Moneyball, Data Science and PR/Marketing

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The most recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference took place recently in SHIFT’s backyard at MIT in Cambridge. This event has become a major deal in the sport world. Officially presented by ESPN, the conference boasts sponsors not only from the sports arena like Adidas, but also heavy hitting technology/industry leaders like SAP, SAS and McKinsey & Company. Sports is an interesting barometer for culture at large. Historically a “gut feel” industry, which started very slowly a few years ago with the Moneyball revelations, has now exploded. To me, the growth and prominence of this event signals a cultural shift in the value organizations are putting on data and analytics.

moneyball, data and PR

There were some very interesting lessons coming out of the event that pertain to anyone who cares about analytics in their day to day – a nascent, but growing prominence in our industry and SHIFT believes will become the lifeblood of marketers and PR people in the none too distant future. Here are few takeaways I personally got out of the event and what they might mean for PR and Marketing professionals.

tech adoption bell curve - Rodgers

Though it has been over a decade since Moneyball, and despite the reams of data teams already have on hand, executives and sports data scientists still feel we're in the very early adoption stage of data science. The goal of getting a full picture/data set that determines what inputs are the right ones when assessing performance is still a long road. In fact, a new big sports data initiative for in-game decisions is rumored to be in the works.

PR/Marketer takeaway: Data on hand doesn’t always equal full insight. Marketers need to continually question "are we looking at the right sets of data for our particular clients/audiences?".  And it's early days!  Get a jump on the competition by learning to analyze data and what it might mean for your PR & marketing programs.  Here are a handful of starting points: learn your way around Google Analytics. Leverage social networking and influence metrics. Start tracking your search metrics with Moz, and test drive tools like Ahrefs.

It’s been assumed in sports analytics, up until this point, that emotions have no quantifiable value (aka there’s no measurable benefit as a result of momentum), that more turnovers and mistakes always mean less wins. New analysis is showing these assumptions are likely not only false, but damaging to strategic planning and roster design.

PR/Marketer takeaway: A/B testing is vital, especially as marketers begin to engage Paid strategies with sponsored Tweets, Facebook Custom Audiences, and LinkedIn ads (among others). Continual learning about your audience and what resonates is essential. Data may show a strategy to be successful for one campaign (AdWords, Syndication, Twitter, etc.), however, that doesn’t mean that strategy can or should be set in stone for every campaign.  Have regular review periods (depending on your industry, could be daily, but at least weekly if possible) to assess data trends and strategic adjustments.

Measuring a single event is a bit like rebounding in a vacuum. It vastly limits understanding of the influence/multiplier effect of events on things like player placement on the floor, influence on teammate rebound rates, turnover ratios, etc.

PR/Marketer takeaway: Audiences are dynamic entities that are influenced by multiple elements. Online and offline strategies need to blend and amplify the right messages and recognize that no one measurement tells the whole picture. In fact, it can lead to limited success and weak strategies. PR and advertising aren’t the enemy, they work best when understood as elements that work together.

Data science is becoming mainstream, and PR/marketing should accept that it's here to stay and get in the game. Data volumes are set to increase in parallel. Better analysis capabilities are essential within your company – the data will only be as good as the ability to understand what you’re looking for and what it really means for your situation. From a pre-Sloan post on Grantland by Kirk Goldsberry, “And given these vast haystacks of newfangled player tracking data, we’re in desperate need of similarly newfangled needle-extraction techniques.”

PR/Marketer takeaway: Get savvy on the basics of data science and how to apply it via select toolsets. However, don’t forget your overall strategy and get lost in a data death trap – the more data we have the easier it is to become distracted and lose sight of the goals and overall strategy.  Have a data savvy/interested staffer? Enable them to add analytical value to your programs.  If you don’t have one – recruit one!

The reality of mobile and social have made us all data-driven entities. As marketers we need to embrace that reality, get comfortable with analytics and shed the notion that we got into this field because “I’m not good at math.” That excuse is getting thinner by the day, and to stay ahead of the curve, we need to adapt and adopt quickly. The tools are out there, and there are plenty of resources that can help PR and marketing meet the curve that's coming our way.

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