Marketing Proficiency: A Golf Metaphor

Professional golfer Jimmy Walker’s interview after the PGA Championship about what it takes to be good at golf caught my attention. Walker expressed the importance of being proficient with every club in the bag.

That idea strikes me as being particularly relevant to marketers. Marketers, too, need to be proficient with all the marketing “clubs in our bag.”

What Being Proficient Means

Being proficient as a marketer means to be thoroughly competent. It’s more than being just capable. “Proficient” suggests skillful expertise.

The amount of time it takes to reach an expert level of proficiency depends on several factors.

One factor is how fast you can come up the learning curve. The length of your learning curve plays a key role in determining how fast you’ll become successful when you embark on acquiring a new skill. In marketing, new skills must be learned regularly. For example, only a short time ago, we were learning about digital marketing. Now, it’s a fundamental skill, a standard club in the bag.

Moreover, the focus on customer insights and performance management are forcing many marketers to learn more about data, analytics, and metrics. Those, too, have become standard clubs in the bag.

Successful people do the following to to shorten the length of their learning curve.

  • They seek out a coach. Coaches provide honest feedback, help you measure your progress, and bring proven techniques and processes to learning.
  • They know learning takes practice—a lot of practice. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that learning is more effective when it is spread out over time rather than jammed into one intense session.
  • Successful people hold themselves accountable. As part of being accountable, they establish objectives, set deadlines, and define measurable milestones.

12 Must-Have Marketing ‘Clubs’

On several levels, golf provides a wonderful metaphor for marketers. Each course is unique and has a slope and course rating (degree of difficulty) that offers a variety of challenges from teeing off to putting in. Even if you play the same course, the play is seldom the same because the hole is deliberately and regularly changed on each green.

Also, weather is beyond control. As marketers, every customer journey and market is unique. The customer journey is subject to change, and aspects of each journey are beyond your control.

Marketing, like golf, is a game of effectiveness; it’s about how well and accurately you hit the ball.

It is also a game of efficiency. Each golfer has the same opportunity at the start of each game with the key objective to reach each hole in as few strokes as possible. Golfers use different clubs depending on their skills, the course, the conditions (e.g., amount of wind and type of grass), distance to hit (driving versus putting), and type of ball strike. That is what Jimmy meant by being proficient with all the clubs in the bag.

Marketers must be able to skillfully select and use each club in the bag at the right time for the right purpose.

If you’re only competing in mini golf, then stick to your putter and hone your putting skills. But if you plan to move beyond that type of play, you must learn to expertly select and use each club in the bag.

The standard golf bag includes 12 clubs: three woods, eight irons, and one putter. What clubs do marketers need in their bag? Using IDC’s report Worldwide Marketing and Intelligence Taxonomy, 2016: Guidelines for Resource Allocation and Organization, there are 12 clubs that should be standard for every high-performance marketing team.

  1. Advertising
  2. Analyst and public relations
  3. Business, competitive, customer, and market insights and intelligence
  4. Campaign definition and management
  5. Content, digital, direct, event, influencer, and social marketing
  6. Creative services, brand identity, and governance
  7. Field marketing and sales enablement
  8. Loyalty and advocacy marketing
  9. Marketing operations and technology
  10. Partner marketing
  11. Performance management
  12. Product and solution marketing

As a marketer, you need to be able to adeptly apply these “clubs,” whether you are driving for new customers or working to grow business with existing customers. Your club of choice will vary depending on where each of those customers are in their journey. Data, analytics, systems, and processes are essential to your proficiency with any of those clubs.

It takes time and the right resources to become proficient in using all of these marketing clubs. Check out the Learning Center resources to accelerate your marketing skills learning curve.

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