In my last post, I mentioned how much I love snow skiing and shared my latest downhill ski adventure. I also love cross country skiing. Over Spring Break, I was out for a long, long cross country ski when it hit me that successful marketing ends up being a blend of these two types of snow skiing. How so? Well, let’s see what all three have in common:
- They get your heart pumping – in cross country, you are doing a lot of hard work that can leave you out of breath if you don’t hold back. Downhill is an adrenaline pumping rush of high speeds. But, great marketing can be an awesome rush too. When you launch a new product or new campaign and you see how well it’s working – the phones are ringing, people are clamoring to try it, prospects are saying, “yes, I do want to hear more”, you send an email and donations jump $1,000... It feels great!
- They take focused concentration – cross country skiing may look easy, but trust me that if you get your weight unbalanced, down you go. The speeds of downhill feel awesome, but you have to be looking out ahead of where you are going to make sure there are no hazards. And, marketing means being strategic – understand your prospects’ behavior, lay out a plan to change that behavior and be ready to adjust because every marketing plan needs adjusting in implementation. Oh yeah, and you better be monitoring how it’s working so you know when to adjust.
- They all take practice to master – need I say more?
- You have to expect the unexpected – there are very few flat surfaces in cross country skiing. Once you climb a hill, you never know what’s on the other side but it’s typically treacherous. After all, cross country skis are about as wide as your foot and not that easy to control. In downhill, it’s all fun until you are out of control or another skier suddenly looms right in front of you or you realize that the rest of the slope is covered in moguls (these are those large bumps on the slope) and exposed rocks. And, there are plenty of examples of marketing campaigns that went awry – how about product delays that leave buyers searching for your product since the ads were bought before you knew there was a delay, or a Groupon that’s so successful it crashes the website, or even worse, no one even noticed your latest campaign or product? In fact, when you are laying out your plan it probably makes sense to come up with Plan A, B and C.
- Finally, they all work better when you have great equipment and tools – in both kinds of skiing, better equipment usually means more comfort, more responsiveness and easier maneuvering. With marketing, better software makes it easier to create, manage and monitor what you are doing. But, I’d argue that marketers also benefit from the tools we typically teach in our marketing classes – frameworks for understanding what’s happening in a market and with customers, strategies for how to manage through these situations and best practice examples to guide future decisions.
Okay, so why do I say successful marketing is a blend of the two? Well, cross country skiing is a lot like the planning and strategizing part of marketing – you are doing a lot of hard work and you’ve got to have a bigger picture in mind. Most cross country trails are several miles in length and take you out to somewhere and back. You provide the power that gets you to your destination.
Downhill skiing, on the other hand, is a lot more like marketing execution. You get things started and watch how they unfold. Your job now is to keep things moving and remove hurdles along the way. The execution is all the more fun when you know you’ve already done the hard work to plan for success! Likewise, I relish my downhill skiing days after a day spent going cross country.
With all three, I’m glad I still have plenty of time to practice my craft. If you believe Malcom Gladwell's assertion in Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be freakishly great at something. So, at least with skiing I've got quite a long way to go!