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Michael Jordan and Marketing: Lessons on Winning

Basketball and Marketing

Professional basketball is a highly competitive game, played by teams. Marketing is the exact same thing: highly competitive, played by teams. And the goal of both games is to win.

The problem with marketing today is that it’s played as if by individuals, rather than a team sport. Marketing tends to be played in silos, such as email, social media, and search, rather than focusing on the team: the enterprise or business as a whole.

Each of these marketing departments might tout great statistics, such as awesome click-throughs or open rates. But these individual statistics do not win the game.

Michael Jordan learned early on that being a great individual player was not enough. Early in his career with the Chicago Bulls, his scoring average was amazing. But the team continued to lose games. Jordan realized that he would have to lead his team, to inspire the best in each to win as a team.

In business, the equivalent of losing games is losing market share, missing sales or profit goals, etc. After all, your department might achieve astonishing click-through or open rates, but the company as a whole is in financial trouble and goes out of business. You lose.

Brand impressions, likes and open rates are comparable to the stats of individual team players. They don’t necessarily add up to your team winning.

Like Jordan, you need to focus on the team, and team stats. The equivalent in marketing is a top-down focus on the company P&L. You need to connect tactical marketing statistics back to the metrics that win the game: incremental profit, the company bottom line.

The key to Jordan’s leadership was to provide a better, more productive environment for the team as a whole. Scottie Pippen, for example, would have been an average player without Jordan’s outside shot. But when Jordan boosted his performance, it encouraged and prompted others to do the same.

Another key to winning is to look at your statistics, to discover how to be more competitive. Jordan had an uncanny ability to dial up the competitiveness at just the right moment. After all, the word compete originate from to strive with. If the other team is upping its game, you need to also.

To meet the challenge of increasing competition, you need to continuously execute at a higher level. Taking another basketball analogy, Rollie Massimino famously coached Villanova to the NCAA championship in 1985, against the odds and despite having inferior talent.

He was able to do this by continuously making performance adjustments. In business, we call this insights or learning: continuously monitor your team statistics as a whole, and use that data to increasingly make smarter, more profitable decisions.

In sports, teams become champions because players collaborate and build teams. It’s the same in business: you must collaborate across the business, with a top-down view of your wins and losses, your profit and loss, to play the game as a champion.

By Jeff Winsper

Jeff is the President of Black Ink and offers more than 20 years of leadership experience in marketing, serving companies ranging from Fortune 500 to start ups.

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