Why Improving Athletic Performance Is A Lot Like Improving Marketing Performance
I was an exceptionally mediocre athlete in high school and college, and I carried that moderate proficiency right into adulthood as an age group triathlete turned weightlifter turned ... someone who now does whatever she feels like in the gym.
I never made it to the Olympics. I never went pro. I did set one course record in a 10-miler (with a 20 mph tailwind, in a field of approximately seven people — two of them were my parents).
Boring story short, I’m just OK at fitness. But I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’ve learned a few important lessons – six, to be precise – that actually translate quite well to marketing.
1. Consistency Is Key
This is the first piece of advice every fitfluencer, personal trainer and New Year’s resolution article gives to beginning exercisers – because it’s arguably the most critical component of getting in shape.
It’s also the hardest one.
But if you only go to the gym sporadically, when the mood strikes or because you just caught a rerun of “American Ninja Warrior,” you’re not going to see results. If you go on a regular basis, you will.
Consistency is simple in principle but difficult to execute – and that applies to marketing as well. It’s not easy to come up with compelling, educational blog topics on a regular basis or commit to spending two to three hours a day on LinkedIn creating great content and then engaging with the comments.
But if you don’t do it consistently, you might as well not do it at all. An Orbit Media Studios survey found that bloggers who publish daily are far more likely to see stronger results than those who posted monthly or at irregular intervals.
Hold yourself accountable. Set a schedule and stick to it. Your followers will begin to anticipate your new content and engagement will increase. But that takes time, which brings me to our next lesson.
2. Be Patient
The wildly popular exercise-tracking app Strava used its millions of data points to determine that the second Friday in January is when most cyclists abandon their New Year’s resolutions. Other research supports their findings: 77% of resolutioners stick to pursuing their goals for a grand total of one week.
(I know not everyone’s New Year’s resolution is about getting in shape, but it’s at the top of the list. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see 67 Planet Fitness commercials in the span of a single “This Is Us” holiday episode.)
We’re a culture trained to expect instant gratification – in this case, instant results. But you’re not going to run a breezy six-minute mile in your first week of the Couch to 5k program. You’re going to be slow, sore, out of breath and mad at running. That’s normal. But if you get discouraged because you’re not progressing as quickly as you want to be, you’re far more likely to give up.
Real results take time, in fitness and in marketing. But many marketers are too quick to throw in the towel on a new strategy or channel if they don’t see measurable results right away. Here’s where you need to check your expectations – and possibly have a tough conversation with leadership about their expectations. Consider this: It can take four to six months to begin seeing results from your SEO strategy. If you give up after two months, you wasted eight weeks of effort for nothing.
3. Measure What Matters
Losing weight can be a side effect of getting in shape, but too many people make the scale their only means of measuring progress when they should be paying more attention to what they can do: Run a faster average pace per mile, bench a personal record, master a handstand in yoga – the list goes on.
When it comes to marketing, metrics are critical for determining if your strategy is sound and your execution is on point. But it’s what you measure that really matters.
For example, marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), once the reigning king of marketing performance, may not in fact be the best measure of success. Focusing solely on MQLs can lead to marketing teams doing, quite frankly, the wrong things to hit arbitrary goals: Gating fluffy pieces of content with click-bait titles for the sole purpose of capturing email addresses and calling them leads.
In short, the wrong metrics manifest the wrong behaviors.
Focus instead on metrics that capture actual intent to buy:
- Sales opportunities
- Sales cycle length
- Percentage of inbound revenue
- Pipeline velocity
- Lead-to-customer conversion rate
4. Master The Basics
On the flip side of getting discouraged too quickly is getting ahead of yourself. Generally, I’m a fan of anything that inspires people to get out and move, but in some cases, the recent explosion of “fitspo” culture has taken things too far, encouraging newer exercisers to try moves or routines they’re simply not ready to perform.
Rather than attempting a complex, possibly contraindicated exercise because your favorite social media star posted a video of it, become proficient in the foundational elements first. Master the basic squat – really master it – before you try the Bulgarian split squat. If you’re just getting into running, sign up for a 5k before you try a marathon.
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when it comes to marketing, too, especially with new technologies and exciting automation capabilities popping up everywhere promising to accelerate your growth in a matter of days (what did we learn in the patience segment?). It’s overwhelming – and distracting – when you consider the number of options and all of the complex marketing tactics you could be using.
You don’t need them – at least not at first. Heat-mapping tools and chat bots certainly have their place, but marketing technology should be used to pour gasoline on an already crackling fire – not to start one.
Begin with the basics:
- Research and define your ideal customer profile
- Make sure your messaging is disruptive, engaging and customer-centric
- Do the brand story work – beyond creating logos and choosing fonts
- Create content on a consistent basis
- Make sure you’re in alignment with sales on lead vs. prospect vs. opportunity
5. Avoid The Comparison Trap
Here’s a common adage trotted out every January during New Year’s resolution season: “Everyone at the gym is too busy worrying about themselves to care what you’re doing.” It’s meant to help new gym goers feel less self-conscious, which is great.
But it’s not entirely true. Plenty of times I’ve found myself wondering if someone is stronger, faster or fitter than I am. And all that comparison does is distract me from what I’m trying to accomplish.
Marketers love a good competitive analysis. But while you don’t want to be wholly blind to your competitors, you also don’t need to spend a significant amount of time focusing on them. Channel that energy and attention into your prospects and your customers. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about what you’re doing right and wrong, about what’s working and what isn’t – either by their behavior or by literally telling you.
You should be checking in with customers regularly, whether with a formal survey or just by reaching out to chat. You can also learn a lot from prospects who don’t become customers. If you don’t approach the conversation with any hint of sales intent, most people will be willing to give you five to 10 minutes of their time to let you know why your business – or the sales experience they had – wasn’t right for them. That information is far more valuable than keeping an eagle eye on your competitor’s blog.
6. Keep The Big Picture In Mind
Sometimes working out is the worst. Even as someone who genuinely loves the gym, I’ve had days when the bar feels too heavy, my heart rate is too high, I hate everything on my playlist and someone is on my favorite treadmill so I might as well go home.
On those days, I have to remember that it’s just one workout. Reaching any fitness goal is an accumulation of months or years of work. It can’t be thrown off course by an hour or so of feeling terrible.
Keeping your big-picture goals in mind is paramount for marketers, too. We established the importance of metrics, but if you live and die by the slightest uptick or downturn in a certain key performance indicator (KPI), you lose sight of what you’re really trying to achieve.
Pay attention to trends and long-term performance, not the normal ebbs and flows that can paralyze your decision-making if you let them. If you notice a consistent, month-over-month downward trend in your lead-to-customer conversion rate, for example, that’s something to dig into. But a slight reduction in social media engagement for a few days might just mean that a certain post didn’t resonate – not that your entire strategy is garbage. Take note and move on.
In the gym and in your marketing work, playing the long game will always yield better results than going after quick wins or panicking because one tactical element in a big-picture strategy didn’t work as well as you hoped it would.
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