Illustration for an article on how the Process can be used to teach us about marketing
August 6, 2019 by Mark Brownlee

Fast break marketing: Lessons from the NBA’s “The Process”

The Philadelphia 76ers are the greatest team to ever play basketball.

Why?

All because of something called “The Process”.

The Process was the smartest thing an NBA team has ever done.

And, luckily for us marketers, there are important lessons for helping us to connect with audiences.

First, what is “The Process”?

You might not know about basketball or the Philadelphia 76ers. But if you’re here, you probably care about marketing.

Thankfully, The Process has a lot of lessons for marketers.

For a long time, the Sixers were caught in the NBA equivalent of purgatory: Not good enough to compete for a title, just good enough to move out of the prime draft spots that could provide them with an impact player.

So Sam Hinkie, the Sixers general manager and father of The Process, did the logical thing. He purged the team of all its assets and turned them into draft picks.

This did two things:

  1. It gave the team more assets (draft picks) and flexibility (cap space) that would benefit them in the future.
  2. It made the team that was playing on the court bad. Like REALLY bad. That meant the team was more likely to get high picks in the draft.

It meant the team was giving up on winning in the short term for a shot at building a team that would win in the long term, year in and year out.

And here’s the thing: It worked. Hinkie (despite being, sadly, forced out as GM) turned The Process into two of the NBA’s best players – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

The team is now a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference and, save for four fluke bounces on a rim in the second round last year, potential NBA champion.

Well, I hear you saying, that’s all well and good for the NBA. But it doesn’t apply to me, right?

WRONG.

Here are the three ways the principles of The Process can help you create better marketing campaigns.

Putting The Process to work in marketing

Process over results

How it worked for The Process

Focusing on process over results is one of the fundamental tenets of The Process. Like, Sam Hinkie descending from on high with stone tablets type of stuff.

Basically the idea is this: If you follow the right process, the results will eventually follow.

That’s why Hinkie knew that getting hung up on losing in the short term was a waste of time.

Instead he left the focus where it belonged – on building a winner for the long-term.

Why it matters in marketing

It’s easy to get wrapped up in chasing “vanity” metrics when designing marketing campaigns.

But it’s important to keep the focus where it matters most: On making an impact with your audience.

Just as Sam Hinkie didn’t worry about a couple of losing seasons that led to more fruitful ones, you shouldn’t worry about underperforming metrics if you’re still hitting on the metrics that matter most to you.

If you’re going to compete, be the best

How it worked for The Process

A key element of The Process was that being mediocre was the worst place in which you could possibly be.

You weren’t good enough to actually compete for championships, but you also weren’t bad enough to accumulate the assets that would help you one day compete for a championship.

Why it matters in marketing

A great marketing campaign is, of course, the goal to which we all aspire.

But inevitably there are going to be bad campaigns as well. Good marketers always find a way to learn lessons from them.

If you’ve run a bad campaign, learn from your mistakes so you can be good the next time.

Stars matter

How it worked for The Process

Stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard dominate the NBA.

They overshadow the league’s collective consciousness with huge sneaker deals and salaries while earning their teams championships year after year.

The problem? There are only so many to go around and they are next to impossible to recruit to cities that aren’t named Los Angeles or New York. Or, in the case of Toronto, keep them there.

What’s more, stars tend to congregate around other stars. That means that if you don’t already have one, it’s tough to get another one to join you.

The whole idea behind The Process was to get enough draft picks that the Sixers would be able to find and develop their own stars.

These would then make it that much more likely that other stars would want to join in free agency.

Why it matters in marketing

Sometimes, it’s not all about volume.

With marketing campaigns (particularly in the social media age) we are frequently obsessed with growth. Getting a larger number of followers. Qualifying more leads. Earning more website visitors.

But we don’t always need to worry so much about volume.

The problem with the NBA is that having a team of league-average players is not enough to build a championship team. You need superstars to be able to win.

The same is true for marketing. The right audience members will always be the superstars you need to have on your team. Everyone else? They’re just not as important – even if you have more of them than anyone else.

The fact is that certain members of your audience are going to be more important.

If you’re in business-to-business marketing, there are key accounts (and key people within those accounts) that matter more than others.

If you’re in influencer marketing, picking out the right influencers is paramount.

Conclusion

The Process isn’t just for basketball.

It can also help marketers achieve their goals of connecting with audiences.

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Canada.

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