Yesterday I had the good fortune to be with a couple of former NBA greats.  My nine year old son and a handful of his friends had the good luck to spend a couple of hours at Conseco Field House’s practice gym with these guys.  There was a lot of shouting and running and working on the basics.

Trick Play

During a break, I asked my son, ‘Are you having fun?’.  He glared at me.  This wasn’t quite what he expected.  One of the former players yelled, “Being in the NBA is hard!  This ain’t no cakewalk!  What’s pain? (A: Lunch!)  Will you quit?  (A: Never!  We want more!  We want more!).  Not good enough!  Give me a suicide (sprint)!”

One of the players has a gold medal.  A co-captain of one of the Dream Teams.  During the break, I asked him what it took to win at that level.  Here’s the answer.  “Flawless execution, consistently of the fundamentals….as a team.  Then he added, chance favors the prepared.”  That’s what it takes.

There was something about this quote that nagged at me beyond it originating from Louis Pasteur.  It finally dawned on me last night when I read Oliver Blanchard’s blog post.  Over the past couple of months, I have been growing increasingly frustrated with marketing and a large swath of marketers.  Oliver’s blog brought it up an express elevator from my subconscious, which is where this notion has been sitting, irritating the you-know-what out of me.

Successful teams win by having a culture of ‘we’, not ‘me’ and focusing on everybody flawlessly executing the fundamentals. And they communicate and they measure. Teams that rely on trick plays, don’t communicate or measure performance effectively may win a few games but don’t consistently get to the championship.  Period.

So I was up in the middle of the night thinking about this.  Social media is a tactic.  Media is a venue, a distribution tool.  A tactic.  All of the shiny pennies being promoted as something you need to adopt to ‘join in the conversation’ are the equivalent of a few juiced up trick plays.  For some, it’s easy to pull them out when you have no game plan or your game plan isn’t working.

The problem is trick plays only work once and usually for a very short time.  You won’t win relying on them.

By itself, social media doesn’t deserve it’s current rock star status and those who are piling onto the bandwagon are really piling onto nothing more than a little red wagon.  Again, it’s marketing tactic, not a business strategy. Note: Little red wagons also tend not to hold up well under heavy load, so beware hard hard you jump.

If this is true, and I believe it is, where should our attention attention lie?  It belongs in what drives the relationship between marketing, operations and the marketplace.  These relationships should be socialized.  Not just one but many.  Not in an ad-hoc way but in a pragmatic and planned order.

Why?   Social is an adjective.  In part it means to participate in activities designed to remedy or alleviate certain unfavorable conditions of life in a community.  Great communities (businesses and brands count) are organized and planned affairs.  Am I splitting hairs?  Not in the slightest.

When people work well together collaboratively, they win.  NBA team, swim club, Fortune 500 business, mom and pop shops, doesn’t matter.  The key is focus, collaboration, organization and a single shared goal.  Yes, you need tools and everybody has a slightly different role but without this approach, success is expensive and short lived.

For the purposes of this blog post not becoming horribly long, I have broken this into two steps general steps pretty much anybody should be able to get their head around.

  1. Aligning the groups involved around an organizing construct and getting buy in.  This should generally be organized as shown:


Trick Play

2.   Map the activities that drive your business into nodes or ‘neighborhoods’.  Define who participates in these and why.  Some will be closer to the marketplace than others but each should be interconnected to one or another node that has ties to the marketplace.  If you map your initiatives, their audiences and participants, if you are honest and performing at a high level (i.e. you are profitable), these initiatives should loosely imitate the layout of these two diagrams.

We call this exercise ‘Urban Planning’.

Here’s an example of neighborhood mapping.

Trick Play


Naturally, users will gravitate towards areas of interest.  Product testing, service feedback and user collaboration are three examples that fit either the operational or marketing functions, however, the learning and outcomes of this collaboration belong to the entire entity, not just say marketing.

If this makes sense but your formal or even back-of-the napkin findings don’t align with the above general structure, please consider using this tool to aid you in your career advancement.

So why is there not more of a focus on this instead of the current fixation on social media?  Two reasons.

1.  Tactics are easier to sell than strategy, unless you understand operational strategy.  Most marketers don’t, nor do they want to.  Business strategy isn’t sexy.

It also requires discipline and focus. Most marketers aren’t willing to invest in.  The basketball player I talked to said he spent hours a day for years working on rebounds.  Not sexy.  Tiger Woods spends hours a day, every day at the driving range.  Not sexy.  Critical to winning though.

2.  Shiny penny tactics are like drugs.  Especially the tactic du jour. They can feel really good (mistaking activity with results sometimes has this effect) and are addictive but without a good reason for taking them, they can be harmful over the long haul.

Recently, at a conference, I saw a sales guy for an agency deboned by a world class operations person.  He was hyping a simple tool as strategy (in this case, platform measurement software) and streaming buzzwords faster than I could keep count.  He was dead before he knew it and by the time he figured it out it was too late.  There was a subtle gleam in the eye of the brand ops person who had been through the wars and got social marketing and operations on a Ph.D. level.  She filleted the talking head with the precision of Freddy Kruger.

At this same conference, I overheard (as did several others who tweeted on this very topic) two marketers talking about their conference goal was to get a how to guide on setting up a blog to further promote their product and maybe get some customers to create some viral videos for them.  You can’t get any more in the weeds than this.  Enter the trick play and the marketer who sells it.

So in conclusion, ask yourself, how many trick plays are currently in your playbook?  Are you really playoff bound?

Trick Play

The clock is ticking…

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger