What Marketers Can Learn From Baseball’s Sabermetrics Movement
Data, America’s Favorite Past-time
I’ve spent a good chunk of the past year reading books about America’s past-time, like “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball,” “The Yankee Years,” and most notably “The Numbers Game,” which sparked an aha moment for me — marketers could learn a lot from baseball’s sabermetrics movement.
It’s common knowledge among OG baseball fans that statistics are an integral part of the game. For others, “Moneyball” marked the first time that the casual fan learned about the power of data in baseball. In Michael Lewis’s famed book-turned-movie, Oakland Athletics General Manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), employed Harvard-grad Paul DePodesta (Jonah Hill) as an assistant to help spearhead a new era of data-driven decision making within the organization.
The truth is, the use of data in baseball precedes “Moneyball” by decades. Baseball buffs may recognize the names Henry Chadwick, Allan Roth, and Bill James, who all worked through various iterations of baseball’s “golden record,” which showcased a comprehensive history of baseball statistics dating back to pre-WWI.
Cultivating the Data-Driven Advantage
James devised Sabermetrics, which pays homage to the Society for American Baseball Research. Sabermetrics applies statistical analysis to baseball records, especially to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players.
This new set of evaluation criteria shined a light on the misuse of vanity metrics that most baseball fans associate with top talents — like home runs and batting average, etc. When assessing a player’s value, there are many factors to consider. Teams like the A’s have exploited this knowledge to maximize their small payroll and compete with big-market behemoths, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers.
Evaluating players this way gave the little man (i.e., teams with low payrolls, like the Athletics) a fighting chance. When thinking about how this applies to the marketing world, it’s quite simple. In the last decade, digitally native brands have taken the world by storm. Thanks to affordable web development technologies and the possibility of word-of-mouth via social media channels and influencers, the market point of entry is relatively low for new brands.
Ever wonder why Casper, which has nearly a $400 million market cap, is thriving while incumbent, Mattress Firm, filed for bankruptcy in 2018? In part, it’s because Casper understood that to take down the behemoths, it must win with a data-driven strategy that leverages customer analytics to make their CAC:LTV ratio as favorable as possible.
Data Can Help You Become the Curveball
For marketers, leveraging data to amplify the customer experience isn’t a new concept. There are tons of companies doing this well already — like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix. They use proprietary technology that takes user behaviors and preferences to personalize every experience. They’re the Yankees and the Dodgers: big market, big budget, and the resources available to make this a reality.
Naturally, these resources are scarce among smaller, newer brands. They must fully maximize the ROI of every penny spent, finding novel ways to not only stay competitive but become market leaders in crowded spaces (like Allbirds for footwear or Away for luggage).
In the past five years, new technology partners have emerged that give smaller, leaner brands a chance to compete against the big guys. In particular, the CDP category emerged to bridge the gap between marketing and data teams to ensure that all customer data is clean, centralized, and actionable.
The same way the arrival of Stats, Inc enabled faster, data-driven decision-making for MLB ball clubs is effectively what the CDP is doing for consumer brands. It’s an affordable piece of software that can transform the way companies speak to their customers and share their stories without the need for a 20+ person engineering team with unlimited budgets and resourcing.
Better Data for Better Decisions
At Simon Data, our platform begins with giving access to and displaying data that is made useful for non-technical marketers. Ironically enough, our segmentation dashboard features a host of client-specific graphs and histograms that we refer to as baseball cards:
Baseball cards give fans the ability to quickly assess a player’s value by looking at the card’s back. A good CDP gives marketers unfettered access to how their campaigns affect customer acquisition and retention efforts.
Viewing these kinds of insights in a central location can dramatically improve a marketer’s decision-making. Similarly, baseball’s front-office executives can make real-time in-game decisions based on the data they have at their disposal, like how batters fare against righties or lefties or the probability that a pitcher will break down in the 7th inning. The parallels between both industries are there.
Ignore Data at Your Peril
The Yankees are the most storied franchise in all of sports, but they haven’t been “The Yankees” in quite some time. Sure, they’re always competitive, but just one World Series championship in the last 20 years is a bit jarring.
After the Yankees three-peated from 1998-2000, they went on a spending spree to replace their old starters. Why not? They’re a huge market and have an ownership group that isn’t afraid to spend.
The Yankees learned in 2004 (the year Boston won their first title since 1918) that they were missing the mark from an analytics perspective. Boston was getting value from no-named prospects, while the Yankees were piecing together high-profile players in an attempt to “buy” championships.
Why was this the case? Boston’s GM at the time, Theo Epstein, was a sabermetrics practitioner, and the Red Sox had a foundation rooted in data when constructing their roster. The result? Three more championships (2007, 2013, 2018), with Theo building a legacy as one of the greatest GM’s in baseball.
Succeeding in 2021 and beyond will require organizational transformation. Newer brands are setting themselves up for success by aligning data, product, and marketing from the start. For older brands, the clock is ticking, and irresponsible spending won’t solve the problem. How will they define their legacies?
To learn more about how putting a no-code personalization platform into marketers’ hands will revolutionize your growth, read our recent white paper, How Self-Serve Segmentation Led to a 300x Boost in Engagement.