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Moneyball Marketing

Bob Brock

Moneyball Marketing.  It’s how small and mid-sized institutions with limited resources can compete against the big boys in today’s incredibly competitive marketplace – and win.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, is the book by financial writer Michael Lewis that inspired the Brad Pitt film released late last year about the 2002 Oakland A’s.

That year, the A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) turned conventional wisdom upside down on how to win in major league baseball.  Having lost three big stars to free agency and with the most limited salary budget in the majors, the A’s won the American League West championship against large-market teams that had big-name stars and had invested up to three times more in player salaries.

Beane did it by analyzing innovative performance metrics to find and field a different kind of ballplayer – one who didn’t have superstar talent or stats but had a history of solid on-base percentage and total bases per at-bat – success metrics that scouts and managers previously discounted.

The result was a team of solid, day-to-day players who turned in workmanlike performances, day in and day out.  The A’s won more than their share of games based on “small-ball” – consistent positive contributions from each player.  No superstars, just dependable performance by journeyman pros.

It defines a most interesting model for coordinated, integrated brand marketing – call it Moneyball Marketing.

Moneyball Marketing relies on strategically identifying the right metrics and coordinating synchronized incremental tactics across multiple different units instead of big budget-sucking ad campaigns.

The ground rules for Moneyball Marketing:

1.  Find the winning metrics
For Moneyball Marketing, you need to play the percentages, not the hunches. Quantitatively assess the series of activities and actions that consistently produce bottom-line “wins” in whatever you’re trying to achieve: recruitment, fundraising, alumni involvement, partnership building.  In recruiting, for example, a critical stat is often the yield from campus visits/tours. Backtrack to evaluate the series of actions that gets the most prospects to campus, then focus cross-functional resources on delivering an awesome campus experience.  It’s never a single action that makes the difference, always a series of incremental metrics that move audiences through the Consumer Behavior Model, from awareness to advocacy (click image to see it larger):
Consumer Behavior Model
2.  Recruit the right players
Moneyball is, by definition, a team sport.  It’s not possible to win consistently when one unit operates all in its own space, trying to be a superstar. Instead, you’ll need solid team players throughout the lineup.  In the higher ed bureaucracy, that means a cross-functional team combining players from marketing communications as well as from sales (recruiters, alumni, and advancement staff are your sales teams).  Since these individuals report to different managers, getting them together calls for deft gamesmanship. Internal relationship building, give-and-take cooperation, data sharing, shared responsibilities, and a collaborative approach are all part of the game.
3.  Create and Stick to your game plan

Like Billy Beane, if you’re going to manage a winning series of action-metrics throughout the season, you’ll need a game plan. In our business it’s called an integrated marketing plan.  This can’t be just for the marketing unit alone, it’s got to be an institution-wide plan to achieve bottom-line goals. Everyone needs to have skin in the game to avoid the silo effect. The plan starts with measurable bottom-line goals in the organization’s high-priority scoring areas: recruitment, fundraising, image development, alumni participation, or whatever. Need more incoming freshmen? How many? From where? When? What performance criteria?

Once leadership approves the goals – no more than four, usually – the game plan should outline the “winning strategies” you’ve identified. These strategies define the series of milestones that will give you the greatest percentage of wins for each goal. And finally, the plan has to define the cross-functional tactics (action steps) that will lead to success for each milestone. So a working plan is structured like this (click the image to see it larger):

EMG's Integrated Marketing Planning Image

Each action plan should identify the person responsible for it, timeline for completion, and budget. All of the costs for all of the Tactics should roll up into your overall annual budget for the plan.

The CEO and senior leadership team need to sign off on the plan to give it legitimacy and credibility. While the plan is driven forward and managed by the chief marketing officer, it still needs to be the institution’s plan, and it needs to involve all of the players on the cross-functional team.

Moneyball Marketing. Experience shows it can be incredibly effective.  Just ask the 2004 Boston Red Sox…they were impressed with Beane’s new approach to winning, and launched their own version of Moneyball.  In 2004, Boston won the World Series, the first time in 86 years. They won again in 2007.

2 Replies to “Moneyball Marketing”

  1. A fantastic way of thinking about marketing today – focus on what gets results. Winning metrics, the right players and a great game plan equals results. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  2. The most fantastic aspect of this approach is that schools with smaller budgets can compete by focusing on specific tactics. And each step you have outlined is equally important.

    I would just add in step 3 that patience is also needed. Success might not come right away and it can be tempting to discard your plan. It would be unfortunate to spend so much time and money into something that is abandoned too quickly.

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