The Art of Winning the Online Marketing Game

The best book I’ve ever read about marketing isn’t about marketing. It’s about baseball.

The book’s called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. If you’re a marketer or advertiser you need to read this book.

The premise is that baseball insiders are guilty of a herd mentality that’s focused on the wrong things and reaches the wrong conclusions. If you know nothing at all about baseball you’ll still learn very valuable lessons about business.

The book is centered on Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s.

Beane ignores all the conventional wisdom (i.e., baloney) that permeates the sport. He and his staff developed their own principles about what makes a ballplayer valuable. And they follow these principles regardless of what the herd thinks.

They’ve developed, and then traded away, some of the best players in baseball. Often these trades have been viewed as crazy by baseball insiders and fans alike. And yet, in the fullness of time, the trades almost always pay off.

They have oddball ideas about the importance of defense and speed and batting average. They pass on players other teams value, and draft and trade for players no one else wants.

The result? Although every year the A’s have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, since 2002 they have won more regular season baseball games than any major league team other than the New York Yankees.

As I read the book I marveled at the parallels to marketing and advertising.

Everything You Know About Marketing May Be Wrong

There is an ossified aristocracy of marketing and advertising insiders — just look at all the near-identical blog rolls on marketing blogs or pick up any issue of Ad Age to find out who they are — who are locked into the same mind-numbing clichés and truisms.

They come equipped with false goals, a whole lexicon of dreadful jargon, and a compendium of trendy opinions and unreliable anecdotes masquerading as facts. If we in the industry are sick of these platitudes, imagine how our clients feel.

The hard part is getting beyond the stupefying double-talk of these trend-setters and developing your own principles.

I bought a copy of Moneyball for each of our managers and gave them an assignment to read it. After we read it, we examined what we really believed about marketing and advertising and put it down in writing. This led us to create three guiding principles by which we conduct our business and design our campaigns. And, by the way, what we found was that if you can’t express it in plain English, it’s not a principle. It’s jargon.

These principles have given us a fresh way to talk to our clients – and potential clients – about their business and about communications. Not every potential client agrees with us. But you know what, you can’t be everyone’s girlfriend.

Find Your Own Winning Difference

We’ve discovered our winning difference. Have you done the same?

We may not be the smartest people in the world but at least our principles explain how we’re different from our competitors. And if we’re not different, why are we necessary?

No matter how large or small your enterprise is, there are likely a thousand others just like it. If you hope to distinguish yourself, you need to find some guiding principles that help your clients and customers understand how you stand apart from those thousand other enterprises that want their business.

I recommend Moneyball as a good way to get to first base.

About the Author: Bob Hoffman is CEO of Hoffman/Lewis advertising in San Francisco and St Louis. He is author of the book The Ad Contrarian and The Ad Contrarian blog.

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Comments

  1. Convincing. I just ordered 3 copies of the book for the staff here.

  2. “…if you can’t express it in plain English, it’s not a principle. It’s jargon.”

    Right on. Love that.

  3. This is a blog about copywriting and marketing, so the analogy is a good one.

    Personally, I find Moneyball to be a perfect analogy for investing.

    Of course, marketing involves investing too… investing of resources and time and money, just like investing in the markets…

    This is a great book Bob.

  4. There are some good points here, but this particular column has the reek of “Here’s how marketing relates to whatever was the last book I happened to read.”

  5. Thanks you for this insightful post and recommendation. I can’t wait to read this book. Identifying core competencies for your business means taking a deeper look beyond the ‘basic’ services or the product you are pushing. All competitors are basically ‘pushing’ the same thing. Sometimes a business can differentiate on something as simple such as the amazing interpersonal relationships that exist among the staff. When I worked for a small agency, on Friday afternoons we’d often take an hour or so at the end of the day to have beer and just talk. Sometimes, we came up with great ideas for our clients by just relaxing and casually brainstorming. This made relationships between the artists and the account managers stronger, which meant the client had a more unified team working together on his or her brand. Thanks again.

  6. hear hear!! Talk like you are talking to an 8 year old and most people will follow, too much jargon implies arrogance.

  7. @ Aaron. I couldn’t disagree more. Moneyball is one of the best books on resource management, talent evaluation and ROI out there – and it is excruciatingly applicable to the current days of tightening budgets and focus on performance.

    Billy Beane was a genius because he got so much out of so little (or so it seemed). In this recession, in this era of “what do I get for my money,” this post is needed, relevant, and not a sham.

    Read the book and you’ll agree.

  8. Book ordered, thanks for the tweet!

    Hope it really applies to universal business/marketing principles even if I don’t follow baseball which I find almost as boring as cricket.

  9. Bob- First of all thanks for rooting for one of New Orlean’s own. Michael has a way of making sense… and using interesting analogies. Liar’s Poker anyone?

    I love the same phrase Michael Martine does. It’s like design on a paper napkin. Everything else is elaboration or positioning.

    Love the post.

