As the sun starts to rise later and set earlier, and as the leaves shift to a yellowish-green hue, my mind prepares for the change in seasons. Growing up on the East Coast, fall has always been a magical time for me. While I adore the colorful foliage and cool breezes, something else excites me even more: professional football. Raised in a sports-loving family, I started attending Washington Redskins games at the age of seven.
Most of my girlfriends initially found my passion for football somewhat odd and couldn’t care less about my ability to throw a perfect spiral. However, over time, they realized it was an ideal way to connect with potential boyfriends. I even found myself giving them lessons about the game. While I’m no Erin Andrews, my knowledge surpasses that of most people. The same holds true for my understanding of modern marketing.
So, let’s huddle up, stack hands, and celebrate the start of the 2023 football season with a post exploring the similarities between marketing and my favorite sport.
There are no positions for generalists.
On either offense or defense, a starting football squad comprises 11 players, each excelling in a specific position. Quarterbacks orchestrate plays, centers snap the ball and block, running backs either carry or catch the ball to advance downfield, and offensive linemen serve as the quarterback’s protective shield.
It’s exceedingly rare for a player to switch positions during a game. Consider this: have you ever seen a lineman attempt a deep throw, or a quarterback engage in head-to-head blocking with a defensive end? Occasionally, a kicker might make a significant tackle, but that’s generally to prevent an opponent from going “all the way”, as ESPN’s Chris Berman would say.
Football teams are assemblies of specialists, and modern marketing departments are no different.
The era of the one-size-fits-all marketing generalist is over. While it’s not impossible to operate this way, B2B companies are learning the hard way that they’re likely to lose against competitors that have specialized rosters.
Today’s marketing teams must be composed of individuals who are experts in distinct areas of marketing.
Here’s how it might play out:
Developing the vision
Creating the playbook
Director of Marketing
Calling and leading the plays
Marketing Ops Manager
Handing out assignments
Uncovering data-driven insights
Digital Marketing Manager
Protecting team assets
You must have a game plan.
Football requires meticulous planning and tactical expertise. Each team develops a foundational strategy, known as a game plan, in preparation for a match. These plans can include hundreds of pre-designed plays and tactics, each tailored for specific situations.
Throughout the game and at halftime, these strategies are continually refined and adjusted to counter the opponent’s moves. The success of these modifications often determines the game’s outcome. Imagine the chaos if a team of 11 players took to the field without a coherent game plan. They might expend a lot of energy, but they’d likely fail to make progress, possibly even suffering injuries. Picture a defensive end, running at full speed, colliding with an unprepared quarterback.
Similarly, marketing teams need a well-defined strategy and plan. Operating without them leads to what CMOs term “Random Acts of Marketing,” a wasteful approach that yields no return on investment and can even damage the company by failing to meet objectives while competitors pull ahead.
We frequently see mid-sized companies hiring one or more mid-level marketing generalists to develop these essential marketing components. However, without a CMO’s guidance, they’re setting themselves up for failure, akin to a football team finishing at the bottom of its division.
That’s why many CEOs open to hybrid team structures are increasingly turning to Fractional CMOs to fill this gap, ensuring their companies are prepared for both game day and a successful season.
The chemistry of the team matters.
Healthy teams generally outperform those that aren’t in top shape. While the skill level of substitute players may be lower than that of the starters, I believe the real issue for underperforming teams is a lack of chemistry. By the end of training camp and the preseason, members of the starting squad are often so in sync that they can practically finish each other’s sentences. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and bring out the best in one another.
Take the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, for example, with standout players like Mahomes and Kelce. Teams fear not just individual players, but the collective power of an entire offense or defense. Achieving this level of synergy starts with recruiting talented players willing to put in the work, followed by consistent practice, communication, and collaboration. The longer a team plays together, the better they become.
The importance of team chemistry extends to marketing as well. Being a solo marketer is a lonely and virtually an impossible role to fill effectively. For those building a specialized marketing team, it’s crucial to have a CEO or CMO who understands the overarching strategy and the specific roles needed to execute it.
Knowing which positions should be full-time versus fractional is also key. A winning team will have the right specialists in the right roles, dedicating the appropriate amount of time each month. This is when the magic happens: professionals play to their strengths and feel successful, making them less likely to leave the company.
Did you know the average tenure for a marketer is just over 2.5 years? High turnover can seriously disrupt team chemistry. Just like in football, the longer a marketing team works together, the more likely they are to execute flawlessly. For mid-market B2B companies lacking the expertise to build a championship-caliber team, outsourced or fractional marketing offers a viable solution. After all, not every company has the luxury of General Managers and professional scouts.
Are you ready for some football / marketing?
As the final whistle blows on this post, let’s remember that whether it’s the gridiron or the boardroom, strategy, specialization, and synergy are the MVPs of the game. Just as a football team can’t win the Super Bowl with a quarterback who’s also trying to be the linebacker, kicker, and coach, a marketing team can’t conquer the industry without a well-defined game plan and specialized roles.
So, as we gear up for another thrilling season of tackles and touchdowns, let’s also fine-tune our marketing playbooks. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a rookie in the game of marketing, remember that the key to victory is not just having a team, but having the right team. So put on your game face, set your line-up, and let’s make this season—whether in football or marketing—a championship one. Hut, hut, hike!
Thinking about the outsourced marketing model or how to structure your marketing department for success? Schedule a call with me, Deb Andrews, to learn how this approach is helping middle market companies accelerate growth and maximize ROI.