Bleary eyed baseball fans are waking up to the unimaginable: the beloved Cubs broke their 108 year old dry spell and won the World Series. Their quest to World Series champions was a mix of talent, dedication, heart…and data. Data, you say? Yes, data. Baseball franchises are enamored with using data to make smarter trades, shift line-ups, field position, and predict player performance. But how did the Cubs move to a data driven baseball organization? One man helped transform baseball from a gut decision strategy to using information, using data to make decisions: Theo Epstein.
Theo Epstein is credited for the breaking the Red Sox World Series curse using data and insights to make strategic player acquisitions, changes in field play, and predict how players would perform. He took his data talent over to the Chicago Cubs, where he made some major trades and empowered the coach to make data driven field and batting changes. His data driven approach helped transform the way franchises think about baseball. Less gut, more information to help drive decisions.
Marketers must embrace the baseball management mentality: use data to shift marketing strategies at the moment of need. Marketers can use past marketing performance data, customer insights, and competitive information to:
1. Optimize the batting order of your marketing lineup. A commonly used stat that baseball GMs use to consider batter order is on-base percentage against specific pitcher line-ups. This enables GMs—like Epstein to determine the right mix of players against specific pitchers. Similarly, marketers can use channel and campaign performance data to uncover the right combination of marketing initiatives needed to make a revenue impact. Many marketers use this approach to measure the impact of television on search, or the impact of email on direct to site activity—and build cross-channel strategies that move customers from different points in the journey.
2. Go beyond broad averages to value each player. One way to value players is to look at general stats like their batting average, home runs, extra base hit percentage, and RBIs. Epstein looks at averages with players in scoring position, home vs. away, and late inning run production, to know where a player can make a unique contribution to the team. Marketers can take a similar approach; use customer and marketing data to identify the high value customers and target them through their media buying technologies. This data driven approach to use marketing and customer based insights can help predict how newly acquired customers could perform in the future.
3. Call pitches based on multiple, in-moment variables. Epstein uses data to uncover how players perform contextually against similar players, in different ballparks, and across leagues and divisions. Similarly, marketers need to look at customers in context to understand what marketing message is most appropriate based on their location, day of week, and recent behavior.
4. Match tactics to game play. Epstein and GMs of other big league franchises that now embrace the data driven baseball approach use insights for in-field shifts, where field players shift positions based on where specific batters will likely hit. Marketers can adopt this approach as well, using ROI-based performance data to change digital media buys based on different goals, like optimizing audience, timing, frequency, or creative.
5. Trade for the right players. Epstein is not afraid to make big trades. To get the Cubs to the World Series, he had to get players in place, including Jake Arrieta and lefty pitcher Jon Lester. Like Epstein, marketers must invest in the right talent to lead marketing analytics initiatives. Acquire the talent from service providers, competitors, or academia and entice them with clear marketing analytics objectives, growth, and exciting business problems. And don’t be afraid of the young aces strait out of college or grad school; they’re innovative and hungry to make a difference.
So, marketers, when you’re building your marketing strategy, think: What Would Epstein Do?