The one thing you must have to win in 2023: an asymmetrical advantage. 

Here’s two ways of achieving this.  Better use of data than your competition.  Better imagination (powered by better empathy and creativity).

Author and journalist Derek Thompson says Moneyball has ruined baseball for him.  And ruined the music charts (he’s an expert here with his book Hit Makers, the science of popularity in an age of distraction), and in his opinion has also ruined most forms of entertainment, and pretty much culture in general.

For those of you who have missed the 2003 book and the 2011 movie, Moneyball, the art of winning an unfair game, detail the way that use of data and analytics propelled a failing baseball team up the league.  They inspired the same precision of insight into a wealth of other areas to create significant competitive advantage.

Except that once everyone is practicing precision data analysis, there is no longer significant breakthrough advantage.  It becomes table stakes.

Of course, if you are first in sector then your advantage is huge.  The first team to apply Moneyball techniques in baseball, Oakland Athletics, under manager Billy Beane rocketed up the league.  But the book’s author, Michael Lewis, who made Billy famous, has acknowledged that the success of the book worked to the detriment of the team by democratizing the use of data and empiricism over gut feel and instinct. 

Thompson argues that “The analytics revolution, which began with the movement known as Moneyball, led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful” and took the unpredictability and pizzazz from the game of baseball. 

I’m going to disagree with Thompson.  The relentless application of data does not always lead to predictability, it does not end here.  The last football world cup was full of surprises, despite universal use of detailed data.  Germany went home early, Italy didn’t even get there, Belgium, who were the second ranked team in the world going in, were also out earlier than expected. Morocco got unexpectedly to the semis. 

Good analytical skills haven’t made the beautiful game predictable.  VAR didn’t make the game boring.  As we enter an era of AI mastery of marcomms data we must ask ourselves what will happen to competitive advantage and focus our attention on how to win on the back of and in conjunction with data knowledge.  Because there is significant disadvantage to a single focus.  Any business that places all its eggs in one big data basket runs the risk of being Moneyballed. 

It will not be enough to be great at data analytics, businesses will need specifically to seek knowledge asymmetry to win an edge.  And there’s more.  They will need star players – who is your Messi?  They will need emotional resilience and inventiveness.  They will need empathy and understanding of their customers in the face of a grim economy and an environment of worsening news stories.   They will need leadership and vision.  They will need the backing of the board and a simple communicable strategy.  They will need gut feel and instinct.

Great marcomms will be based on a range of unfair advantages.

Empathy and imagination can elevate analytical information into transformational insights and execution.

Creativity will become even more crucial as our industry becomes more Moneyball. 

The need for breakthrough thinking and behaviour of every kind is going to be more important than ever.

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