A Game of Inches

by David Heitman

College bowl games…NFL playoffs…this is a great time of year if you’re a football fan.

Football is often a game not just of yards, but of inches. For example, you see the ref bring out the chains for a first down measurement, examine the ball’s placement and then hold up his hand with his fingers indicating a gap of a few inches. It’s the distance from the nose of the football to the point of a first down.

A missed first down can mean a failure to score. Failure to score often means you lose the game. Losing a game costs you a shot at the playoffs. As many teams now look back over a long year of spring training, pre-season workouts, multiple injuries and a series of competitive games, their entire season may have hinged on just an inch or two gained or lost.

Or consider the predicament of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Had he gained just .72 inches more per carry this season, he’d have surpassed NFL legend Jim Brown’s record of 6.4 yards per carry, set in 1963.

A difference of 0.72 inches…just 18 millimeters…less than the diameter of a bottle cap.

A game of inches…

A lot like business, right?

It’s often in the smallest details—and unrelenting attention to them—that separates average from good; but more importantly, good from great.

In marketing, it’s about making sure you have precisely understood the motivators and aspirations of your audience: Lots of listening and pondering. No sloppy guesswork.

It’s about using the right words—sometimes the only right word—in a headline or body copy, editing and re-editing until perfect.

It’s about timing a media buy with precision and sensitivity to your audience’s cycles of receptivity.

The list goes on, but it’s almost always a game of inches that separates the champions from the vanquished.

For companies that cultivate the precision, ingenuity and energy to squeeze an extra .072 inches out of every carry, the rewards can be record-breaking.