3 Strategies Marketers Can Take From The NFL’s Playbook

Published: September 6, 2023

For the 72% of Americans that consider themselves football fans, tomorrow night marks the start of a journey that ends in heartbreak or victory. Although I’m the first to admit the NFL is deeply flawed, there are a couple key lessons that B2B marketing practitioners can learn from the sports conglomerate. So, in honor of tomorrow night’s kick-off, here are three marketing lessons practitioners can learn from the NFL:

1. Create An Experience

Football fans are all about a team’s experience, and their antics are easily identifiable — even if they’re not wearing identifiable apparel. Hearing a chant of “WHO DEY?” automatically points to the Bengals, while someone jumping through a table is clearly a member of Bills Mafia. It’s in that consistency and commitment where marketers can find their first play: Creating an all-encompassing brand experience, which is preferred by 80% of B2B buyers. 

B2B is often about the long game — as buying cycles increase in length year-over-year, marketers need to focus on brand-building and nurture campaigns to create that experiential atmosphere.

“Research says that only one out of five B2B prospects is actually an active buying mode at any time, and the other 80% are out there looking for content because they’re trying to learn something,” said Michael Ruby, President and Chief Creative Officer of Park & Battery, at the B2B Marketing Exchange. “Buyers are trying to make connections, and they’re trying to find a community.”

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2. Be Dependable

There are a few things NFL fans can depend on: The Jets finding a new way to disappoint their fans (she says as a die-hard Jets fan), Tom Brady deflating footballs…

Either way, fans (and haters) know what to expect from certain teams. In B2B, dependability means creating campaigns that seek to educate buyers about solutions and trends in general, not just a specific tool or product. Unfortunately, LinkedIn research found that nearly 75% of decision-makers said less than 50% of the thought leadership content they’re getting is actually worthwhile. To combat that, marketers need to get comfortable giving away information to become buyers’ go-to source.

“It used to be that we were the gatekeepers: If somebody wanted to know about what we were selling, they had to call us or fill something out,” commented Ruby. “We held back information about what they might be able to buy, but that’s not the case anymore. There’s a lot of content across multiple channels nowadays, such as social media, online communities, peer review pages and more, meaning that buyers are going to find that content whether or not it comes from you.”

3. Brush Failures Off

If a quarterback gets sacked or throws a pick six, they can’t let that moment have them seeing ghosts the rest of the game, Sam Darnold-style. Instead, they need to brush it off and focus on what’s next. And in marketing, it’s an unfortunate reality that some marketing and sales strategies won’t be successful or produce a substantial ROI. In fact, some might even — gasp! — lose money. And even if something doesn’t go your way, don’t worry: People will still love you — just look at how Bill Belichick still has a job after several cheating allegations.

“Marketing is hard, and the stuff we do can sometimes be really tough,” explained Ruby. “Whether it’s releasing a piece of content with the wrong image, a spelling mistake or something much bigger, we’ve all been there before. So, take a deep breath: Learning what we should do sometimes come from learning what we shouldn’t do.”

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