The other month Christi Eubanks published a great post comparing marketing analytics and CrossFit. It’s been a while since I’ve stepped in a gym – not because I’m averse to exercise, but my choice of fix is running, specifically outside, and specifically not on a treadmill.

I do a lot of running – what I lack in speed I make up for in miles and dedication.  Piling on the miles gives you plenty of quality thinking time, and as thinking is one of the core requirements of my job, I would argue this makes running the perfect sport for analysts (note to self – must establish Gartner UK running club) . And perhaps the perfect sport for marketers too? This was the subject of my pondering the other day when out for a long run. My conclusion – even if you never wear a pair of running shoes in your life, as a marketer, there’s much that running can teach you.

It’s both a marathon AND a sprint

When you’re training for a long distance race, it’s all about leading up to the big day. And this is what marketing used to be like. Months of effort leading up to that major campaign – the product launch, or peak selling season. You put in the planning, you set your target long in advance, you give it your best on the day, and hopefully you get the result you need.

But those days are gone. Marketing leaders need to operate at two speeds (subscription required),  able to focus on the big event, but also agile enough to sprint at opportunities (or threats) as they emerge. And this can be on a daily, or hourly basis. This can be disconcerting, and there are many marketers that still disproportionately load budget and resource on set piece activity, missing the emerging opportunities. But every day is a race  – and, without wanting to use too many cliches, you’ve got to be in it to win it – every single day.

It’s not all about the expensive kit

Like with any sport, you can spend big on running kit. But expensive shoes and the latest compression clothing may improve your performance a little, but they can’t make up for a lack of talent.

The same is true for marketing. It’s not what’s in your tool kit, it’s what you do with it. Marketing leaders are increasingly on the hook for martech acquisition, with nearly two thirds reporting they lead in its purchase (see Gartner’s Marketing Organizational Design and Strategy Survey – subscription required). With this increased authority comes increased accountability. Marketers must ensure that they build a portfolio of tools that are commensurate with the capabilities of their teams. Acquiring best in class kit will not instantaneously pull-up organizational marketing maturity, so think hard about the tools you acquire, considering:

  • How they fit with current capability levels
  • How you deploy new tech to drive adoption
  • How you stretch and grow capabilities to get the most out of your tools

In short, spend wisely my friends – expensive shelfware is bad for you, and bad for the vendors in the long term.

Measure your performance all the time

Pretty much everybody that runs now uses a GPS-enabled device that lets them track their performance , and I’m no exception (in fact I use two). They serve a couple of important purposes – of course at the end of a run I can track how far I’ve gone, the route I took, my speed and even the amount of calories I’ve burned. And this is great, but the real benefit comes from the ability to monitor performance in real-time. I break runs down so I know how I need to perform at each stage, meaning that I can dial-up, or down my speed and effort along the way to ensure that I meet my time goal. The GPS data, coupled with my ability to respond and react to internal and external environmental factors, like the weather or the terrain,or how tired my legs feel, enables each run to be optimized.

Marketers must do the same – moving from retrospective views of performance to meaningful, actionable KPIs and realtime reporting that allow campaigns to be tweaked and honed in flight. Taking in data from customer behavior and environment to predict and determine the best possible actions to drive the optimal outcome.

Check you performance against your peers.

I’m no spring chicken anymore – I like to think that, like a fine wine, I get better with age. However, that can’t be said for my speed. That’s why, when you run in races they measure you against your age grade – last week I raced and I came 45th out of a pack of about 450, which is kind of OK, but I came 5th in my age grade, which is altogether much more encouraging.

In marketing there’s a tendency to look at the front of the pack – endless examples of Apples and Ubers – but trouble is that almost everyone is not an Apple or an Uber. And that’s the point – you need to keep focused on the performance of your peer group – if you constantly watch the front of the pack, you miss the incremental gains you make. Plus, in any race, there’s nothing so disconcerting than trying to match the pace of those you can never catch.

Final thought

One last thought on the theme of running and / or marketing – it’s always important to remember that it’s not the time you get, it’s the time you have. Enjoy the race, celebrate your wins, and learn from your experiences. And vital at this time of year, remember the importance of rest days.

On your marks, get set…

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