3 things marketers can learn from Rory McIlroy

If you were like me and millions of other attentive golf fans who followed the U.S. Open this past week, you were treated to a performance of historical significance. Young Irishman Rory McIlroy broke just about every tournament record there was and endeared himself to fans around the world in the process. As marketers, there are three things I believe we could learn from Rory (@mcilroyrory).

  1. Focus on solid execution, not heroics: With the exception of a hole out from the fairway on Thursday and a near ace at #10 on Sunday, his rounds of golf were brilliantly boring. No miraculous Seve-like saves, just solid drives, approaches and putts. Companies like Amazon, Southwest, FedEx and BJ’s Restaurants know that the way to be a great company is to deliver on your promise every time. This takes discipline to train people and to manage execution superbly. At this U.S. Open, Rory was disciplined.
  2. Be accountable for your mistakes and learn from them: At this year’s Masters, Rory blew a four shot lead on the final day of the event by shooting an embarrassing 80. After the round he was gracious with the media and acknowledged he “wasn’t ready to win a major yet.” No excuses, just acceptance. Over the next weeks he not only reflected on what he could learn from the experience, he reached out to golfing legends Jack Nicklaus and Dave Stockton, among others, to get their insights. When faced with a similar lead this weekend, he was ready. Unfortunately, organizations like FEMA, BP and Enron never learned the lessons Rory did. Domino’s Pizza did. The company learned that its pizza was sub-par (not a good thing for pizza) and not only accepted that fact but openly admitted it and responded appropriately. The performance of the brand has been stellar ever since.
  3. Character matters: I discovered Rory a few years ago during a trip to Northern Ireland. He was still an amateur at the time and a local television station ran a profile of the Holywood prodigy. I was impressed not just with his golf game but with his character. He now serves as an ambassador for UNICEF, he was gracious in defeat at Augusta and humble in victory at Congressional. To have tens of thousands of American fans chanting “Rory! Rory!” for a member of the European Ryder Cup team is a testament to the way he has handled himself off the golf course. They were cheers for Rory the person, not just Rory the golfer. Many brands are starting to get this, including Tom’s Shoes, Pur Water Filtration and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Character in a brand can’t be faked or it will ultimately backfire. Rory appears to be the real deal.

How is your company applying these lessons? Which of the three lessons is the hardest to learn?