March 6, 2012 by Speakers' Spotlight

Moneyball Marketing: What Billy Beane Can Teach Us All About Winning in the Big Leagues

Guest blog from Marti Barletta

Companies not traditionally marketed to women are waking up to the monumental changes in women’s income, ownership, attitudes, priorities – and purchasing power. Martha Barletta is an internationally recognized expert and consultant on successful marketing to women, selling to women and women in the workplace. Martha is the author of Marketing to Women, which she wrote to help companies tap into the biggest market opportunity in the world today – the buying power of women. After getting her MBA from Wharton, Martha built her corporate career at marketing powerhouses like McCann Erickson, FCB and Frankel working with blue chip clients such as Kraft, Kodak and New York Life.

The movie Moneyball is a good story: underfunded team unexpectedly outperforms all the richly-rostered competitors by “thinking different,” as Apple would say (not to mention that Brad Pitt is in it!). And while my vote for Best Picture might go elsewhere, Moneyball gets my vote for Best Marketing Metaphor. In fact, we can all learn a number of valuable lessons from Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane.

When you don’t have the big bucks, you have to hold out for the big idea.

Billy Beane’s budget was head-shakingly small — he had one-third the payroll resources of the New York Yankees, but the same mandate to win. And contrary to conventional wisdom, forcefully pushed on him by his scouts and advisors, he recognized that it wouldn’t work to just “downscale” the big-team approach: Lesser versions of “superstars” rarely go nova. He knew he needed a completely new approach.

How many of us have been in that meeting where we’re pleading with a client for more budget to execute the strategies we know will work best, only to be told the funds just aren’t there? We have to find some way to win with the budget we have. But what do we do? All too many of us just “trim the corners” — shave a little off here, cut a program there — instead of starting over from Square One. Like Billy Beane, instead of asking “How much can we preserve from the plan we wish we could afford?” we need to ask “What’s the best use of this budget we actually have?”

Choose your players on proven performance, not gut feel and potential.

Compared to a few single-skilled superstars, a team of solid players at every position will earn fewer headlines but more championships. Beane’s analytical inspiration, sabermetrics, looks at all the players together, not each one in a vacuum. The way the players were designed to work together was more important than any one star.

Marketers give lip service to integrated marketing, but, like conventional non-Beane baseball, seem afflicted with “hot new rookie” syndrome. We’re silly for social media, mad for mobile, and happy to dive into the hype before we know the “why.” We energetically set up fan pages on Facebook, and then don’t know what to do with them. We get feverish about viral videos, as if the odds were better than one in a gazillion ours would get more than 10,000 views, which is nothing. Social media is one tactic in the marketing toolbox, and it’s the rare craftsman who can build a house with only a hammer.

A major player who has been in the game a long time and isn’t quite as hot as he used to be can still be a strong performer and great team leader.

Beane signs David Justice, a player from the Yankees who, by everyone’s assessment, is past his prime. But Beane knew the player’s consistent work ethic, game-winning experience and role-modeling leadership still carried a lot of value.

For years now, marketing pundits have insisted that “TV and print are dead.” Utter nonsense. On an hours/week basis, people are watching more TV than they ever have. And as for print, while more publications are being read online and on portable devices, you need to ask what is being read online. Much of the content are business publications, which people read while working and commuting. When you’re trying to affect consumers, you’re trying to affect women while they’re in their “personal” mindset, i.e., when they’re reading lifestyle, fashion, fitness, food, family, and home content. And when it comes to magazines, research has shown that women prefer physical print to digital.

Before you look at the numbers, make sure they’re the right numbers.

Beane’s scouts insisted on continuing with their subjective, instinctive evaluations of players. “He throws funny,” “He walks too many times,” or the scary “His girlfriend is ugly. He must have a bad eye.” Beane knew he had to find new ways to identify undervalued players, and that’s why he turned to sabermetrics. Instead of looking at how many home runs a player had, he looked at how many times he got on base. He and his team started looking at the right numbers.

I can’t tell you how many times, when I’ve been asked to help with research, I’ve been told, “We’re looking at women age 25-49.” Women, yes, because most marketers now understand that household Chief Purchasing Officers, who account for at least 80% of consumer purchases, are female.

But why do I always have to ask, “What happens at age 50? Do they all die?” Baby Boomers, marketers’ darlings for the past four decades, are now in their midlife prime. PrimeTime Women, as I call them in my book of that name, are the largest, fastest-growing, wealthiest, highest-earning, and by far the highest spending segment on the planet. And now marketers choose to ignore them?!

Billy Beane’s breakaway strategy was much derided at the time. Sports pundits and call-in commentators were merciless in their mockery. Even his own scouts and the team manager were publicly opposed and openly critical.

Was it worth the risk? Did Billy Beane’s “radical” focus on the fundamentals deliver results for the team and recognition for his accomplishment? You tell me: During that first season, the 2002 Oakland A’s winning streak of 20 consecutive games set a new American League record that stands to this day. And at the season’s close, the owner of the Boston Red Sox offered to make Billy Beane the highest paid General Manager in baseball history. There’s many a marketer that would love to have those stats on his resume.