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Why Tactics Matter in Snowboarding & Marketing

January 25, 2016 | Justin Gray | No Comments |

This is an El Nino year. And two things are permanently associated in my mind with the phrase El Nino:

The first is a large scale ocean-atmospheric climate interaction and all-out clusterf*ck linked to the periodic warming in sea surface temperatures. One of my first understandings of El Nino, which is of course Spanish for “the Nino,” came in the manner all children should learn about atmospheric change: from comedic genius Chris Farley. Farley via the stage at SNL gave me my first associated memory with the phenomenon of El Nino as he faces off against Ric Flair of WWF/E fame.

My second memory is much more relevant to this post:

Many people remain unaware that Arizona does, in fact, receive snow. Sometimes Arizona receives a lot of snow, and often it’s due to El Nino. This year has been more extreme than most.

El Nino is also directly responsible for my first foray into snowboarding many years ago, as one late night in college, a group of friends and I began the ill-advised trip to snow packed tightly into a Chevy Camaro, a vehicle wholly unfit for icy roads.

Thus began my very sporadic love of snowboarding.


Bend your knees!

I snowboard once a year, maybe. I’ve snowboarded in places I have no real business snowboarding at. My bruised ass has slid down awesome slopes in places like Big Bear, Tahoe and Big Sky, Montana.

While I’ve gradually gotten less embarrassing on the slopes, my infrequent visits to snow do not help as I often found myself starting over after a long hiatus. I didn’t grow up snowboarding, unlike pretty much everyone else I know, and therefore I feel like a hindrance on the slopes. Normally, I try not to make a spectacle of myself and generally stay out of the way.

Life is a string of analogies to me. It’s how I think and write. Everything represents something else.

For me, snowboarding is a metaphor for marketing skillsets. More specifically, snowboarding success is a combination of strategy and tactics. In snowboarding, much like marketing, tactics get a really bad rep.

Daily, I read about consultants and executives slamming tactics. Strategic thinking and big ideas are constantly touted as a path to supreme marketing enlightenment and massive success.


With the fresh snowfall from this year’s more aggressive than normal “The Nino” that familiar feeling of excitement arose. Plans were made, gear was packed, and before long we had a three-SUV caravan careening north to Arizona’s Sunrise Ski Resort where a fresh 65” base awaited us. As is customary on the way up, advice was showered upon me. Perhaps, my nervous thoughts were present on my face. Or, maybe it’s just that everyone loves to be an expert. So-called “experts” have been telling me how to snowboard for over a decade.

I made a great move that really impacted my snowboarding prowess in 2014: I got married.

My personal snowboarding instructor.

My wife is a born teacher and routinely makes up for all of the patience I do not have. When she and I first went snowboarding in 2013, the trip was much different than my past escapades.

There was of course the barrage of typical advice leading up to the ski lift:

“Bend your knees!”

“Lean back on your heels.”

“Use your weight to steer.”


As those voices faded off into the distance only one remained: that of my wife’s. Generously (and patiently) she spent the day not only telling me what to do, but also showing me what it looked like, narrating those steps and providing a much-needed reference point.

I’m no different than most people: If you show me what something looks like, I can feel it in my mind and I recreate it. I can learn and succeed with it.

Want to know what’s worse than tactics absent of strategy?

Strategy absent of tactics. That yin-and-yang is inseparable if you want to achieve success, but if people don’t know how to do something, they often break a lot of things trying. For decades, marketing was paralysis, it was a pass-through layer of vendor management and purchasing control.

MarTech has changed all of that in its ability to put the control in the hands of the marketing professionals that yield it. But those hands must be skilled .

There are few things more dangerous than tumbling down a mountain with nothing but strategy between you and a broken neck.

Yes, marketers need to be a part of the strategic process, but they need to understand both the why and the how. Every marketer I speak with is starving for actionable tactics to translate strategy into success. Marketers are sick of hearing pundits spew terms like “buyer engagement” with no connection to tactics that create it.

There are more than enough voices out there shouting glossy advice and tired terms.

In reality, what’s really needed is a damn actionable lesson from a qualified, patient instructor.

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