Guest post written by Ben Plomion, SVP Marketing, GumGum.
This year, I’m celebrating 25 years of skateboarding. While I’ve skated all over the world and made a lot of incredible friends along the way it wasn’t until I read this article about skateboarding legend Rodney Mullen that I began to consider the overlap between my passion for skateboarding and my passion for marketing.
The art and precision necessary for skateboarding have made me a better marketer. Why? Because like skateboarding, marketing requires both creativity and a tremendous attention to detail.
The Need for Precision
Being a great skateboarder starts with precise responses; you have to constantly react to rapidly changing conditions, especially in a park or on a busy street. , If you can’t handle the unexpected, a recreational afternoon will quickly take a turn for the worse — just ask the nurses who have greeted me at the ER.
Digital marketing similarly requires responsiveness. While we may not be dodging cars or pedestrians, marketers are constantly reacting to an endless stream of incoming information. The best marketers are tapping technologies to look at that data and make adjustments in near real-time, they’re not waiting until after a campaign to run a survey and decide on next steps. “There are hundreds of imperfections on the path that could, at any moment, cause you to wipe out,” says As Avi Mizrahi, head of marketing at My Best Chapter (and fellow skateboarder) puts it. “Marketers are constantly analyzing their paths and adjusting to changing conditions.”
Precision in marketing comes from constant practice, which happens to also be the cornerstone of great skateboarding. Sure, those guys in the videos make the tricks look easy. But it’s safe to assume they’ve tried those tricks hundreds of times before landing them.
Programmatic marketing can get very complicated. When you’re first starting out in the industry, you’re not always going to know how to make the right adjustments to a campaign. You’ve got to test different hypotheses to see what works, and sometimes you’re going to fall flat on your face — the “roadrash” of the marketing world. But if you approach your testing with the relentlessness with which great skateboarders practice their tricks, you will master programmatic over time. So long as you’re dedicated, honest about what you need to learn, and curious about your surroundings, you can find your way forward in programmatic.
The Importance of Art
And then there’s the artistic element of skateboarding, the element that separates the merely skilled from the true greats like Rodney Mullen. If you’ve ever watched a skateboarding competition, you know what I’m talking about. For all the attention the judges pay to the technical prowess of the skaters, they’re also looking for the flair, that special something that is so hard to describe but that is immediately identifiable when you see it. As Yoav Dembak, CEO and Founder of Colabo put it, “It’s always about the story – Skateboarding is a unique sport where DIY PR (videos, pictures, contests) is something you learn from the get go. Very early on you learn the art of what makes a sticky story (in this case, the skater, his clothing, his tricks, his style) are more important than just how good are your tricks are. The best marketing campaigns are those that start with a coherent story and ends with perfect tactical real-time execution.”
It’s that same special story that can change a campaign from good to brilliant. John Elton, a partner at the venture capital firm Greycroft, puts it like this, “If you skate with no style but have perfect execution, it doesn’t work. Likewise, if you have the perfect targeting, but the message and presentation suck, that also doesn’t work.”
The art of skateboarding also reveals itself in your approach to obstacles. Every obstacle opens the door to what is ultimately an artistic decision. Marketing works the same way. Whether you planned for something that doesn’t happen on a campaign, or you have to go around broken glass for a trick, you have to think creatively and quickly. “Part of what makes both skateboarding and marketing a similar creative outlet is the process of making art out of the obstacles in front of you,” says Ryan O’Hara, Head of Marketing at WhoQuest.
Never Stop Experimenting
Skateboarding is famous for its anti-establishment ethos. That might not sound like a natural fit for marketing, but the great marketers aren’t afraid to think outside of the box and try new things. In fact, I’d argue that taking chances and pushing the limits to see what’s possible is as much a part of marketing culture as skateboarding culture. Yoav and I agree on one last point, “even if you’re at the top of your game and have the public’s attention, there is someone out there working on the next big thing, and waiting for their chance. People will forget you unless you always deliver but always with a new twist as trends change fast. The charge is to never disappear, always evolve.”
The more I think about this, the more similarities I see between skateboarding and marketing. But it’s time to stop. Writing all this has put me in the mood to go skate.
About Ben Plomion
Ben is the SVP of Marketing at GumGum and brings more than 15 years of experience in marketing, communications and also business development. Prior to GumGum, Ben was responsible for Chango’s brand, integrated marketing and demand generation. His team created one of the most robust thought leadership platforms in the industry and has won multiple marketing and design awards. Prior to joining Chango, Ben worked with GE Capital for four years to establish and lead the digital media practice.
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