate specific predictive modeling scenarios. We can often monitor and measure marketing funnel movement in real time.  And we have powerful new tools for evaluating the success of our campaigns.

It’s a wonderful world, right?  Well, not always. Please don’t think me a marketing climate change denier, but there are two factors that are fundamental to success – in baseball and in marketing.

Fundamental number one is execution. Although Billy Beane’s teams often outperformed expectations, they were never in the World Series during his tenure and managed to win division titles only a handful of times. So despite the hype of the Moneyball philosophy, the execution of the team never quite led to the ultimate level of success.

That leads me to the other key factor in assessing the value of Performance Enhancing Data. (PEDs – did you see what I did there?) True success ultimately comes down to how one defines success.  It is one thing to know a marketing campaign is delivering “x” number of impressions or resulting in impressive open rates or click throughs.  It is something else again to determine if those customers actually made a purchase as a result of their exposure to a banner, digital ad or pre-roll video in a data-based campaign. In some cases this can be accomplished with data, but that kind of ROI isn't always trackable.

So the essential question is how do we define success? Data-driven tactics are great but they are no substitute for having a carefully constructed strategic plan with a clear vision of the ultimate objectives of the campaign.  I always look back to the AIDA principle I learned when I first got into this business.  Attention/Interest/Desire/Action. Good data, properly utilized, can help us in different ways for each of these steps.  But if we take our eye off the ball on any of these fundamental steps, all the data in the world will not save us from a colossal swing and a miss.

Filed Under: advertising, web, marketing

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