In marketing, as in basketball, you simply can’t win every time. Marketers are forced to operate with a certain degree of effectiveness, but the best marketing programs don’t always catch fire right away. The path to victory is an imperfect and unpredictable process. Anyone who’s ever participated in a March Madness bracket pool knows it’s impossible to pick a perfect bracket - or even get close! The same is true for marketing. Unless you’re the only marketer in history that can put together a perfect marketing strategy (in which case - we’re hiring!), any execution plan is going to have unexpected upsets along the way.
Just like you can make certain decisions to increase your odds of having the best bracket in the pool, you can do the same for your marketing strategy. Here’s how.
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In marketing, as in basketball, you dramatically increase your odds of scoring when you know what you’re aiming for. Coming to the table with defined goals and objectives makes the path to victory much clearer. No 12-seed ever made it to the Sweet 16 by winging it and hoping for the best - they knew exactly which matchups to exploit, how many 3’s they should take, how many minutes their big man should play, etc. And no ecommerce brand ever consistently increased reach, grew its average order value or decreased CPAs without coming to the table with defined goals.
Odds are you’ve filled out at least one of your brackets winners based on something completely arbitrary, like which mascot was funnier (WTF is a Billiken?!) or which uniform color combo was more ridiculous. This type of selection process obviously won’t work for marketing. Every single decision you make when it comes to communicating your brand and products or services to consumers must be backed by data - otherwise,
Even the most data-driven initial strategies will inherently include some personal bias (we’ve all picked our alma mater over the heavily-favored opponent). Never trust your assumptions - let performance guide you. Set yourself up for success by viewing your marketing strategy as an iterative process, testing along the way. If something works, woohoo! Double down on that strategy. If it doesn’t, blame it on the intern and iterate. Test multiple strategies and be objective about the results to end with the true champion, even if it was a dark horse.
The odds of a perfect bracket in the March Madness tourney are about 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s 9.2 quintillion). The point is - don’t be too attached to your hypotheses. Set goals and use data to inform your strategy, but remember that upsets are fun - allow yourself to enjoy uncertainty, test against your biases with an open mind, and you’ll find that the winning marketing strategy won’t be a clean sheet, but something you can trust.
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Bryce is a Strategist at Hawke Media. When he's not guiding clients along their growth paths, he's front-squatting with excellent form.