Of Brackets, Basketballs and Business


Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

It’s that time of year again, when the country is consumed by March Madness, that annual rite of Spring in which Cinderellas, Dark Horses and Number 1 seeds all hope the months of hard work, planning and strategy sessions pay off. It’s a time when coaching staffs and scouting departments are working overtime, trying to find that bit of knowledge, that key piece of competitive intelligence, that will propel them to victory and the admiration of their peers – just like you trying to fill out your bracket for the annual office pool.

Perhaps that’s what makes the NCAA tournament unique on the American sports landscape (that and the associated drop-off in workplace productivity) – it gives everyone an opportunity to participate.

The brackets are the great democratizer of sports fandom. It doesn’t matter whether you went to Duke or a #16 seed no-hoper, everybody has a chance to win their office pool or impress their friends by picking the winners. This year a perfect bracket might also make you a billionaire. Spoiler Alert: The odds of a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (you have a better chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field). It’s also a great opportunity for anybody who’s ever watched Dickie V, Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery and thought, “I know more than those guys,” to put their brackets where there mouth is.

The truth is, many fans do know more than the so-called experts because access to information has never been greater than it is today. Now, anybody – and everybody – has access to player highlights, detailed statistical breakdowns, games summaries and recaps, and the latest news regarding injuries. In fact, if anything, there’s too much information available.

What separates the best pundits, and bracketologists, from everybody else is the ability to not just collect information, but to interpret it. Understanding what’s valuable data and what’s noise is the key to picking the right #12 over #5 upset and accurately predicting which number 1 seeds will make it to the Final Four (and which ones won’t).

College Basketball’s Growing Analytics Trend

Much like how data has changed professional baseball (see Moneyball), college basketball is increasingly being driven by statistical analysis. When evaluating players, stats like points scored, rebounds and assists are now mere vanity metrics, similar to likes and follows in social media. Progressive coaches like these (ESPN Insider subscription required) realize that information has never been more critical. A pre-season article from this past November in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlines the changes:

“Athletic departments are spending thousands of dollars on computer programs to help better analyze data. Jobs once held by basketball experts are now being offered to graduates with finance, statistics and economics degrees, all in an effort to succeed in a crowded college basketball industry that generates $1.1 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Competitive advantage can be a matter of knowing which matchups you can leverage or which defensive scheme to employ against your next opponent. It’s why coaches and fans alike have been rushing to KenPom.com these last few days, scouring the site that breaks down hoops analytics like no other. Knowing how to analyze real-time data, and more importantly how to act upon it in the form of critical half-time adjustments, is often a deciding factor.

Maybe this is why so many great college coaches have gone on to write business books. Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bob Knight, Dean Smith & Pat Summit all know the value of competitive intelligence and the advantages it brings on the court and in business.  Today, business resembles the frantic pace of a basketball game in the final two minutes as Social Media has created an ‘always-on,’ 24/7 business environment. For marketers this brings with it great challenges and equally great opportunities. Never before have brands had so many issues to deal with: increased competition, new and dynamic media channels, a participatory consumer with the means to speak loudly in the public forum; all these factors can make a CMO feel like an undersized point guard facing a full court press.

Utilizing Competitive Intelligence in Business

Yet at the same time marketers have access to tools that let them make sense of all this. We’ve seen the advent of Command Centers that help brands and their agencies take advantage of Real Time Marketing opportunities like the Super Bowl.  But of course not every brand can invest in a Command Center like Gatorade, or mobilize a strike force of writers, graphic designers, ad execs and legal teams to send out the perfect tweet to capitalize on a power failure like Oreo did last year. What most brand marketers need is an everyday tool that allows them to make sound decisions based on data, just like a good basketball coach does.

So, this year when you’re filling out your bracket, ask yourself this question: Do I have more information about the starting center for Wichita State than I do about my content marketing strategy? If the answer is yes, we’d love to talk with you. We’re Unmetric and we believe that when you connect people with information great things can happen.

