What do tennis and marketing have in common?


If you’d asked me that question 12 months ago, I would have said: not much. Then last summer I joined a competitive tennis league for the first time. I had a USTA (United States Tennis Association) card, a date for my first match and a pit in my stomach. What I didn’t necessarily have was a game plan. I surprised myself and found a game plan by using my marketing skills.

What I realized is: to win in tennis or marketing you use the same four steps.

Step #1: Get to know your audience

Every match included an initial warm up where my opponent and I would practice against each other for about five minutes. What a goldmine of information! With just a few practice shots I could quickly assess my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Was she a runner? Did she favor her backhand? Serve well? Understanding my opponent helped me adjust my game accordingly and increased my chances of winning. The same rule applies to marketing: to win your audience, you first must understand who they are and their needs. Once you get to know them you can then adjust your game (messaging) accordingly. Consider these your “warm up” questions when defining your audience:

  1. What does your audiences look like ”paint a picture”? For example: geographic area, number of employees, revenue, decision-maker, industry, etc.
  2. What information is relevant to their world? How can you make their life easier?
  3. What are their fears, concerns, frustrations and challenges?
  4. Where do they “hang out”? For example: organizations, LinkedIn groups, events, conferences, etc.
  5. What do they read and how do they get their information?
  6. What action do you want them to take?
Step 2 – Strategize, anticipate and document the next move

It’s obvious; to be successful in any sport you must have a strategy. And, the same applies to marketing. In both tennis and marketing to greatly improve your changes of success you must have an overarching strategy that connects to your goals and can be measured.

Here’s where tennis and marketing differ slightly. In tennis, to increase your winning percentage, aside from practice, you must learn how to anticipate your opponent’s next move. This skill comes by watching your opponent’s body and racquet placement and staying laser focused. Knowing where their shot will land helps you get in the right position and prepare for your next move.

According to the 2015 Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, produced by CMI and Marketing Professors, the most effective marketers documented their strategy. 60% of those who have a documented strategy rate themselves highly effective in terms of content marketing effectiveness, compared with 30% of those that have a verbal strategy. . A documented strategy provides you with the necessary steps to stay focused and keep on track.

To learn more about B2B content marketing winning trends read the full report, 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America (pdf).

Step 3 – Choose your tactics wisely

In both tennis and marketing your toolbox of tactics is deep. Lob, drop shot or short shot? Social media, in-person event or e-newsletter? The tactical choices may be different but the concept is the same: to win, you must select the tool that best matches your strategy and the audience’s behavior.

Step 4 – Keep it fresh

If you always follow up a serve by running to the net, your opponent will catch on quickly – and beat you every time. You have to keep your game fresh – mix it up – to keep your opponent guessing. The same is true in marketing. A little unpredictability can make you more noticeable and memorable. Unique, standout stories will help you win over your audience and engage them in what you have to say.

You can say “it’s been a rough day” or you can tell a story about how your sandwich fell on the floor and the mayhem that followed. You want to keep your dialog fresh.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain quote given to me by Julie Grippo Schuler- copywriter extraordinaire.

You can’t win if you don’t play – and you won’t win if you don’t get your game plan in place. So how are you playing to win in the business world? Share your insights with us.

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