Tony Horton – P90X
If you have ever watched any late-night TV (and that’s probably the only time successful marketers have to watch TV) you have certainly seen fitness guru Tony Horton promoting his P90X video series. For those of you that miss it because you fall asleep on the couch during the closing credits of Mad Men, P90X is an exercise program for people that are already in pretty good shape. If you can’t do 3 pull-ups or 15 push-ups for men (1 pull-up and 15 push-ups on knees for women) then you might not be P90X-ready. But – ready or not – if you are a marketer then there are some lessons in P90X for you.
I’ve been doing the program, along with the various offshoots it has spawned, for almost 3 years now and I am a big fan. I’ve always been in decent shape but, because of P90X, I’m in better shape now than I was at half my age. The most interesting thing I have observed about P90X is that the lessons I have learned from doing this program are perfectly correlated with marketing lessons I’ve absorbed over the years. Let me share some of them with you.
Mix It Up: Use Muscle Confusion
At the core of P90X are 12 video routines that include weight training, body weight exercises (pull-ups and push-ups), yoga, kenpo karate, core exercises, and functional fitness such as cardio and plyometrics. Not only is the program itself highly diversified but, even within each individual routine, you are constantly using many different muscles in an integrated way. One result of this is that the “plateauing” effect of regular exercise programs – that point where it seems you just cannot see any more improvement – is overcome. Tony Horton calls this concept “Muscle Confusion” and the parallels with integrated or “compound” marketing approaches are clear.
Sitting on a machine in a gym working on a particular muscle are likely to build some impressive looking spot-results but not an overall fit or athletic person. Similarly, successful marketers must exercise every element of their marketing arsenal – in an integrated way – to ensure that results don’t plateau and that the overall marketing machine is as strong as it can be.
Measure and Track Everything
As marketers we understand the value of metrics and measurement better than most. But the P90X program really helped reinforce for me, in a visceral way, how truly important measurement is. For most workout routines, P90X provides detailed worksheets that are used to log your performance for each individual exercise. (In most cases, the only rest you get between exercises is the few seconds it takes to write your performance down.) This historical record ends up serving as an invaluable guide to driving increased performance in the future. In my experience, most marketers do a pretty lax job of keeping such a record of past activities – a big mistake.
On top of that, a few months into the program I bought one of those cool Omron scales that measures body fat and many other factors beyond simple weight. It shouldn’t have surprised me but it turns out that having the ability to precisely measure your progress towards increasing fitness was a key motivator for me and remains so to this day. Sometimes the obvious metrics (like weight) aren’t the ones that really need improving and the same principle applies to marketing measurement.
Build a Strong Foundation
Tony Horton continually reinforces an elemental principle of P90X which is that the “sexy” muscles will only work effectively if they are tied to a strong core. The core of the body (from the shoulders to the waist) are what ties everything else together and the program spends a lot of time working on these areas. The result is a person who is overall more fit and less prone to injury.
Similarly, the “core” principles and practices of marketing hold as much power today as they ever have. Programs like social media marketing and mobile marketing are very sexy and can produce powerful results. But many marketers today are under-emphasizing core concepts such as keeping a clean email list, putting compelling and clear content on the website, and choosing search marketing terms that best fit the company’s positioning. Don’t ignore the sexy and innovative stuff but always make sure the core is strong.
Form is King. Corollary: If it Hurts, Stop
Like my dad always told me, “If you are going to do something, do it right.” The principle applies equally well in physical training as in marketing. Through no fault of the P90X program, I have injured myself a few times over the past few years while doing some of the routines. In each case it was because I was pushing too hard and doing an exercise with bad form on the mistaken impression that pushing harder is necessary to get better results. Instead, the result was that I have had to take some extended breaks as my body needed to recover from injuries I inflicted on it. (No permanent damage – thank goodness.)
Marketers, likewise, should always use “good form” when exercising their programs and activities. The biggest marketing mistakes I have ever made were done when I pushed too hard, beyond the boundaries of common sense and best-practice in hopes of a “home run” result. Sometimes that works – but usually not.
A related principle is: if it hurts, stop doing it. Most of the times I injured myself during P90X my body gave me an early warning sign. Usually this was in the form of a little twinge of pain or a popping sound. I know for sure (because I do eventually learn these lessons) that stopping early at the first sign of danger usually avoids a much more serious issue later on.
If you are watching for them, you will get early signals that programs might be coming off the rails and need to be stopped, or at least pivoted into another direction. Always keep your mind open to the warning signs and don’t dismiss them just because you are determined to see a prearranged plan through to the bitter end.
Make it a Habit
Working out, especially the tough workouts in P90X, are no joyride. Tony Horton’s wry sense of humor definitely helps keep the spirit up but, occasionally, the knowledge of the sometimes grueling workout to come can be a disincentive to pressing Play on that DVD (especially if you get up at 5am every morning to do it). Similarly, with marketing, we understand all the tremendous work that is involved in launching a new program or campaign. Especially in the early days (before tracking and measurement start to show their benefits) the results are uncertain. How to get over this hurdle?
The best way I have found out of this trap is to make working out a “habit”. I do the program at the same time every day and I purposefully bought an alarm clock that was hard to adjust so I could not reach over in the middle of the night and give myself an extra 30 minutes sleep. At some point, it just became habit and now I get an uneasy feeling if I don’t do the program on any given day – even when I’m traveling on business.
Marketing is so varied in its potential activities that it may seem hard to make habits out of them. But many aspects of a successfully run marketing organization can and should function like a well-oiled machine. Adopt the repeatable habits of good marketers and don’t let them go, no matter what.
Exercise is Only Part of the Story
P90X is a great exercise routine. But the producers realized, early on, that aggressive, integrated exercise was not enough. A good diet is the other half of great fitness and P90X goes to great lengths to help people understand and adopt an improved diet. Now I don’t claim to eat the best foods every time but I strive every day to improve and many of the principles described above apply equally well to a healthy eating program as to an exercise program.
This is precisely the principle of compound marketing. Great marketing and communications programs need to be combined with strong products, a coordinated sales channel, a coherent business model – all based on a deep understanding of the customer to be maximally effective. Any individual element, no matter how well-executed on its own, will only get you so far. Success is about exercise AND diet.
Final Lesson: Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Despite learning all of the above lessons over and over again, I continue to break every one of them on occasion. Sometimes I still push too hard, or turn off the alarm clock and go back to sleep, or eat that extra large piece of chocolate cake that I didn’t really need. Similarly, as a marketer, we all sometimes run campaigns without adequate preparation or measurements in place and without having every component completely integrated. That’s life – nobody’s perfect. Don’t beat yourself up when that happens. Just put it behind you, get back in the saddle, and make tomorrow a better day for fitness (or marketing).
Okay, so maybe I didn’t learn everything I know about marketing from Tony Horton. But the principles I have learned and practice in my physical fitness program absolutely reinforce the concepts I have learned and try to practice as a marketer and high-tech executive every day. I hope you do as well.