3 lessons in online marketing I learned from an English football team

3 lessons in online marketing I learned from an English football team

1st September 2015

The State of Digital 2015 Summer Series concludes today, giving young talent in digital marketing a chance to shine in front of our audience. For our last entry, Daniel Slomka from Boost the News talks about football and online marketing.


A few months ago, I joined Boost the News to start working with blogs and publishers on promoting their content. I had previous experience in PR and communications, but this was my first true experience with digital marketing par excellence. There was so much to learn, so many new terms, metrics, and methods, that I had (and still have) to look for any possible source of information and knowledge.

When a friend asked me to describe what exactly I do in my new job and to explain a little bit about this whole online marketing thing, a fair amount of creativity was needed. I went on explaining in the language that we both speak best: football.

The two main online marketing schools explained in football terms

When it comes to building and maintaining a strong online presence, there are two main marketing schools: inbound and outbound. As their names imply, they deal with two different spheres in which the marketing efforts take place:

Inbound marketing is everything that takes place inside your website, meaning, how the quality of your page affects its popularity and you sales. Good inbound efforts create a page that ranks high on search engines, tempts readers to stay on-site, and keeps bringing them back for more content. It is the quality of your content, the user experience, and how you turn your users into a loyal audience.

Outbound marketing is everything that happens outside your website – going “out there” to get your word spread across the web. Under this definition fall social media efforts, advertisement, influencer outreach, and so on.

In football terms, inbound is defense: playing on your side of the pitch, making sure you are in control of the situation, and securing the surroundings of your goal to avoid losing. Outbound, on the other hand, is attack: outbound is playing outside your zone, taking risks and reaching out to make new gains.

These two distinct schools often compete. Just like in football there are “defensive” or “offensive” coaches, so you can find marketers who focus on inbound, and marketers who focus on outbound. These two opposing camps will often try to convince you that their strategy is better. But the truth is none of them is effective as a stand-alone strategy. To be successful, you must invest in both!

In football, if you neglect your defense and play only attack, you will conceive too many goals and never win any game. If you play strong in the defense but do not risk attacking, you are doomed never to score, and no scoring = no winning.

The same goes for inbound and outbound marketing. If you go running all over the web promoting your page but offer a terrible user experience and no valuable content in-house, the result will be a massive bounce rate. People will visit your page for a few seconds, realize there is nothing there for them, and then leave, never to come back. Your return on investment in awful. Investing only in outbound and getting a massive bounce rate is parallel to losing by 8:5 in football. You score an unusual amount of goals, which is great, but you conceive so much that you end up losing.

Oppositely, if you invest in a great page but make no outbound efforts, you’re shouting to an empty room. If you want your great texts to be read, you must attract users to build a loyal audience. Websites (unfortunately) do not market themselves. This is the blogging parallel of a 0:0 score: you do not lose, but it doesn’t bring you too far.

The English team that plays like a pro marketer

And so, I told my friend, to be a good online marketing person, you need to combine defense and attack, inbound and outbound. And which football team does it better than…Chelsea F.C.?

After my friend finished laughing and imagining Didier Drogba as a growth-hacking ninja, we figured out what Chelsea does that can help me market like a boss. We ended up with three lessons:

1. Park the bus

“Park the bus” has become a humorous, derogatory way of referring to Chelsea’s defensive game. The metaphor is that their defense is so strong, it feels as if they have parked a bus in front of the goal, and the balls just won’t get in. Chelsea parked the bus all the way to a number of titles, so there is surely something to learn from it.

If inbound is defense, then you should make sure your website is “parking the bus”. Your content should be rock-solid – you cannot afford yourself to lose any readers or prospects. Engaging blog posts, compelling UVPs, strong calls to action, and attractive mailing lists, will make sure your defense is a fortress and you never lose a potential customer.

Check out Chelsea’s great defense: “There is just nowhere to go for Liverpool!”, exclaims the commentator. Aspire to hear your visitors saying “there is just nowhere else for me to go!”.

2. Counter-attack

Once your defense is unbeatable, you are ready to strike.
The key of counter-attacking is accuracy and effectiveness. Assuming you have only a few opportunities to strike, you must make the best out of them. Know exactly where players are standing, find the blind spot… and hit!

Accuracy is the mother of outbound marketing. If you want to get the word out about your website, you must know exactly who is your potential audience, which places in the online sphere it frequents, what is it talking about, and who are its main influencers.

If you can’t answer these questions, you are wasting time, money and effort – and you are never going to score.
In 2012, an epic counter attack goal brought Chelsea to the Champions League final. Imagine that your outbound efforts are as accurate and swift as this move:

3. Pressure

The main component of a tough defense that rescues balls and creates opportunities for lethal counter-attacks is pressure. Chelsea’s players spread perfectly over the field, giving the feeling that there are more players of Chelsea on the field than of the other team. Wherever the ball drops, a Chelsea player is first to get it; wherever an opponent player receives the ball, two Chelsea players are there to tackle him.

Combining inbound and outbound, this is how online marketing should look like. You must make sure you never pass unnoticed. Be heard in every relevant discussion, introduce your expertise every time your prospects have a question or a need, make them feel your presence everywhere they are. You will quickly become a respected authority of knowledge and expertise, to which users come naturally. The road to success is paved.

These are three tactics Chelsea can teach you about online marketing. What do you think? Do you have other tactics you can learn from Chelsea or from other teams? I’m eager to hear your insights.

About Author

Daniel Slomka joined Boost the News as a Content and Social Media Specialist in 2015. He previously worked in communications for a variety of non-profit organizations and decided to join Boost the News to help bloggers and publishers make the internet a better place.
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