B2B Beat: 5 Lessons Marketers Can Learn from College Football

January 3, 2016

There are many ways to spend the arrival of the New Year. Some attend parties and celebrate the dawning of a new year. Others quietly reflect on the opportunities offered by a fresh start.  And many of us, and I know I’m not alone, watch college football.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day supplied college football fans with eight bowl games, including two national championship semifinals. Although it may seem unproductive to some to sit in a chair, eat salty snacks, and watch parts of eight football games in a 36-hour period, NCAA football can teach us valuable marketing lessons.

Here are five takeaways marketers can score from examining college football:     

Brands matter

If you want to win a NCAA championship in college football, you have to play for (or root for) a university that has a brand affiliated with excellence on the gridiron. In the past 50 years of Associated Press polling, only 18 college teams have won national championships. Eleven of these teams have won multiple AP championships led by Alabama (seven); Miami (five); and Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma, each with four. The brand name offers the chance to win because it is the magnet that attracts the coaching and the talent necessary to play the game at an elite level. The bottom line is you have to play for one of these 10 or so schools that have won two or more titles in the past to have a realistic chance of winning a national championship in the future. This year’s championship game supports this theory – both Alabama and Clemson have won at least one national championship in the past 35 years. 

The takeaway for marketers: Brand is a powerful thing. It attracts customers. It helps push us to the top of the search results. And it’s a big factor in recruiting talent.

Leadership is critical

If Alabama defeats Clemson in the national title game on Monday, January 11, just two head coaches will have combined to win eight of the last 13 NCAA football championships. Nick Saban, who is the head coach of Alabama, has already won three championships at Alabama and notched another at Louisiana State University. Last season, Urban Meyer won the national championship as the head coach of Ohio State, and he previously garnered two titles at Florida. It’s clear that leadership is critical to winning championships, and Saban and Meyer deliver that leadership no matter where they’re coaching.

The lesson for marketers: Marketing departments crave leadership – the kind of leadership that can make the difficult decisions on whether to invest your marketing dollars in search, social, mobile, marketing technologies, or content marketing.

Talent is crucial

Even successful coaches like Saban and Meyer can’t win a national championship if they’re fielding teams populated with weak recruits. Individual talent is necessary to play winning football. The Associated Press’s first team All-America squad for the 2015 season features five players from the two teams in the national championship game: three from Alabama and two from Clemson. (Only two other schools – Baylor (3) and Ohio State (2) -- had multiple first-team selections).  

The lesson for marketers: Recruiting and retaining talent is crucial. Attracting the kind of people who understand today’s technology and can leverage it can be the difference between leading your market or falling behind.

The fundamentals are essential

Long passes and acrobatic catches make the SportsCenter highlights, but running the football wins college games. In the eight bowl games played on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the winning team gained more yards on the ground than the losing team – in almost every case by a hundred yards or more. Running the football effectively requires fundamental soundness, especially by the blockers on the offensive line.

The lesson for marketers: In an age when the rules are in constant flux, it’s easy to get distracted by the newest shiny object. But it’s basic blocking and tackling that makes marketing departments thrive. Here are the basic and time-tested approaches marketers must put into practice: Know your audiences, target them with customized messages, analyze what's working, and invest more on the most effective tactics.

Teamwork wins championships

To win an NCAA championship a university needs a football brand, leadership, and talent – and that talent must be versatile. The best football squads excel on offense, defense, and special teams. To be good in all phases of the game, a football team needs a variety of players: big linemen, a savvy quarterback, speedy wide receivers, quick defensive backs, and strong-legged punters and kickers.

The lesson for marketers: Football teams need players on both sides of the ball, and so do marketing teams. Marketers need left-brained and right-brained talent: They need people who are math- and data-oriented and they need creative thinkers to fully leverage the marketing technology that is growing increasingly important. 

College football’s New Year’s bowls can deliver lessons for marketers, and so can this blog – on a daily basis. To keep with the changes hitting B2B marketing, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog today!