What you can learn about marketing analytics from the Houston Astros

By now, there is no doubt you’ve seen this 2014 Sports Illustrated cover. Proclaiming the Houston Astros would be winning the 2017 World Series was preposterous. It was a bold prediction especially since the Astros had lost 105 games three years in a row (for you non-baseball fans, that is worse than terrible). Turns out the prediction wasn’t far fetched at all – it was a methodically-planned, long-term strategy. The Astros planned this. How did they do it? Turns out, it was all in the data.

2014 Sports Illustrated Cover - Houston Astros 2017 World Series Champions

In 2011, the ‘Stros brought on Jeff Luhnow and Sid Mejdal to revamp the team. With limited resources and the lowest salaries in the MLB, they had to figure out how to get good – and fast. And so the decision sciences department was born and affectionately known as the Nerd Cave. The idea behind it was revolutionary. Instead of a relying solely on a group sabermetricians (baseball statisticians) and playing moneyball, they took into account what the scouts had to say. Let’s dig in, find out exactly what they did, and pinpoint how you can make marketing analytics your MVP.

Start with the data – both quantitative and qualitative

The Nerd Cave analyzed not only typical sabermetrics such as on-base percentage and defense independent pitching statistics (DIPS), but also health and family history and personality information from the scouts. The Astros didn’t have the luxury of taking a long time get good and neither does your marketing. Start with looking at your current statistics, both quantitative and qualitative. Look at it with a critical eye to identify things that your competitors may not look at, such as interests and personalities. Don’t discount the human element – your buyers are human afterall.

Find doppelgängers

The data sciences department looked at past data and identified the most successful players in the game since 1997 (when statistics for college players had just begun to be digitized). They took those player numbers and found their doppelgängers to build the most statistically perfect team. Look at your own best, most profitable customers. Once you’ve identified them, figure out what they’re made of. Take your analysis and make more of them!

Be patient

Between 2011 and 2017, not only did the Astros double their winning percentage a little bit at a time, but they also went from dead last in the league to winning the World Series. Wouldn’t you like your marketing see those types of gains?

Houston Astros Winning Percentage 2011-2017

Marketing is a long-term game, and huge changes don’t happen overnight. Methodically plan, measure, and optimize and you, too, can win the World Series of Marketing.

Adjust as necessary

Fact: High school pitcher #1 draft picks have the greatest chance of burning out. Even so, in 2014 the Astros picked Brady Aiken straight from high school as their #1 draft pick. He met the team’s perfect regression criteria – but things didn’t work out. Aiken developed elbow inflammation in his throwing arm before signing, and his offer was adjusted. In the end, they weren’t able to work out a deal and Aiken went undrafted. Savage. Sometimes even the best bets may not work out, so adjust accordingly. Don’t waste your resources trying to make something work when it doesn’t.

Innovation isn’t a buzzword

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” –Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management, 1954

People don’t like change, and innovation by definition suggests change. For any organization, innovation isn’t going to feel right at first. As Medjal puts its, “If it felt right, it would have been done a long time ago.” Like the Astros, your organization may not embrace or feel comfortable with innovation. It’s through innovation that your marketing will produce the results that you and your fan base are striving for.

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