I first heard the hockey/figure skating analogy from Evan Grossman, an old friend and former client. Evan was a founder of HookMedia back in the late 90s, a pioneer in online advertising. He used the analogy to compare the then-nascent field of digital media planning to traditional media. It went something like this….
Figure skating is like planning the traditional print or broadcast campaign. If you’re a competitive figure skater, you spend months preparing your routine. You practice hours every day. All for your 90 seconds on the ice. The goal is perfection in that one moment. If you don’t land the triple axel, you’ve failed.
So it goes with traditional media. The creative is carefully crafted over weeks, even months. Each ad, beautiful and bespoke, is unveiled in the Wall Street Journal or on prime time. Your job, once the ad is placed, is essentially done. You wait, and hold your breath.
Digital media, on the other hand, is like hockey. The NHL is an 82 game season. You’re playing three or four times a week. The best teams are far from perfect. They’re learning a little bit every game, adjusting lineups and strategies, and getting better. So it goes with digital media. The goal is getting the ads out there, and encouraging as many people to engage with them as possible. And you’re looking at the data constantly, hopefully learning a little bit all the time, adjusting, and getting better.
I still think the analogy is particularly apt. More than ever, successful marketing is about effective engagement, not the perfect impression. And to stretch the analogy a bit, marketing has become a team sport, and a contact sport at that. Your play matters in relation to others, not in relation to some objective sense of perfection.
It occurs to me that you can apply the same analogy to a broad range of marketing in the read/write era. Here are a few applications of the hockey/figure skating dichotomy:
Content. Figure skating content is perfectly crafted. It’s the 30-page white paper that is in development for six months. It’s the ad where every word in the body copy is fussed over, and sent through rounds and rounds of review. Hockey content is about staying in front of people. It is just good enough, rather than close-to-perfect and rare. It is about putting content out there, finding out what people like by seeing what they respond to. It is an ongoing stream rather than the occasional post.
Analytics. In figure skating, you’ll wait months for your moment on the ice to know if your training is paying if off. So it is with traditional print campaigns, where you might have to wait six months for the post-campaign research to know if you’ve moved the needle. Digital campaigns, on the other hand, are pumping out data every day. The point is observing and optimizing; making sense of the data to drive ongoing adjustments to media and creative.
Reaching the C-level. Every one of my clients wants to reach the C-level decision-maker. The figure skating approach is an elaborate, expensive direct campaign to open the door, everything rising or falling based on one meeting. Hockey is finding your target and the couple of dozen people in their organization whose opinion they care about. And using social networking to follow them, listen to them, strike up a conversation over time, build affinity bit-by-bit. So when the sales meeting happens, it feels like a natural extension of a conversation that has already started.
Of course, like all analogies. You can take it too far. There will always be a place for production value. And being prolific is no excuse for being boring or banal. There will always be a premium on great creative and ideas, it is just that the context for where those ideas are generated or applied has broadened and stretched.
It is not about perfection, it’s about playing every day.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on where else can the analogy extend, or where does it fall short.
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