I’m an enthusiastic tennis player. I’m like the girl with the curl: when I’m good, I’m really good but when I’m bad, I’m really bad.
Tennis (and my other athletic passion hockey) is a great way to escape the stresses of running a small business because there’s not much time to think of business when chasing a yellow ball. Tennis has also taught me some important lessons about marketing.
Learn from your mistakes: No matter how much you practice, mistakes happen. Your opponent is better. You have a bad day. Your form disappears. When mistakes emerge, there are a few ways to react: get frustrated and put the blame on other people, or you take a deep breath and think about how to make corrections. Doing things differently is a hard because it means accepting change or embracing new approaches or ideas. But you improve by making a commitment to fix things rather than living with them.
Enjoy your victories: When you’re playing well, tennis is extremely satisfying. You’re hitting the ball hard, it’s going when you want and there is little your opponent can do. From personal experience, this doesn’t happen often so it is important to enjoy successful outings. In marketing, success is always a challenge. Every campaign or a new piece of content is an experiment. Sometimes, they’re effective and generate amazing results. Sometimes, marketing fails to resonate. So when marketing attracts more visitors, leads, sales or media coverage, savor the moment.
Practice and experiment: Marketing is a series of experiments. Some of them work, some don’t. With so many options, marketing succeeds when brands play with new tools, services, and campaigns. Brands also have to embrace best practices and look to make improvements over time. The same applies to tennis. The more you practice, the better you get (in theory!). Playing the same way and using the same type of shots makes your game predictable and makes you beatable. To play well, it is important to take a different approach and add new shots to your arsenal.
Get help from people with expertise: Tennis is a frustrating game. There is a fine line between playing well and struggling to stay competitive. It makes sense to take a lesson from someone with the experience and expertise to identify and fix your problems. With marketing, it is difficult to be all things to all people. As much as multi-dimensional growth hackers are coveted, they’re few and far between. It means hiring people with different skills or using contractors and freelancers to fill in gaps.
Challenge yourself: It’s fun to play tennis against people with the same skills. It will be a competitive game and the score depends on who’s on. To really improve, however, you need to play people better than you. In the process, you may lose badly. But it will offer valuable insight into how to improve your game. In marketing, it’s easy to follow the crowd or use the same channels as everyone else. It is harder to try something different or embrace an idea that’s out of the box. There is risk involved but there’s also reward.
It’s a journey: As much as tennis is, at times, frustrating, I always try to see the big picture. Every game – win or lose – is a learning experience that makes you a better player. Sure, there are times when your backhand completely and mysteriously disappears but it comes back with practice. In the marketing world, short-term success is elusive. No matter how much work or creativity goes into a campaign, it can fail. Success happens when you are willing to take a long-term view – months vs. weeks. It takes patience and commitment but it’s a better and smarter approach.
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