From the Screen to the Green: Parallels Between Digital Marketing and Golf

There are a ton of parallels between digital marketing and golf.

Maybe it’s from so many years of going right from the computer screen to the putting green, but these parallels seem so related that I often find myself thinking about digital marketing as I’m walking down the fairway to my ball.

(Of course, I’d never be thinking about golf while working …)

The point of this article is to share this idea with you so you can 1) help me further develop it, or 2) call it total B.S., poke holes, and encourage me to leave them separate. Leave a comment or InMail me and let me know.

More importantly, I hope it gives you some different perspectives on how putting together a successful marketing strategy for your business.

So here it goes, here’s why I think Golf and Digital Marketing are so similar.

Driving the Ball is Like Branding

Driving the ball off the tee is a lot like executing a brand strategy for your company.

You’ve got to get it out there to succeed – and most importantly, you have to be consistent.

In golf, the longest ball doesn’t always result in the best score. Similarly, in marketing, it’s not always the loudest brand that gets the best results: it’s the steadiest, most on-brand messaging; messaging that doesn’t waver even when the conditions change, a new fad comes out, or a competitor pulls some stunt.

The brands that win stay true to their core values, just like the golfers who win are the ones that hit the drives they know and stick to their game plan.

Good branding, like good driving, opens opportunities for your company to score. Bad driving makes it hard to score and beat your competitors, just like bad branding.

In either place, you just can’t force it.

Your brand has to come from a place that’s natural for your company and industry, or else people will just see it as insincere, inaccurate, overpromising, or worse – bland.

Any golfer can tell you that the player who is forcing it off the tee – swinging the hardest, trying to create insanely difficult ball flights, or cutting the corner every single time – will likely not have the best round of the day.

Driving the ball, as with driving your brand message, is done best when you have consistency and stick to your strategy.

It’s important to take the conditions of the landscape–the course in golf or your customer journey and industry in marketing– into consideration while you are planning your strategy.

In golf, you have to stick with your natural swing, but ultimately the ball flight needs to fit with the course. If you’re slicing the ball, aim left and play for it.

Similarly, in marketing, you have to stay true to your business values, but at the end of the day, your message needs to fit with your customer. If your brand resonates with Gen X more than Gen Z, own it, and don’t force your brand to unaccepting customers.

Just as you don’t need to swing as hard as you can, you don’t need to be everything for everyone, but you do need to put the ball in the right spot, sending the right message to the right customer.

Like driving the ball, great branding is essential, but it’s rare for it to be the only thing that brings consistent results for a company.

The rare golfer can dominate their competitors simply because they drive the ball so much better (think Tiger Woods c. 1997-2002), just as some brands are ingrained so deeply in our minds that the bulk of their value is built on their brand (think Coca-Cola).

But even though these things are so powerful for these rare types, there are other underlying elements that make these companies and players exceptional.

You do need a full package to succeed.

Branding and driving are critical, but it takes some more activities to win in digital marketing and in golf.

Hitting Irons to the Green is Like Sending Traffic to Your Website

So you’ve strategically put your ball out there, and you’ve given yourself an opportunity to make par or better (win more business) – now it’s time to get closer to money zone.

Just like you’ve got an array of clubs in the bag depending on the shot, digital marketing gives you a number of channels in which you can reach your prospects.

Think about it like this: depending on your lie, the distance to the flag, the wind, the shape of the green, and more, you’re going to choose a club that you believe is going to get your ball closest to the hole, or at the very least in a safe spot up near the green.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which shot to execute.

Likewise, when you are trying to reach your prospects online, it’s up to you to understand the conditions of the market and customers in order to determine and execute the tactics that you believe will get them closer to the zero-moment-of-truth – that moment they realize that YOU are the solution they’ve been looking for.

Moreover, depending on the type of prospect and their industry and place in the sales cycle, you’re going to have to craft different and specific types of messaging to reach them properly.

Same with golf. My stock seven iron cut shot is pretty good, but if I try to use it on the wrong hole, I could end up in big trouble.

In golf, the wrong shot into the green can result in dropped shots and lost holes to your competitors.

In business, the wrong message to the wrong prospect results in wasted dollars, lost opportunities (they might have been receptive to a different, more relevant message but now don’t see your value), and poor overall results. And lost customers will go to your competitors.

Sometimes the buyer journey is more complex, and it takes a few shots to get the customer to the “green.”

Think about a long, dog-leg par 5: you know it’s going to take you (at least) three shots to get on the green. You know your drive – your brand – needs to be on-point to give yourself a chance to make par or better, and once you’re out there, you’ve still got plenty of work to do.

The layup on a long par five is like working your prospects through the funnel. You know you’re not going to close the sale at this stage, but the messaging that your prospect sees at this point is still critical.

Maybe you need to get them to key pages so you can fire a pixel and retarget them, or maybe you need them to download a whitepaper so you can reach out to them via email.

These funnel tactics are just like your layup shot: you’ve got to leave yourself in the right spot so you can be in a position to make par or better (close the deal) when it’s time for your next shot. You’ve got to have foresight. And once again, you just can’t force it.

Chipping is Like Nurturing Your Leads

Now you’ve got the ball up near the green, but the ball isn’t in the hole yet. And to be honest, you’ve still got some very careful work to do to get it up near the cup so you can make that par.

In marketing, you’re getting the right traffic to the right pages on the website. You’ve done a good job all the way through the funnel and you’re getting contacts through your website and into your CRM.

Now comes some of the most important parts of both marketing and golf.

Think about your chipping. It really is a mix of art and science. You’ve got your setup, you’ve got a steady, repeatable motion and a good process for picking out your landing spot, judging the roll and estimating how well the ball will travel to the hole – this is the science (golf is, after all, a fun game of physics).

Yet, at the same time, rarely are two chips ever the same and you’ll need to come up with a unique solution each time – this is the art. While you can practice your stock chipping motion, if you don’t take each unique situation into consideration on the course, you won’t get closer to the hole in an efficient manner. You might get lucky here or there, but it’s hard to repeat if you don’t take your time.

I see this being very similar to nurturing your leads because it’s critical to have a process, to have some practices that have seen success and a general template – but you’ve got to customize your approach for your prospects depending on the situation.

A generic approach can certainly close deals, but tailoring your automations to your prospect’s pain points, company details, or industry trends is going to improve your rates.

There’s more than one type of chip, and there’s more than one way to reach your prospects.

Flop it, bump it, spin it – you’ve got chipping options depending on the situation.

Same goes for reaching out to warm prospects and really getting the conversation started.

Email is typically the go-to method, but with the increase in social channels, account-based marketing strategies, retargeting and more (oh, and the Phone!), you can determine which mix of touchpoints gets them closer to the deal.

Okay, I know – working a complex sale isn’t quite as easy as an up-and-down in golf. It takes multiple – maybe 5, 10 – touches before your prospect might make the effort to connect with you. But, I’ll stand by my analogy that a custom, fine-tuned approach that’s laid on practiced foundational mechanics can get you closer to the sale, and closer to the cup.

Putting is Like Closing the Sale

The ball is on the green, and you’ve got to read your putt to give yourself the best chance of success. With the right combination of touch, speed, and a little bit of good luck* you’re going to make par or better.

When your prospects are engaged, it’s go-time. You need to read them, understand their pain points and sentiments, and show that your products and services have the value they need to commit to a purchase.

It’s these critical, oh-so-touchy moments that all of the marketing listed above hinges on.

Both putting and sales require patience over time (we don’t make every putt on every hole, we don’t close every deal); careful scrutiny of the situation (read that green from all 4 sides of the cup, really understand your prospect’s needs); and the strength of mind to stay confident and positive even when it doesn’t seem like things are going your way (Tiger Woods, Best Buy). Most of all, it requires practice and touch.

A long putt, like a long sales cycle, requires foresight and careful planning. Sure, you’d love to drain that 50-footer, but let’s make sure we leave ourselves in a good position and make a par. Likewise, you might close a big, complex deal at the first meeting, but you may not close it until the 2nd or 3rd, or more. So plan accordingly and leave yourself in a good position to close the deal when the timing is right.

*Any golfer or business person who claims luck wasn’t a factor in their success might not be seeing the whole picture clearly.

Drive for show, putt for dough.

In golf, we drive for show, but putt for dough. In business, marketing is for naught until something is sold. Don’t let your previous efforts go to waste by coming up short in the final stages.

Sales and the green are where the money is made, and none of the marketing or ball striking matters if you can’t close a deal or make a putt.

Golf and Digital Marketing are Similar in a Broader Scope, Too

At a broader level, both of these skill sets require an immense amount of patience and can be simply maddening at times.

Algorithm changes are like driving your ball into a fairway divot – it’s a bummer, it feels unfair, but you’ve got to play on and make that par.

Sometimes we get bad breaks. Sometimes we are simply crushed by the competition and it felt like there was little we could do. This happens in golf and in business. And in both, you’ve got to lace up and make the effort again and again.

On the green and on the screen, our efforts are sometimes stymied by unforeseen factors, bad breaks, or just outstanding play by the competition, but the ones who keep practicing, keep giving their all, keep a positive attitude and never stop learning are the ones who will succeed.

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Michael Agnello

Strategy Director

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