Marketing Capabilities Notes no. 3 – Lessons from Basketball banner

Marketing Capabilities Notes no. 3 – Lessons from Basketball

Does success come from individual skill or teamwork?

In the game of basketball, the answer is both. Teamwork is required to win championships, but all-time great LeBron James played in 9 of 10 NBA Finals from 2011-2020. While one basketball player cannot guard five, individual excellence helps.

That is why the best basketball teams balance both individual and team skills. Focus too much on individual excellence and more unified opponents will beat you, which is what happened to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the mid-to-late 1980’s. On the other hand, over-emphasize teambuilding and you may be outmuscled, outthought, or outplayed by well-prepared rivals.

What about in marketing? As marketing executive, you will decide how you want to build your organization. Should you hire that marketing superstar looking for their next role? Do you need to build and feed a data warehouse to improve your data quality and tighten marketing’s relationship with finance? Is it time for a training course to upskill your department? Something else?

The same general process applies as in basketball:
1.  Know your goal. Grow the business.
2.  Build impactful capabilities. Decide what marketing capabilities will be high impact for your business and build each one effectively.

The bottom line is this – decide what attainable marketing capability would have the greatest impact for your organization and build it as effectively as possible.[1] Recruiting and training for individual excellence may help you, but so might teambuilding, technology upgrades, process improvements, or data collection. Be tactically flexible because the marketer’s job is to get results, not to follow a recipe.

No two championship NBA basketball teams have followed the same approach. Champions have included Steph Curry’s sharpshooting 2018 Golden State Warriors, Tim Duncan’s fundamentally sound 2013 San Antonio Spurs, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s dominating 2002 Los Angeles Lakers. Many strategies have led to winning a championship.

As a marketer, you have the same flexibility. While your goal is fixed – growing your business – what marketing capabilities you choose and how to build them are your choices. Be creative because many paths can lead to success.

[1] Rodríguez-Vilá, O., Bharadwaj, S., Morgan, N. A., & Mitra, S. (2020, 11). Is Your Marketing Organization Ready for What’s Next?. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review:



Marketing Capabilities Institute

October 22, 2021

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