If you’ve been following my posts, you already know that I love sports. But, if this happens to be your first time reading my blog, I’ll admit it right now . . . I’m a sports fanatic. In fact, I’d say I’m just slightly to the side of being obsessed. Seriously obsessed.

Second only to the Super Bowl for me is March Madness, the greatest time of year for NCAA college basketball. What makes it so great is the passion and enthusiasm that takes over every one of the 64 teams that make it into the tournament. And, of course, the Cinderella stories that seem to emerge, year after year.

In South Florida, we love our world champion Miami Heat, and even our Miami Dolphins, which seem to just flop around year after year. But who would have thought that the University of Miami Hurricanes basketball team would be the talk of the town in 2013?

Heart, excitement, enthusiasm, commitment, and a great work effort; none of those would have mattered without the leadership from the best college coach in the game today. As I have a recent Georgetown grad in the family and I'm a Big East fan, it’s not easy for me to admit that UM’s Coach Jim Larranaga is amazing and should be a serious contender for college coach of the year. In less than two years, he’s turned a floundering program into a national powerhouse.

And the way he accomplished this provides one more lesson for CMOs on the impact the smart use of rich data insights and technology can have. Coach Larranaga understood that you can compete and win with an innovative approach to the business of coaching. He understood that creating your strategy from insights gleaned from data makes all the difference. And, finally, he understood that technology is important to helping the business of coaching college basketball run more efficiently. Sound familiar? Here’s Coach Larranaga’s recipe for success that CMOs should follow:

  • Think Differently and Innovate. When other coaches were still working on drills and watching video, Coach Larranaga came up with a novel way to find a competitive edge. Early in his career, he began charting the performance of different lineups and adjusting his game plan to use the best combination in each situation. A recent USA Today article outlines how his innovative approach helped George Mason University march to the Final Four in 2006.He thought differently about how to push his talented team to succeed, and he relied on advanced statistics, comparing performance ranking on key detailed measures to create competitive advantage. As CMOs, you can put similar approaches into practice by tracking your markets and looking for and experimenting with different ways to connect with your customers and provide solutions to their problems. In my blog post about my new report, Rethink Marketing In The Buyer’s Context (subscription required), I talked about the fact that buyers are now in control of their purchase journeys. It’s up to CMOs to understand how the customer buying process has changed and adjust go-to-market strategies to meet buyers where they are in their journeys, with the right solutions to the business problems they care about. You must rethink your marketing strategy and remake it in the buyer’s context. In other words, think differently and innovate.
  • Use data insights to inform strategy. Coach Larranaga is just one more example of what can happen when big data is turned into smart data and applied in new ways to gain insights that were impossible before. Larranaga revved up his coaching success after discovering and adopting college basketball analytics and video scouting software that tracked and analyzed data on every team and every game situation. From that discovery on, Larranaga’s teams internalized, understood, and focused on the key statistics that made the difference between winning and losing. College basketball strategy based on data insights — who would have thought that possible? But why not? In several of my blog posts, I’ve talked about the importance of using data and insights to drive your marketing strategy. With customers in control of the buying process, you must use data to develop a rich understanding of your customers and their buying process. It’s not about more data; it’s about the right data. Your success depends on it. Learn from Coach Larranaga, and start now.
  • Implement technology to enhance effectiveness. Coach Larranaga was an early adopter and user of technology. He understood the importance of supporting his coaching staff with technology to enhance their effectiveness. They evaluated and adopted digital technology in kenpom.com and Synergy Sports software to identify areas of focus, form their strategy foundation, and constantly monitor and improve. If you are a CMO, technology is now an important part of your life forever. Whether it’s mobile, web, social, or marketing automation, your marketing strategy cannot succeed without technology. If you don’t have a marketing technology strategy, it’s time to start thinking about it now.

As I stated at the beginning of this blog post, I know I’m a sports fanatic and I love success stories, especially when there are parallels and lessons for marketers. The lessons here for CMOs are clear: 1) Think differently and innovate to engage with customers in new ways wherever they happen to be; 2) use data insights to inform your strategy; and 3) implement technology to enhance effectiveness.

What are you doing to learn from these lessons?

Do you have a marketing technology strategy? Are you making the right technology decisions? What role are you playing in making key marketing technology purchases? I’m working on a new report that examines the role of CMOs in technology purchase decisions. I’d love to hear your comments and perspectives about this topic and, if you're interested, have you participate in my research.

Please reach out to me at via email, on my blog, or on my Twitter account with your thoughts.

And, if you love March Madness as much as I do, it’s time to get your bracket ready. If you’re not a fan, just pick your teams based on uniform colors. Either way, get ready for a wild ride.