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Marketing

Why Digital Marketing is Just a Football Game

Chris Blackwell

Football is the most competitive, physical, and aggressive activity. The preparation that goes into every game is incredible and is executed by some of the world’s best athletes. Digital Marketing can be as competitive and aggressive as any football game. Replacing highly toned athletes are world-class marketing minds, all looking for that extra inch for an edge.

Both Football and Digital Marketing are simply a game. The stakes are high in both, but it’s still a game. What goes into winning the game is a lot more than you see on your TV and in your feed.

It’s All About the Pre-Game Prep

Football coaches spend 98% of their time going over in-game video, success and failure statistics of possible plays, in-game probabilities, and ratios of player on player matchups. When the coach finally steps on the field, they are merely executing those strategies. The decisions they make during the game were pre-determined days ahead of time.

Your marketing strategy must be no different. If you decide to start running Facebook Ads to your website while logging into the Facebook Ad Manager, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You need to outline your strategy before deciding what type of traffic you want to target.

Setting up Your Game Plan

Coaches will usually create their initial game plan. This is your “everything is going according to plan” type scenario. If you won the coin toss, would you receive the ball first or defer? Are you going to be running 20% of the time or go for an aggressive 40% run game? How many points would you like to have going into halftime?

Set up your marketing plan with the same strategy in mind. How many conversions do I need in a day? If I convert at 2.1%, how much traffic do I need to each landing page? What is my profit per conversion, so I know what my cost per conversion can be?

Determining these broad goals will help you decide if you’re on the right track from the start. Draw out the game plan with how you expect to go before you get into your different scenarios.

Analytics: Know the Numbers

Every decision on the field comes down to what the analytics say. Are you going for that 4th and inches on the 45 yard line? The analytics say go for it in the 4th quarter if tied or up by 3 – 10 points. Punt if the situation is different.

Numbers are so important to coaches when making a decision. If you know your field goal kicker is 28% less accurate when it’s below freezing, it will help them make a decision on kicking the 52-yard field goal or going for it on 4th down.

You need to know your numbers. What is your median conversion ratio? What is your customer lifetime value? What is the average sale size per order? Knowing this will empower you to make decisions around ad spend, marketing blitzes, and partnerships.

Example: I know that I have a 2% conversion rate on my e-commerce site for selling flight drones. The average checkout price is $570 and I have a 32% profit margin. With those numbers, I can spend up to $3.64 per visitor. Anything more is not profitable, and anything under that number is extra profit.

Matching Up the Content to the Strategy

In football, we often talk about offensive vs defensive matchups. You don’t want your average defender matched up against an elite wide receiver. You would put your best defender on the elite wide receiver, and possibly even double-up on him.

You need to make sure you are matching up your content to the correct medium and source. Driving traffic to an e-commerce page from LinkedIn may not convert as well as ads driven from Facebook. However, if you were selling office supplies, the LinkedIn traffic may convert higher than Facebook. You have to determine the matchup ahead of time.

Matching up to the right medium and source can also be about buyer confidence. Selling SEO services from ads is hard because you haven’t proved that you are any good with SEO, just good with ads. If the user found you through an organic search result, your credibility on SEO and content marketing would be quite high.

Kicking the Field Goal

When the game is in the early stages, it’s important to go for the quick wins. Coaches will kick a field goal on a 4th and 2, when later on the game they may go for the 1st down. The coach wants to put some points on the board and set the tone for the game early.

The coach understands that scoring early is more important than going for the big win right away. That’s how winning is done.

You need to find your quick wins right away. Most online marketers get discouraged by trying to execute the entire game plan in the first act. You may have spent $500 in ads to your landing page that didn’t get a single conversion. Simplify it down to go for the quick win.

Instead of trying to get a purchase right away, target a smaller goal. Replace your purchase button with a newsletter signup form. See if you can get people to signup for your newsletter first. The newsletter doesn’t require their credit card or purchase intent but leads towards the end goal.

E-Commerce sites can scope down their targets too. Set the goal to either a chat conversion or phone call. If your initial goal was 2.1% of people convert to a sale, aim for 4% call or chat. You’ll be able to see if the marketing copy is working before going for the sale.

Going for the Touchdown

You can’t win a game only with field goals (or at least you shouldn’t win). The team needs to go for a touchdown when the opportunity presents itself. The other team is going to put up touchdowns and you have to match them.

You need to convert the sale today. You’ve set up your funnel, tested out a few small wins, and have a solid expectation of what your conversion rate should now be. It’s time to turn up the heat.

