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June 18, 2024

What Performance Marketers – And Everyone – Can Learn from Caitlin Clark

Tom Sullivan
Elevate Performance

Three Critical Lessons to Elevate Performance

On June 8, Caitlin Clark, the new Indiana Fever WNBA star (and arguably the greatest collegiate basketball player ever, male or female), learned that she did not make the roster for USA’s Women’s Olympic Basketball team. When reporters asked her about the snub, she called it a “little more motivation” to make it in the future. “I think it just gives you something to work for… It’s a dream.”

Clark has been the object of discontent and criticism by opponents along her collegiate career. Now, she’s the recipient of some hard fouls in the WNBA. After getting knocked down by what many characterized as a blind, flagrant foul, Clark complimented her opponent, Chennedy Carter “She’s having a tremendous season,” Clark said of Carter. “She’s played great basketball in my eyes.”  Caitlin also commented: “There’s no grudges, there’s nothing like that. It’s a sport, it’s competitive. It’s not going to be nice all the time, that’s not what basketball is.”


Three Lessons to Live By

When examining how Clark approaches the game of basketball, we can take away three, very important lessons to apply to the game of marketing, and to the game of life.

1.  Adopt a Winning Mindset – Marketing is a game that can and should be won. If you think of marketing as merely a function, even an important function with a collection of certain specialized skills and activities, you are not going to elevate value to your team, to your company, or to your customers. Think of the marketing game as played by you, and by your competitors. The stakes in this game are very real, even existential. The object of the game is to win a growing share of your target customers, and to keep them, and grow your category share with them.

Remember also, in the marketing game, there are winners and losers – at the global level, the local level, and every sub-set. You don’t win a basketball game with just 3-pointers or free-throws. You win with defense, steals, blocks, picks, and coordinated plays. In marketing, you win with product innovation, customer experience, seamless player support, and outstanding brand messaging that drives internal passion and attracts customers’ hearts and minds. Winners of this game start with desire, insatiable desire, to win. We can’t forget that this passion and energy to win is cultivated by the best coaches resulting in a winning team and enduring culture. If you don’t have that culture where you ply your trade, then spark it, lead it. Or, go find another team where your passion and skills will be better rewarded.

2.  Set Ambitious, Measurable Goals and Pursue Them – In today’s marketing world, you can measure just about everything. Do you know where you stand in market share by product type, by geography, by demographic segment? Do you know your total marketing head count and internal costs relative to total company revenues? Do you know what your marketing and advertising investments are relative to new unit sales and new revenues? Do you know your marketing performance KPIs by media tactic or media mix, by season, and year-over-year? Before you set ambitious goals, you need to prioritize what to measure and gain a picture of your performance on these measures over time.  With that framework in place, set ever more ambitious goals and align your people, resources, and activities to achieving ever better results.

3.  Make Yourself and Your Team Better – Every player on your team, starting with yourself, needs to be constantly improving their knowledge and skill sets to play the marketing game at an ever higher level. Getting better, faster, is an absolute imperative today because everything in marketing is changing, faster than ever. For example, it took cable television over twenty-five years to surpass broadcast television in viewer share. Now cable television is fading away to Connected TV.  According to On Audience, a global data aggregator: “Connected TV (CTV) has become the fastest-growing major ad channel in the U.S., projected to expand by 22.4% and reach a total of $30.10 billion in ad spend by 2024. This remarkable growth trajectory is attributed to the performance, audience segmentation, data-driven insights, and interactive capabilities that CTV offers.”


I use this example because we have been deploying CTV advertising for several years to help local-regional advertisers to grow customer acquisition faster and at lower customer acquisition costs. So, make sure you are dedicated to keeping pace with the pace of change and applying your knowledge more adeptly and more quickly than your competitors. Whether you like it or not, you are playing in a fast-break game, so pursue excellence with the passion and perspective of a Caitlin Clark.  And win!

Tom Sullivan
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Tom Sullivan is an accomplished business leader and brand marketing professional who brings together business, government, and non-profit experience to accelerate growth and advance positive change. He has led brand transformations and go-to-market initiatives for Fortune 1000 companies, major banks and financial institutions, hospitals, government entities, universities, and start-ups. He has worked with over twenty community banks with assets from $500 million to $50 billion and is dedicated to advancing the growth and success of community banks and the communities they serve. Tom has also advanced innovative programs and expansion initiatives for many non-profits, including Special Olympics New Jersey, and First Lady, Michele Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America (Let’s Move Campaign).

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