The Oakland Athletics reached the playoffs four consecutive years with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. They were competing with teams that spent much, much more. Oakland’s successful teams were built by the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, and a cast of assistants and statisticians who focused on buying “wins” with undervalued assets.
The tale of the Oakland A’s and the greatest paradigm shift ever seen in a professional sport is captured in Michael Lewis’s bestseller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book shares how Billy Beane built his franchise using analytics rather than purchasing high-priced players. Marketing can learn from the Moneyball approach to strategy and innovation, too.
In our industry, small brands with small budgets challenge much larger competitors all the time. So here are five key lessons that every marketer can learn from Moneyball.
Trying to beat the frontrunners with their own methods doesn’t work.
There was no way the Oakland A’s could outspend the Yankees. Yet in the marketing world, small competitors often try to mimic larger organizations’ methods. They fail to succeed because they don’t have the larger organizations’ scale, or budgets. It doesn’t matter if you are the Oakland A’s chasing the LA Dodgers, or popchips taking on Frito-Lay. You have to look for a new approach that allows you to succeed with the resources you have.
Leading bravely beats following carefully.
Billy Beane built a team around an untried new metric. His success would later become obvious and repeatable, but at the time, everyone doubted it. We’ve seen the same phenomenon with major shifts in the marketing world. Mobile marketing once seemed risky. Now it’s a no-brainer. Challenger brands need to be on the forefront of changes, not chase them. So take risks, take a stand, and take brave steps into areas where your bigger competitors aren’t. It may seem risky, but you’ll get more bang out of your marketing dollar by being a plucky leader instead of a careful follower.
Remove obstacles by building believers.
Plenty of people stood in Billy Beane’s way—from management to the coaching staff to the players themselves. Half of his success stemmed from changing opinions and removing organizational roadblocks that could derail his approach.
Before launching a brave new marketing plan, leaders can’t get lost in strategy and execution—they have to remove obstructions, too. And the job isn’t over once a campaign is brought to life. We must continually eliminate deterrents to our new strategy. Analytics and data can be the key to changing minds, but sometimes it takes a little good old-fashioned internal marketing, too.
Yesterday’s new is tomorrow’s old.
Success brings recognition. In the case of the Oakland A’s, the rest of the baseball universe emulated the A’s strategy as soon as they caught on. Suddenly, the teams that had mocked Beane’s approach were mimicking it.
When savvy marketers find new successful strategies, those strategies are quickly emulated by competitors. So challenger brands have to constantly innovate. Similarly, large established brands must test new approaches and put their large resources behind strategies that work. Innovation is a cat-and-mouse game, and those who do not innovate, and innovate again, are doomed to perish.
Shout louder than you spend.
In marketing, just like in baseball, the paradigm has shifted. Twenty years ago, TV, radio, and print were the tools in a marketer’s playbook. Today, brands have seemingly endless media choices to weave and balance.
Like Billy Beane, we have to make the most of what we have. We recommend combining breakthrough creative with an innovative media mix, all driven by analytics. Small challenger brands should shout louder than they spend. It’s more efficient, it’s more authentic, and it leads to real connections with consumers. We call it Moneyball for Marketers.