What Professional Athletes Can Teach Digital Marketers

Professional athletes may not be able to teach digital marketers how to master a layup or hit a 95 mph fastball, but they can teach them a more useful professional skill: demanding excellence. The difference between Hall of Famers and other athletes isn’t talent; it’s rejecting satisfaction with “good enough.” Digital marketers can also choose between resting on their laurels from an average campaign or striving for a better one.

In the age of automation it’s easy to leave things up to machines, from making our morning coffee to sending emails when we’re on vacation. Automation has made minor-league players of marketers everywhere, and the loss is tragic when you consider our collective potential. After setting up keywords for an online campaign, marketers allow algorithms to take care of the rest. They should—to a certain extent. Where the problem lies is when we get too comfortable with machines’ results. Algorithms produce good results, but why settle for “good?” Star athletes don’t, and neither should digital marketers.

To go beyond “good enough” the entire digital marketing team needs to step back into the game. They’ve been sitting on the bench for too long and letting algorithms play alone. Algorithms can deliver a winning season, but they simply don’t have what it takes to get to the championship on their own. Combining human intuition with algorithms is combination that digital marketing needs to move from good to great. I call this approach “intuitive search intelligence.” Campaigns in which machines and people coexist and share insights as partners perform the best.

Here’s how to let people back into the digital marketing game and win a national title:

Ask “why”

Asking “why” something works is essential to moving campaigns from good to great. Without this question and human expertise, campaigns can be stuck in neutral, making the same mistakes and getting the same good-but-not-great results. Algorithms can tell that one word or phrase performs better than another in an SEO or PPC campaign. They don’t know why it performs better, and they don’t have the capacity to ask.

To illustrate my point, allow me to give an example that sticks with our sports theme. Say you’re a marketing manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and you want to sell tickets to baseball games. If someone searches “baseball Los Angeles,” they could be looking for a number of different things. They could want anything from the history of baseball in Los Angeles to Anaheim Angels tickets. Machines can tell that “Dodgers” performs better than “baseball Los Angeles” for this goal, but it can’t indicate why. Only people can when they seek the answer.

Asking why also opens up new possibilities for keywords. “Dodgers” may perform better than “baseball Los Angeles,” but is there a third, better term? Only people can ask, try it out, and get a result. That possibility is crucial to intuitive search intelligence.

Collaborate across teams

Too often, digital marketing teams operate independently. Intuitive search intelligence calls for collaboration across teams because all aspects of digital marketing are affected by keywords, Web content, website architecture, meta descriptions, and more.

Let’s bring it back to the Dodgers example. If your PPC team finds that “dodger stadium” has a high conversion rate, the term is likely to also have a higher-than-average conversion rate in SEO, even if the rates aren’t identical. The PPC team should share that knowledge with its SEO counterpart. It makes sense for the teams to collaborate on strategies since they’re so connected.

When sharing insights and strategies it’s important to include the other components of digital marketing such as display, email, and social media campaigns. For example, the social media team would benefit from knowing that people searching “dodger stadium” are interested in purchasing tickets to Dodgers games, not booking a tour or getting a history lesson. They can use that knowledge to improve their content and ad strategies. Sharing insights helps all marketers shape how their brand is perceived across channels.

It’s important for digital marketers to learn what professional athletes already know: Championships aren’t won from individual plays. They’re won based on the season as a whole. To bring this analogy back to digital marketing, campaigns don’t succeed because one PPC ad performs well. That may win the game, but it can’t win the title. By bringing humans back into the equation, digital marketers can create championship-worthy campaigns.

Mike Mothner is founder and CEO of Wpromote

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