One, two, three data-driven marketing lessons from MLB’s obsession with analytics

by | Oct 17, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

Launch angle. Exit velocity. Wins above replacement (WAR). You name it, Major League Baseball measures it. The same goes for social media marketers. Organic reach. Unique visitors. Cost per click.

Baseball’s use of analytics started well before the 2011 movie “Moneyball” popularized it, but MLB front offices have gone into overdrive with data in recent years. Statcast, an automated MLB analytics tool, collects several terabytes of raw data per game. And at least one team is using a supercomputer to crunch numbers. If you didn’t know before, you do now: The data deluge is real, and it’s enough to make your head spin.

But there’s no crying in baseball … or marketing. And all that data is no good unless you’re able to do something with it. Pitches still have to be made. Bases still have to be run. Campaigns must be launched. Leads must be converted.

And as marketers search for strategies to make the most of their mounds of hard data, the baseball diamond offers a roster full of inspiration.

It’s a game of inches

Ironically, the large amount of data collected by MLB teams is often used to make small changes—like adjusting a pitcher’s arm angle a few degrees to speed up his fastball—to improve their odds of success.

For marketers, this means your content strategy shouldn’t dramatically shift every time a Google search algorithm update is announced. Instead, small changes—more refined SEO or more descriptive metadata—can go a long way.

On the social side of that strategy the margin between a home run and foul ball can be just as small. For example, knowing 45-second videos perform better than minute-long ones on Twitter can mean the difference between your brand’s clip going viral and disappearing into the 140-character ether. It really can come down to inches—or in this case, seconds.

Be where you expect the ball to be hit

In baseball, when players make a defensive shift, they adjust their placement on the field to better defend against a right- or left-handed batter (with the laws of physics and years of data pointing the way). Marketers face this same tough test when it comes to analytics. With data as their guide, they are always working to anticipate where they expect the consumer to be and get their first.

This dynamic is why brands joined Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in the early 2000s. And it’s the reason brands are testing the waters of TikTok now. These early adopters are looking for the best route to get ahead of the competition, much like a team shifting to one side or the other of the baseball diamond.

But these shifts in strategy shouldn’t happen after getting just a few hits. Consistently examining data over a long period of time can help you identify opportunities sooner. And the earlier you’re able to get in position, the greater the odds your approach will be successful.

Deep benches win championships

Analytics exist to increase your odds of winning—but they don’t guarantee you a win. The digital environment is fast-changing and innovation is important for staying ahead of the game. Data provides insights into the past so you can better predict the future. But no matter how good your data is (or how many 100-win teams a season brings), losses still happen.

Sometimes those losses affect just your team, other times it’s the whole industry. Case in point: Remember the pivot to video craze? Fun times … not. In 2015, many brands and media outlets made a hard switch to video. The shift was based on data that included some precarious Facebook predictions and most companies that pivoted saw web traffic plummet. Sure, revenue from video ads might’ve ticked up in the short term, but at what cost?

In short, abandoning other content options for video went just about as well as trading your entire pitching staff for one great hitter (i.e. very, very badly). The lesson learned? You need a well-rounded team. Video is still a major player in the content world in many ways, but it needs support. Your content lineup needs to include video, blog posts, eBooks, webinars, podcasts and whatever comes next.

In the end, getting your jersey dirty with data is beneficial to every marketer. Whether your team is batting .235 or .325, the only way to improve is by swinging—with tweets, posts, blogs, and more.

This article originally appeared on the Tier One Partners blog; reprinted with permission.

Matt Moreno
Matt Moreno is a Content Strategist at Tier One Partners.


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