March Madness and the Benefits of Injustice

Yesterday one of the great traditions in college sport took place as the field of 64 (ok, 65) teams was set for the NCAA men’s college basketball championship. Of course, any time you are selecting a certain number of teams, others are going to be left out. In the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, we hear about the last four in, and the last four out. These so-called Bubble Teams represent one of the most intriguing parts of the whole experience, as jubilation and heart-ache are exposed and fans witness the raw emotion of 19-year old kids going bananas when they make the torunament. Here’s Baylor from a couple of years ago:

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Of course some deserving teams, or teams who feel they are deserving, are left out so every year there is a call for a system that will eliminate the subjective nature of the selections. More metrics, more data, more rules.  Interestingly this is a very similar argument to the cry in college football for a playoff system. In both cases these calls are misguided.

With the possible exception of a thrilling championship game, almost nothing creates as much discussion as “who’s in, who’s out?” in college basketball and “who is really number one?” in college football. Finding out the definitive answer to these questions should be the last thing the NCAA is worried about.

Injustice begets emotion and from that you have passionate discussion. Why would you want to try to squeeze that out? Now, I’m not ready to give the NCAA credit here, I think rather unwittingly they have stumbled upon a key tenent of good Social Media engagement – give people a reason to discuss something they are emotionally invested in.

Now this is different than pro tennis or the NFL using instant replay. I’m all for that use of technology. Nobody wants to see a game or match settled by an inaccurate call. But ranking or selecting teams is entirely different. How can you know, even using all sorts of sophisticated computer modelling, if the 3rd ranked team is really better than the 4th (or 5th), especially if they never played each other? You can’t. What about the 72nd best team as opposed to the 63rd? No way.

The lesson here is, don’t get focused on definitively solving every issue with science. Injustice, anger, joy and heartbreak. Let’s the passion and emotion felt by your audience pour out, and figure out a way to own that conversation and extend it.

March Marketing / Social Media Madness: Final Four

Will it be Evans, Brier, Davies or Schoemaker?

Will it be Evans, Brier, Davies or Schoemaker?

An epic weekend in the tournament has left us with the Final Four:

In a giant-killing #6 Sarah Evans defeated #1 seed Malcolm Gladwell

#10 Mitch Joel was finally ousted by #8 Jeremy Schoemaker

Peter Shankman’s dream tourney came to an end at the hands of Russell Davies.

And Dooce, Heather Armstrong, ran in to the buzzsaw that is Noah Brier.

Evans will take on Schoemaker in one semi-final, with Brier and Davies going head to head in the other.

March Marketing / Social Media Madness Sweet Sixteen Results

After huge upsets in Rounds One and Two, the favorites took over when we got to the Sweet 16. The marquee match-up was #1 seed Malcolm Gladwell against #5 Guy Kawasaki. The tournament’s Cinderella, #15 seed Steve Woodruff had a tough opponent in Heather “Dooce” Armstrong. Who would move on? Let’s take a look at the results:

#9 Peter Shankman defeats #13 Bud Caddell
#10 Russell Davies defeats #11 Rick Liebling
#5 Noah Brier defeats #9 Mike Arauz
#3 Heather Armstrong defeats #15 Steve Woodruff
#8 Shoemoney defeats #13 Hugh MacLeod
#10 Mitch Joel defeats #3 Aloha Arleen
#1 Malcolm Gladwell defeats #5 Guy Kawasaki
#6 Sarah Evans defeats #7 Amanda Chapel

This weekend we’ll get it down to the Final Four. Stay tuned.

March Marketing / Social Media Madness Preview #2

Let’s take a look at the other eight Thursday games, and eight of the Friday match-ups:


#1 Chris Brogan v. #16 Jesse Newhart: Unfair draw for Newhart who could have gone far under different circumstances.

#2 Ann Handley v. #15 Doug Haslam: Clash of the Tewksbury, MA natives! I give this one to the Professor.

#2 Jeremiah Owyang v. #15 Steve Woodruff: Even getting up at Five in the Morning won’t be enough for Woodruff.

