What College Football Teaches You About Demand Gen Marketing

In 2018 a devoted fan of the Utah Utes NCAA football team wrote a terrific piece about Why Demand Generation Marketing Is like College Football, and I couldn’t agree more with the author.

I’ve now got over 35 years of devotion to my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers under my belt, so I can assure you I know the game, inside and out.

And while that Utes fan did a wonderful job of comparing how much demand gen marketing resembles the roles of quarterback, coach, student section, and everyone’s ‘drive to win’, I actually think each player on the marketing team shares similar responsibilities with members of the college football experience.

In general, demand gen marketing shares a lot of traits with college football, especially in that both require a team effort to defend themselves. Let’s break down which position, or participant, of a football game each member of a marketing squad matches up with best.

Put me in, Coach!

Coach | CEO

One of the top positions to obtain in college football is that of the team coach, and it’s clear this role belongs to the CEO of your marketing group. This role determines the proper plays to be made by individual team members, and oversees how all the little pieces involved should work together for a successful outcome.

My very own CEO, Kasey Jones, actually has quite a bit in common with my favorite head coach of the moment, Scott Frost. Both appear to have been born for their position, and their early days in/on the field showed them to be hustling to gain as much experience as they could. 

Jones and Frost were also smart to get in good with the leaders of their industry/sport, so they could learn from the best and have someone to turn to for answers on the bigger questions that would help push them forward. Jones has a handful of solid industry leaders in her back pocket she can utilize when need be, and Frost has legendary Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne as a forever mentor and friend. 

Seeing their names in affiliation with such greats adds to their reputation immensely, and ensures potential clients/players will be in awe of their connections. This guarantees a level of respect that often takes years for a leader to develop, and opens doors only those at the top get to take advantage of.


Quarterback | Content strategist

Considered the decision maker, top “plan executer”, and arranger of what transpires on the offensive side of the field, the quarterback is generally identified as one of the most important players on the team. This aligns with the way a content strategist does their job, especially in that both spend much of their time “off-field” researching which plays will perform better than those of their opponents’.

As a content strategist I certainly don’t feel like I’m the most important member of A Better Jones, but I do know my actions and strategy carry a lot of weight and affect the rest of the team substantially. When I’m creating a content calendar for the month I have to be clear in my communication with social media on what needs to be promoted. And when I’m working on a bunch of projects at once, I need to know when to ask for help, or when I should hand the ball off to a fellow employee, to avoid missing an important deadline or losing important ground, due to a sack or quick tackle.

Quarterbacks and content strategists maintain a lot of responsibilities, but we both do our best when we keep our teammates in mind and work to keep things flowing in a fluid and successful manner.

Running back | Social media manager

For someone to favorably market a client on social media they must take whatever’s handed them and run smart and fast with it. In the world of demand gen marketing a social media manager is often dealt a client that might not seem too flashy or exciting from the jump. Sure, there’s a lot of valuable stuff happening in software and technology, but you can only hype certain aspects of these fields so many times before followers become aware you’re just recycling previously used content.

Same goes for a running back, who assume what I consider to be one of the toughest positions in football. Imagine staring down 11 huge and intimidating defensive players as the quarterback hands you a ball and then expects you to plow through and scamper up to 100 yards without letting anyone catch you, or bring you down to the ground. Sounds a lot like posting to Twitter, doesn’t it?

A social media manager has to sift through tons of material that’s relevant to their client’s market, then stage it online in a way that will survive an onslaught of competition and criticism. It might sound like a thankless task, but those social posters and running backs who are relentless in their pursuit end up with the biggest victories, and are heralded for their crafty ways.

Wide receiver | Office assistant/Intern

Two of my leading all-time faves as wide receivers at Nebraska also happen to have the best personalities: Kenny Bell and Stanley Morgan. Always cracking a smile, and laughing as much as they could, then leaping sideways into the air to make an impossible catch. And then spinning on a dime to evade blockers and rushing into the end zone for a TD. All characteristics similar to what you want out of your office assistant, or intern.

Often a wide receiver seems disconnected from the rest of the team, but that’s only because they go sprinting down the field, in slightly separate directions, as the rest of the offense fights to protect its quarterback. In reality those receivers are just as connected, because they’ve got their eye on whatever the quarterback might deliver them, and are busy articulating ways to avoid defenders or help another player, if needed.

Great office assistants should possess the same skills, and a sense of humor, since they’re likely to be ribbed more than anyone else on the team, and should be able to put that aside to complete any task thrown their way. Their value definitely increases when they’re able to multitask and dodge any office distraction.


Defense | Competition

Then there’s that team on the other side of the field . . . the competition. Your success as a team depends on how well you measure up against the opponent, just as it does with other businesses in your industry. 

And the defense isn’t going to rest on its laurels and just wait to see what you’ve got, then react accordingly. No, those on the defensive side will spend weeks preparing for your attack, and will have developed multiple strategies to stop whatever you bring to the game. They want their offense back on the field, so they’ll do their very best to outperform you.

Competing marketing agencies follow the exact same practices when trying to increase visibility and gain more traction for their clients. It’s a cutthroat world at times, but whichever team has the best strategy is almost guaranteed to win, or get more exposure.

Student section & cheerleaders | Client & their employees

Whenever you watch a college football game on television you inevitably get to see multiple shots of the student section, because that’s where all the emotion of the game lives. You’ll get to watch as the rabid energy of the students, at the beginning of the game, will either accelerate as the players they go to school with perform well, or diminish greatly - and sometimes invoke tears - if the team fails.

It’s a pretty great metaphor for the relationship demand gen marketers have with their clients. At the onset your client is typically bursting with excitement over what you promise them, especially because most clients are super smart and very good at, say, developing technology, but don’t know the first thing about how to market themselves.

So you outline the plan for brand awareness success, and whenever you provide the company metrics that identify how well your strategy is going, the client goes wild. Fail to submit a blog article to them on time, or round up a minuscule amount of registrants for an event, and that client elation dwindles rapidly.

Make up for your failings by hosting a spectacular webinar, though, and you’ve got them right back on your side. Consider it a Hail Mary, game-winning touchdown pass that included the efforts of the coach, quarterback, wide receiver, and maybe even the running back, because it can sometimes take the whole offensive team to secure a victory.

And don’t forget about the cheerleaders! Their spirit always uplifts the crowd, even in times of trouble, and we’ve frequently gotten the same type of response from our clients’ employees. It’s because they’re not the decision makers in the game, but they want nothing more than to see their team succeed, so they’ll show much more enthusiastic support than the rest of the crowd/company.

Everyone else in the stands | Your audience

Last, but most certainly not least - your audience. Who bear a striking resemblance to everyone else at the football game. We’re talking the school bands, the fans, the opposing team’s fans, the refs, the announcers . . . even the hot dog throwers.

As a team you have to worry about pleasing your coach and fans first, but you also gotta keep the crowd happy. Marketers might appeal to this component of the game a little more than a football team would, but you have to keep filling seats to fund advancements in your program!

So keep making those wowing plays that keep your clients’ fans coming back for more. And give the band a reason to keep playing your fight song.

Football is a team game. So is life. - Joe Namath

So while it might have seemed like a stretch to associate college football with demand gen marketing, hopefully these comparisons have changed your mind. The bottom line is that both are on the hunt for greatness, and that it takes a group effort to achieve it.

Just keep that in mind as the NCAA football season kicks off on Saturday, August 24th this year. Watch as teams unveil all their best, and remember there’s a demand gen team such as ABJ out there, working just as hard.