People-Based Marketing Could Become Our Industry’s Moneyball

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It’s hard to believe another baseball season is upon us. Professional baseball in 2019 has evolved into a different game compared to how it was played and managed 10-15 years ago. Similarly, digital advertising has also evolved dramatically in the past decade since the dawn of data-driven technology.

In the late 90s, a data revolution insinuated itself into the deeply entrenched system of baseball talent scouting, greatly affecting the way skills were evaluated and prioritized when constructing team rosters to maximize success. This movement was pioneered by Bill James, a statistical genius and baseball fanatic who rebelled against the traditional methods by introducing a new evidence-based orthodoxy dubbed “sabermetrics.” One of the first advocates of this new approach was Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. The unlikely success of the 2002 Oakland A’s – with one of the sport’s smaller payrolls – went spectacularly against the grain of how winning baseball teams were constructed and was immortalized in Michael Lewis’s best-selling book, “Moneyball.” The book became an Oscar Best Picture-nominated movie starring Brad Pitt.

Strikingly similar is the evolution of digital advertising in the data tech age. The early days of digital advertising were tethered to a channel-centric orientation, as opposed to a more holistic view of the customer. Nowadays, with the advent of marketing clouds and the integration of more robust adtech and martech stacks, brands are beginning to embrace people-based marketing, advertising’s version of “Moneyball.” They are relying more on quantitative data and less on gut instinct in their decisioning. This new order will elevate our industry; thus, we must take a page from the “Moneyball” playbook and truly evaluate and develop talent through a more modern filter.

The Impact on Talent

The sabermetric revolution in baseball reprioritized metrics to set a new course for talent procurement. Stats such as stolen bases and batting average were now considered remnants of times gone by and treated as less consequential in importance. Instead, more rigorous indicators like on-base percentage and slugging percentage came to the forefront as more reliable indicators of offensive proficiency.

The data-driven, people-based marketing revolution has dramatically impacted talent profiles in digital advertising as well. On an overarching level, a sustainable, successful career in our industry will require a skill set that is both creative and analytical. Today’s marketers must acknowledge the value of data to buttress and often sharpen their own creativity and gut instinct, instead of regarding it as a hindrance.

Our industry needs to embrace new ways of thinking. The cross-pollination of a range of sensibilities and perspectives is what typically generates the most nuanced and sophisticated messaging and the most efficient and impactful dissemination of that messaging.

One of the more positive impacts of a people-based paradigm versus a channel-centric one is that careers can now open up in ways that weren’t possible when skill sets were so narrowly defined. For example, email marketing experts should now be encouraged, if not mandated, to expand their horizons and abilities to become holistic customer strategy experts. The email expert will now need to be versed in social, video, et.al. A customer strategy expert must be the renaissance (wo)man of the 21st century. Creativity, data, and technology must all be served at a premium, and industry professionals must all have a working knowledge in areas that are ancillary to their primary talents. This goes for creative people, who need to reconcile themselves to the benefits of data in concert with the emotional elements of creativity.

In addition, current generations of consultancies, agencies, and clients are increasingly cross-pollinating due to evolving corporate value propositions. Organizations need to prioritize and invest in career development at all stages through a modern filter, so everyone can remain relevant contributors to their quickly changing organizations.

Transformation doesn’t have to be disruptive; in fact, in an ideal scenario, transformation is evolutionary. Typically, every revolution has a road map forged by rebels and iconoclasts like the two Bills in baseball (James and Beane). To them, the risk/reward prognosis was blatantly obvious. Data, if harnessed and analyzed effectively, can reshape old mindsets and lead to greater success. That courage sparked a true revolution where all teams have now adopted this data-driven approach to huge success. As we move into the 2019 baseball season, Major League Baseball is generating $10 billion in annual revenues.

Will digital advertising have a similar success story to tout in 10 years?

Matt Seeley

EVP of Technology Services at Merkle

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