In the game of basketball, there’s a commonly used strategy called the 2-for-1. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules of the game, let me explain. Each team has 24 seconds per possession to shoot the ball before a shot clock violation is called. Toward the end of each quarter, when there’s roughly 40 seconds left on the clock, the team with the ball (Team A) has one of two choices on how to play out the remaining time. They can use their fully allotted 24 seconds to play for one quality possession, which leaves their opponents (Team B) 16 seconds remaining on the clock and the last possession before time expires.
Or they can choose to play the 2-for-1.
In the 2-for-1 situation, Team A will race down the court and try to put up a shot within 10 seconds. This means that Team B can use up all 24 seconds on the ensuing possession, but will still be forced to leave 6 seconds on the clock for Team A to have the last shot – a second possession in that 40-second span.
Statistics have proven that getting a second possession, even at a reduced quality, consistently results in a higher score than your opponent in those 40 seconds. But it takes understanding, practice, and commitment to make it work.
So why am I talking about this to a marketing audience?
Because whether you’re preparing for your next pitch, next campaign, or next product release, we can all learn some important lessons about playing for successful outcomes from the basketball 2-for-1.
Lesson 1: Accepting failure as a likely outcome.
In our industry, too often we operate under the unrealistic goal of being successful 100 percent of the time. We put too much hope in the success of one campaign to solve all of our problems. In reality, we can’t win them all.
As we continually go all-in on “the next big project” we exhaust our creativity and our productivity, and ultimately skew our measure of success.
The average success rate of a shot attempt in basketball is anywhere from 41 to 48 percent. And that’s assuming a quality possession. The philosophy of the 2-for-1 says that two shots at reduced success rate of 25 percent still nets out to a higher outcome when you have two possessions compared to one.
Bottom line, it’s OK to fail 75 percent of the time, when you’re giving yourself enough chances.
Lesson 2: Practice prepares you for statistical success.
Some of you may already be thinking that this is the classic quantity versus quality argument. And for anyone who’s been under the gun to deliver multiple pitches or launch multiple campaigns, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy for telling you to do more. Trust me, I’ve been there and that’s not what I’m implying.
The 2-for-1 in basketball is only successful if you execute it well. In essence, you have to practice how to take a bad shot and ensure that it’s still above the 25 percent hit rate. If you shoot 15 percent for two possessions straight, you’re still shooting a lower percentage than you would have if you had just focused on one good shot at 41 to 48 percent.
Practice and preparation enables you to think quickly, commit to spreading your bets in time-pressured situations, and deliver a level of quality that’s above a 25 percent success rate. At work, you can do this by creating process efficiencies for these situations – whether it be a reusable research database, standardized credentials for proposals, or a set process of owners and approvals that gets your work out the door faster without significant loss on quality.
Lesson 3: Commitment to changing your instincts.
Knowing the statistical theory and practicing for situations still doesn’t replace execution. When thrown into time-pressured situations, we tend to fall back on our bad tendencies. We operate on instincts that are paralyzed by the fear of short-term outcomes. Negative thoughts of imperfection or damaging brand integrity creep back into our minds.
Remember that teams that execute the 2-for-1 successfully in basketball do it instinctually. They know that rushing to take a bad shot in 10 seconds (to get a second possession) is still a better outcome than only having one possession. They’re committed to this belief and have freed themselves from the fear of failure.
The same should apply for marketers. We have to commit to the strategy that gives us the best long-term outcomes. Anyone who’s written copy for an ad or posted content on a branded fan page knows that we live in a world of test and learn. No brand has a perfect history, but many successful brands have tried different approaches and improved upon many of their mistakes.
Think of it this way. We rarely remember the team that missed the shot with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. But we do remember the team that won the game.
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