If you’re running ads, make sure you are doing enough volume to get reliable data. If you have a small budget, target a small geographical area even if you sell nationwide.

You want your ads to be shown to your target audience multiple times. The more often your target audience sees your ad the more likely it will result in conversion when they take action. Make sure your ads will be seen by your target audience enough times before your ad budget is exhausted.

Optimize your landing page to capture the sale. Don’t send them to your regular landing page or home page. Send them to a specific page set up for your campaign to maximize the chance for a conversion.

Run A/B tests against your landing page. Don’t make changes until you have a sample size of at least 700 visitors. You need a large enough dataset to be able to make proper decisions. You’re playing a game of numbers and every inch counts.

“The inches we need are everywhere around us”

Al Pacino – Any Given Sunday

The Best Defence is a Strong Offence

An offense-oriented football team usually will wear down a strong defensive team. No defense has been able to stop Aaron Rodgers this year, and Patrick Mahomes always seems to find a way to scramble for a win. 

Teams like the Packers and Chiefs don’t have the best defense in football. They win by out-scoring the other team just about every game. 

You need to take the same aggressive line as these football teams. Digital marketing is an aggressive game, and your competitors won’t sit idle forever. You need to be strong and start attacking. 

Your content needs to be everywhere. When your audience is searching for solutions to their problems, you need to be front and center. If a competitor is ranking ahead of you on Google, you need to do everything you can to take the spot. 

Does your competitor have better reviews on Facebook than you? Why? You need to fix that. You need to win. 

The Referees Don’t Hurt or Help

Referees often get blamed for not making a call or for making a call when they shouldn’t have. You’ll often hear fans say that the refs “cost them the game”. 

The truth is honest and brutal. The referees never cost you the game. They may not help you out from time to time, but in the end, you won or lost the game. If the team scored 3 more touchdowns than the other team, the referee calls wouldn’t matter.

Facebook and Google are not in business with your competition. They are simply the referees in the game. They are impartial and are working only to give the user what they are looking for. 

If Google is showing your competitor in the #1 spot, it’s your fault. If Facebook has recommended competitors’ content over yours, it’s your fault. Google and Facebook may not be helping you, but they do not cost you the game.

Calling an Audible

When the offense lines up for a run play, and the quarterback sees that most of the defence is lined up against the line of scrimmage, it’s time to call an audible. 

Calling an audible means the quarterback makes changes to the play in real-time. He yells out codes that tell his team that the play is changing. Since all the defenders are shallow, he is probably thinking long-pass. 

You should always be ready to call an audible in marketing. Take advantage of recent world events that will give you a marketing edge. If a competitor has started to go hard one week on Facebook, switch platforms, and try Pinterest that week. 

Taking advantage of situational events is critical to digital marketing. Just because you have a plan, doesn’t mean you’re going to follow it blindly. 

Even the Green Bay Packers run the ball every few plays. If they didn’t the defence would always be expecting a throw and Aaron Rodgers would be less effective. 

You Need the Ball to Bounce Your Way

Even the best football teams need some help. When Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were squaring off, often the difference in the game came down to a lucky bounce here are there. You need some good luck to go your way.

You may write 151 pieces of content that go nowhere, and then Forbes features #152 and you’re now receiving 20x the traffic then you ever had before. Your 378th Instagram post could be picked up by the algorithm. Your competitor updates their WordPress theme and completely kills their SEO.

Have the pieces prepared and the content online to be ready. You have to set yourself up to be lucky. If you’re not ready to capitalize when a break goes your way, the fortunate event won’t matter.

Once after a close game in which Vince Lombardi was coaching, a reporter stated how lucky they were in that game that the ball bounced their way. He simply replied, “The harder we work, the luckier we seem to get”.

Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity. Put yourself in a position that when the ball bounces your way, you can take it right into the endzone.


Football is a fun sport to watch. The athleticism that it takes to run at full speed and catch the ball, thrown from 30+ yards on a dime, is simply incredible. So much preparation goes into each and every game. From the head coach to the offensive/defensive coordinators. There are even individual coaches for the Quarterbacks, Line Backers, and Wide Receivers.

The comparison to online marketing is clear. It’s a competitive game that takes an enormous amount of effort. There are winners and there are losers. Lou Holtz, the legendary College Football Coach said…

“Your TALENT determines what you can do. Your MOTIVATION determines how much you are willing to do. Your ATTITUDE determines how well you do it.”

Lou Holtz