Moneyball Marketing Strategies

by Tony Lang, Catalyst

On September 23 a movie about baseball’s front offices will be opening in theaters across the country, starring some fellow I’m often mistaken for (just kidding…it’s Clooney I’m always mistaken for…ok, so a young Steve Carrell), based on the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. The book focuses on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who took a rigorous, statistically heavy analytics approach to signing players, an approach that often flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

The premise of Beane’s strategy was to focus on players who got on base frequently, and it relied heavily on a statistic calling OPS (on-base average + slugging percentage). In action it looked something like this: Although a big-budget team could pay a third baseman like Alex Rodriguez $25 million a year, using OPS you could pay a player 20% of that, yet get well over 60% of the same results. The concept fascinates me, and I think about how we can apply it to marketing.

If I were to compare a business to the players on a baseball team, I’d break it out as follows:

Product–Starting Pitchers
One factor you can’t overlook about Billy Beane’s success managing the A’s is that he was blessed with unbelievably talented, young starting pitchers. A company can do all sorts of great marketing, but the product has to be great for long-term success. Great starting pitching is the most surefire way to build a killer baseball team.

Sales–Closers
Always be closing. ‘Nuff said.

Customer Service–Relief Pitching
Middle relief pitchers are usually faced with tough situations created by their starting pitchers, and they do their best to smooth things over. That sounds a lot like customer care to me.

Offense–Marketing
This is when you get runs, or customers. This is also where Beane’s principles are most applicable to business. You could spend tons of money on an interactive marketing campaign that’s flashy and has banners all over various Websites, with direct mail pieces pointing to a microsite (think A-Rod), and you might get stellar returns. But you could also get 80% of the return from a small, highly optimized, far less expensive SEM campaign with a basic landing page. (Think solid third baseman with decent power, who draws a ton of walks.) So be sure to ask yourself how much that extra 20% is worth to you.

It’s worth noting that the Oakland A’s never won a World Series, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt Beane to occasionally deviate from his rules. There are some nonmeasurable intangibles that you can’t capture with statistics, such as guys who thrive in the moment, or whose leadership makes their teammates better.

Big, multichannel campaigns have important branding impact that isn’t easily measured. An ideal offense needs to include smart, budget-conscious investments that deliver a great ROI, along with thoughtful, larger campaigns designed to move the brand forward. The combination delivers a one-two pitch that will help your company score every time.

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