  10. Interesting idea, but isn’t it worth noting that, since 2002, the Oakland A’s have won all these games, they have 0 World Series wins and only 1 Playoff Series wins to their credit?

  11. Jason- could it be they like being in that second “niche pocket” ( Seth Godin diagram) that spot between the best seller rockstar and the long tail? I don’t know. I am asking.

  12. Hi,

    I just voted for your excellent blog for Bloggers Choice Awards.

    Could you please return the favor at

    http://www.bloggerschoiceawards.com/blogs/show/21620

    Thanks,

    SpEdLaw2

  13. To the people knocking Moneyball,
    You guys should definitely read the book before you continue to say that it doesn’t relate to marketing, investing, etc. It’s hardly a baseball book. It’s more about noticing the flaws in your marketplace, even if it goes against conventional wisdom, and learning how to exploit. It’s about being fearless. It’s about learning that because something is more expensive, it doesn’t always mean it’s the best. A Corvette will get you to work the same way a Ford Escort will. If you don’t need to go fast, why pay the money? Just read the book before speaking. It’s horrible to look ignorant.

  14. @ Jason-
    Sure they have zero Series wins, but over the last four years they have competed with a salary no higher than $50 million, while teams like the Yankees have had payrolls higher than $200 million. So to finish in the top four or eight is nothing short of flabbergasting.

  15. This comment:

    “We may not be the smartest people in the world but at least our principles explain how we’re different from our competitors. And if we’re not different, why are we necessary?”

    is my favorite part of your post.

    I think the personal learning one achieves thru actually doing their time is what helps them sift thru the straw to find the gold.

    Data points, Barbara

  16. They’re going to wonder why Amazon sales just leaped…

    As a person who enjoys doing things a little differently and being the guy who likes to break the rules (successfully), here’s what I like about this post:

    Although every year the A’s have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, since 2002 they have won more regular season baseball games than any major league team other than the New York Yankees.

    Brian, I’ll take that any day. I could give a rat’s ass about fast money and instant fame. My goal is to be the guy who is still alive and kicking in five years, ten years, 20 years from now.

    Longevity means more than short-term results. Yes. That is success.

  17. Money Ball is also a testament to the power of data to drive decisions. Not gut feel, not conventional wisdom, but how data correlated to results can drive business decisions that work. The data doesn’t tell you how to say it but it sure can help determine who to say it to, what to say and when to say it.

  18. Interested to know what your three guiding principles were.

  19. I love to take two unrelated topics and figure out how they are similar… Like baseball and marketing.

    There are a lot of lessons to be learned, and sometimes the answers come from the least expected places.

    I’ll have to check out the book.

  20. Hi Bob.

    I wrote an article about how Moneyball influenced us at HubSpot. I thought you might enjoy it: http://tinyurl.com/6ahyfp

    Brian.

  21. Glen:

    Glad you asked. It’s in my book, which is free.

    Just go to my blog http:adcontrarian.blogspot.com and scroll down till you see The Ad Contrarian book. Order it.

    The three principles comprise the second half of the book.

    Hope you enjoy.

  22. Glen:

    Oops. Typo in blog address. Correct address is http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com

  23. Totally true…as relevant to baseball as any business! It’s all about the basic principles!

  24. I agree with every word you wrote. A very clear analysis, like it.

  25. I assume this book to be filed with some out of the box ideas…although honestly i know nothing about baseball.

  26. Very convincing. I’ll buy that.

  27. Identifying core competencies for your business means taking a deeper look beyond the ‘basic’ services or the product you are pushing

  28. I am often fascinated by blog rolls. I wonder if many websites even read those blogs that they link to, or rather do they just have the same links everyone else has, thereby helping no one. It really is interesting to think about.

  29. Nice piece of information!

    The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that it must be something that bring up revenue for that work that we have done couple of months back and that’s the beauty of online marketing.

  30. @Bob…thanks for the book.

    This just reminded me to visit seth godin’s blog again. Thanks for the wake up call this morning.

    – Maggie in vacation mode lol

  31. @blogging the sports news – the Oakland A’s have been good, but flabbergasting? I think thats a bit of an extreme.

    Yes, the A’s have won with a small payroll, so have other small-market, low-payroll teams like the Twins and Marlins. Not to mention the fact that teams like the Twins and Marlins consistently play richer teams more often by virtue of the divisions they play in.

    I’m not knocking Moneyball. Merely pointing out, Moneyball’s impact is governed in large part by how you define success; define it by wins, and Moneyball is revolutionary. Define it by the playoffs and world series, adn the A’s are an average team at best.

  32. Baseball is my favorite sport and the phillies are doing well so this post sticks with me :)

    But anyway i will definitely look into this book. It looks great.

  33. There are some good points here, but this particular column has the reek of “Here’s how marketing relates to whatever was the last book I happened to read.”

  34. They have oddball ideas about the importance of defense and speed and batting average. They pass on players other teams value, and draft and trade for players no one else wants.Thanks for your information, i have read it, very good!

  35. Very convincing. I’ll buy that.!!!