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🤫 The secret to marketing

What you can learn from elite level coaches

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What marketers can learn from elite level sports coaches

GAME ON

I've been thinking a lot about marketing in terms of coaching. 

Not coaching as in one-on-one executive, business, or life coaching, but in terms of sports, ie., basketball or football coaches.

Zoom out: Even if you’re not into sports, coaching is fascinating.

It’s an art. But it’s also a science.

It’s high IQ. But it’s also high EQ.

It’s high profile. But it’s also incredibly 1 to 1.

Coaching is confounding.

If you take a moment to think about it, even a coach’s primary KPI is a bit paradoxical: elevate the performance of individual players in order to elevate the team as a whole. 

Let’s repeat that last part: a coach’s job is to elevate the performance of individual players in order to elevate the team as a whole.

That’s hard! It blends elements of psychology, strategy, physical training, and leadership into a job that every coach ends up doing differently.

ELITE LEVEL COACH? OR CORPORATE MIDDLE MANAGER?

Thinking about the key aspects of an elite coach’s job description, I was really struck by the similarities to a corporate manager’s role, in any sector. 

Yep, whether you’re a manager working in marketing, software development, sales, operations, revenue management, legal, HR, or countless other departments, if you’re managing others, you have more in common with elite level coaches than you might think.

Stay with me.

Start with team cohesion. Team coaches need to build this by developing a strong sense of unity and camaraderie among teammates. While there’s a million and one ways to do this, it’s generally agreed that fostering a supportive environment, one where players feel valued and connected to one another, is one of the best ways to do so. It makes logical sense that this would lead to better teamwork and collective performance.

But equally, developing a player’s individual skillset is key as well. By identifying and working on each player's strengths and weaknesses, coaches and their staff work really hard to help each player contribute more effectively to the wider team.

But here’s where it gets even more fascinating. If good coaching were just a function of increasing team cohesion + increasing individual skills, every coach would be awesome, and every team would be great. 

There’s another dimension here. Let’s call it “strategic synergy.” A coach and their staff need to devise specific/custom strategies that leverage the unique combination of talents within the team

This involves creating plays or tactics that can only be executed effectively by a coordinated team effort, rather than depending on an individual player’s prowess alone. In other words, the big idea behind coaching is for the sum total of all of your players to be greater together than they are individually. 

PLOT TWIST 

It’s easy to make the mental leap from coaching athletes, to coaching corporate colleagues. But, when it comes to marketing, I actually have a different analogy to make.

In this analogy, it’s not a marketers’ colleagues that they have to coach, but the various marketing channels and sub-disciplines (ie., social media, SEO, content marketing, etc.) available to them.

To repeat: if you’re a marketer, the wide range of marketing channels and sub-disciplines available to you are the players on your team —and you’re the coach. 

And just like an elite level coach strategically assembles the unique skills of each player in order to create a winning team, a marketer today must skillfully integrate and optimize an insanely wide range of marketing “players” (ie., channels) in order to achieve objectives.

Zoom out: each of your individual marketing channels are skillful ways to bring your product or service to market. You've got your influencer channels. You've got your traditional outdoor or television campaigns, popups on your website, or welcome email flows, or Google ads and Facebook ads. And they’re all good at their thing. 

Your job as marketer is to “coach” all of these individual strands so that they work together in concert and are greater than their individual pieces. 

The more I think about this analogy, the more it tracks: social media, with its dynamic and engaging nature, is like a charismatic forward, always in the spotlight. Content marketing, akin to a versatile midfielder, connects and harmonizes different strategies. And like a reliable defender, email marketing safeguards customer relationships. All the while, SEO, the wizard of the game, works silently in the background, ensuring long-term success.  

The marketer, as the coach, must leverage each player’s strengths while compensating for their weaknesses.

I’m seeing the marketer in 2024 as an elite, strategic and innovative coach bringing together diverse marketing elements to play together, achieving greater impact together than they could individually.

REALITY CHECK

This is much, much easier said than done. 

Here’s one way to plus your chances of success:

Embrace the fact that, even if you’re good at this, you’ll never have it all figured out. After all, in marketing, just like in sports, the players can change mid-game. New technologies emerge. Consumer behaviors shift. Marketing channels evolve. The marketer, much like a coach facing an unexpected turn in a match, must adapt their strategy, retrain their team, and constantly be scouting for new players to stay ahead in the game.

OK, WHAT'S THE POINT HERE? 

In the competitive arena of business, a marketer is much more than just a practitioner bringing a product or service to the marketplace.

In our view, marketers today are closer to a coach of a sports team. The marketer’s landscape of channel/tactic/subdiscipline options, resembles a huge team of skilled athletes, each good in their unique way.

As you consider your plans for this year, think of all of the individual streams and strands open to you as your “players,” and think of yourself as a coach whose job is to get them to work in concert with one another and somehow achieve a level that's greater than their individual pieces. For a practical guide on how to do that, see below.

Written by Jon Kallus. Thanks for reading.

🌟 Exclusive invitation for fv/pro readers

Did you enjoy this exploration of the parallels between elite level sports coaches and marketing pros? Want to use the secrets of the world’s best coaches and apply them to your practice? Read on…

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