Four years ago, the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis slammed 47 home runs and finished 14th in MVP voting.

His skills as a heavy hitter encouraged the Orioles to sign Davis to a seven-year, $161-million contract.

At the time, it seemed like a reasonable deal for one of baseball’s top home run hitters.

Then, the bottom fell on Davis’ career.

Last year, he hit .168, which was 32% lower than the league average. Even worse, Davis’ hitless streak continued into the 2019 season. He had gone 0-for-54 before hitting a single against the Boston Red Sox on April 13.

From the outside looking in, Davis’ fall from grace and inability to hit a round ball with a round bat is a mystery and for Davis, painfully frustrating.

There are some key lessons that marketers can learn from Davis’ misfortunes.

Previous success doesn’t guarantee future success

Chris Davis had four amazing seasons. And it was easy to believe that he would have another four or five great seasons. But then it didn’t happen.

For Davis, a number of factors conspired against him. Across the league, pitchers started to throw chest-high fastballs that Davis couldn’t hit as well. Based on where Davis hit the ball, infielders were repositioned so that balls in play became outs. And good teammates were traded or signed with other teams.

For marketers, success can also be fleeting. Advertising campaigns or content marketing activities that attracted tons of leads and sales may lose their effectiveness or simply stop working.

Sometimes, the reasons are obvious: competitive pressure, customer fatigue, employees are lured away, or marketing budgets are reallocated.

It means that marketers can never be complacent or believe that a specific tool or channel will work forever. Good marketers are always looking over the horizon for things that are new, interesting and deliver a competitive edge.

For example, who would have thought two or three years ago that Instagram would become such an important channel for marketers looking to reach Gen Z?

And for brands that were successfully selling on Amazon, it would have been puzzling to believe that Amazon would develop its own brands to directly compete with its customers.

If you’re enjoying marketing success, enjoy the moment but don’t let your guard down or believe the good don’t will never end…because they will one day.

Experiment

Every marketing activity is a hypothesis being tested. Every dollar spent, every channel used is an experiment to see if positive results can be generated. With the right tools, budgets and best practices, the risks can be reduced so your chances for success are increased. But again, nothing is guaranteed.

For Chris Davis, experimenting with new approaches was a no-brainer. After so many plate appearances without a hit, he really had nothing left to lose, right?

One of the suggested experiments was bunting towards third-base. Based on Davis’ hitting patterns, the opponent’s infielders were repositioned on the right side, leaving the left side unattended.

In theory, Davis could lay down a bunt and easily hit a single. In other words, it was an experiment with a high probability of success.

But there was only one problem: Davis didn’t want to experiment. First, he saw himself as a home run hitter, not someone who bunted to get on base. Despite the lack of success, his ego wouldn’t let him try something new.

Second, Davis was discouraged by the results of a few experiments. When he did bunt, he was thrown by some incredible plays. Rather than continue the experiment, Davis threw in the towel.

Marketers, on the other hand, need to constantly experiment with new tools, channels, and approaches. They need to see what works and what doesn’t and then drill down into the reasons why.

Sure, some experiments while others will hit pay dirt. The only way to know is by experimenting.

Don’t Give Up. Stay Patient.

Chris Davis’ future is, at best, uncertain. With three years on his contract, there’s no incentive for Davis to quit. Who walks away from more than $50-million? This is particularly true if you’re a professional athlete who has trained for decades.

If Davis truly believes in himself (and it seems to be the case), he needs to think long-term. His success can’t be measured by each at-bat or game. He needs to look at ways to improve in three months or six months. And he has to have faith that new approaches or techniques will eventually work, even if there isn’t a short-term success.

For Davis, patience isn’t just a virtue but an absolute necessity if he wants to become an elite player again.

Marketers also need to be patient. Overnight success is elusive and, frankly, rare. For every instant success, there are thousands of campaigns that quickly flamed out.

A lot of marketing is a marathon rather than a sprint. With the right planning and approaches, marketing success gradually happens and then gains momentum. A campaign does a slow burn before it ignites. A particular channel takes time before it begins to perform. A compelling idea is slowly embraced before an influencer discovers it and excitedly spreads the word.

One of the marketing channels is many things can be quantified. There are real-time metrics for every digital campaign or channel. You (and your boss) throws right away if something is performing or not. Quick access to information can make it difficult to be patient because everyone is looking for instant gratitude.

Good marketers understand that success happens by closely monitoring what’s happening and why. Then, they make strategic or tactical tweaks to optimize their efforts. Ideally, this allows their marketing to eventually make an impact or achieve the desired results.

Measure/Track Everything Possible.

While Davis struggled to get a hit, it was important not to solely focus on the hitless streak. As Joe Garagiola said, “baseball is a funny game”. Sometimes, the ball is hit hard right at someone. Sometimes, your bat splinters and the ball dribbles between two infielders.

For Davis, it meant focusing on metrics such as the velocity of the balls that he hit and the location of the balls hit. If Davis, for example, was hitting the ball hard, it could simply mean he had run into an amazing streak of bad luck.

For marketers, pretty much everything can be and should be measured. It goes without saying that tracking metrics is how marketing is optimized and changes to drive better results.

While metrics matter, it is also important to have industry benchmarks so a marketer’s performance can be accurately assessed. Your campaigns may appear to be impressive but how they do stack up against the competition?


For entrepreneurs and marketers looking for strategic and tactical guidance, my new book, Marketing Sparks, features dozens of worksheets, templates, and tools to make marketing happen. Buy it on Amazon.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

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