#4 Scott Monty v. #13 Chip & Dan Heath: Monty will certainly drive to the hoop, but will the Heath double team be Made to Stick?

#5 Noah Brier v. #12 Jane Quigley: Quigley will need the 64 pack of Crayons to pull of the upset here.

#7 Josh Spear v. #10 Rob Walker: Can Walker avoid the Undercurrent? I’m Buying In to the upset.

#7 Grant McCracken v. #10 Mitch Joel: Battle of the Canadians!

#8 Connie Reece v. #9 Mike Arauz: Another win for Team Undercurrent?

And now, bonus previews of half of the Friday games:

#1 Seth Godin v. #16 Lisa Hoffman: Rooting for Godin is like rooting for Duke. Take that however you like.

#2 Tom Peters v. #15 Amanda Gravel: Peters doesn’t rebuild, he just reloads.

#3 Gary Vaynerchuck v. #14 Steve Rubel: If Gary Vee wins it all, will we douse him with wine instead of champagne?

#4 Laura Fitton v. #13 Bud Caddell: If Bud wins this, he really will be living the dream.

#5 Greg Verdino v. #12 Johnny Vulkan: A Vulkan upset here would be an Anomaly.

#6 John Moore v. #11 Rick Liebling: I’m guessing Moore will be doing an Autopsy on me.

#7 Amber Naslund v. #10 Russell Davies: If it were football (the proper English kind) or cricket maybe. But I’m going with Naslund.

#8 Adam Broitman v. #9 Peter Shankman: I think some reporters may have to help Peter out.

March Marketing / Social Media Madness Preview #1

The field has been set, now it’s time for the previews. Today, we’ll do eight first round Thursday match ups. On Wednesday we’ll look at the other eight Thursday games, plus eight of the Friday games. Then on Thursday, we’ll preview the final eight Friday games.  Ready? Here we go:

#1 Malcolm Gladwell v. #16 David Mullen: Heck of a season for young Mullen, but his run to the tournament was, as Gladwell might say, an Outlier. Too much Gladwell in this one.

#2 Brian Solis v. #15 Jeff Pulver: Good matchup between two guys hanging out at SXSW right now. Pulver ‘owns’ VoIP, but I think this one is going to go to Solis.

#3 Aloha Arleen v. #14 Julia Roy: Julia, Mahalo for playing.

#4 Brian Clark v. #13 C.C. Chapman: I’d like to think Chapman has a chance here, but I think the title of his blog explains his like outcome.

#5 Guy Kawasaki v. #12 Shannon Paul: Two hockey lovers in this one – I think Guy comes out Alltop.

#6 Peter Kim v. #11 Rohit Bhargava: Will just Being Peter Kim be enough? Look out for an upset here, even if Rohit’s personality’s not included.

#7 Amanda Chapel v. #10 Faris Yakob: You never want to underestimate the Strumpettte, but Talent Imitates & Genius Steals this one in an upset.

#8 Pete Cashmore v. #9 David ArmanoWe predict Armano reaches Critical Mass and renders Cashmore Mashable.

So, we are predicting three upsets in these first eight games.  As a reminder, here’s how the games will be decided:

How will winners be chosen? Again, let me stress that this isn’t a scientifically accurate endeavor, it’s just a little fun. We all take what we do very seriously, but sometimes you just have to have a little fun. Losing a game here doesn’t mean you aren’t a pro, it means that in a completely meaningless little bit of Internet fun random selection didn’t go in your favor. Match results will be determined by a roll of the (10-sided) dice [Dungeons & Dragons flashback!] with a percentage weighting in favor of the higher ranked team. Here’s the breakdown in the first round (32 games total):

Number in parantheses is the percentage chance of winning:

  • 1 (73%) v 16 (27%)
  • 2 (70%) v 15 (30%)
  • 3 (67%) v 14 (33%)
  • 4 (64%) v 13 (36%)
  • 5 (61%) v 12 (39%)
  • 6 (58%) v 11 (42%)
  • 7 (55%) v 10 (45%)
  • 8 (52%) v 9 (48%)

Good luck to all the competitors.