3 Things We Can Learn From Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota About Content Marketing

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Editor’s note: Deciding what blog post to run on New Year’s Day was a dilemma. Thanks to Andy Baker of Snapshot, we’re reminded that it’s also the day of the Rose Bowl, which gives this particular post resonance. The #2 Oregon Ducks will face the 3rd-ranked Florida State today, so a football post makes perfect sense. (Not to mention that Act-On’s headquartered in Oregon, in another “Rose City.” Go Ducks!)

Here’s Andy’s take on how Marcus Mariota embodies the key principles of content marketing:

Hats off to the winner of the 80th Heisman Trophy, Marcus Mariota. Not only did he achieve the highest honor in the land of college football, he did it in a way that showed a subtle genius in modern day marketing. He didn’t campaign for the trophy or even speak about it. In fact, during the ceremony, it seemed as if he didn’t want it – it wasn’t what playing a team game was all about to him. What he did do, he did well and perhaps unbeknownst to him, those things won him the coveted trophy.

Marcus Mariota isn’t a prototypical Heisman-winning quarterback of the last several years. He didn’t bask in the limelight every chance he got. He didn’t see himself as above his team or above the sport. He saw himself as a competitor in a sport that takes a team to accomplish a goal.

Marketers can learn a lot from Mariota, primarily from his authenticity, focus, and performance.

1. His Authenticity Impressed People

Authenticity is tied to consistency, and consistency results in dependability. Dependability, proven over time, breeds trust. Trust is what makes content desirable. Think about the alternative – content that is fake, inconsistent, or questionable.

Mariota has a simple foundation for a good story. He comes from Hawaii as a three-star recruit to the University of Oregon. He was taught to play within a team and that without a team he wouldn’t be successful. From there, the story begins to take off.

His authenticity was best displayed when his actions and words confirmed and built upon his story. For instance, at the end of their only conference loss in 2014 when most players would simply hang their head and walk into the locker room in attempt to escape the reality, Mariota went over to a group of kids to sign autographs and say hello.

This made his narrative even more engaging. People kept wondering if he was too good to be true. While his contemporaries were getting negative attention in the press, he was getting positive attention because of his authenticity. To use marketing speak – he differentiated himself.

Authenticity not only enforces your story, it adds to it. Like watching an episode on TV that ends with the viewer having more questions than when they started, an authentic story leaves people wanting more. That’s what we’re paid to do. Keep them wanting more.

Google Trend lines
Google Trends shows a spike in searches on Marcus Mariota, maxing out at the 100 rating.

Mariota did just that. In December 2013, Google Trends gave searches for Marcus Mariota the score of 14. Halfway through December 2014, that figure skyrocketed to 100 (the highest number possible).

2. His Focus Intrigued His Audience

When I evaluate a potential client, I consider their product and vision as huge factors in whether I’ll take the account or not. A great product with poor focus can be disastrous even when it’s backed by an unlimited budget.

Mariota is focused. He is a football player. He is in the business of winning and, unlike many of his predecessors, he saw things off the field as distractions to that goal. He talks about how he was taught to be true to himself. It was this mentality that engaged his audience in wanting to know more about him. What’s he like when the TV cameras aren’t on him? A perfect example is the story about when he and his friend, Hroniss Grasu (Oregon’s All-American Center) bought a Mariota jersey with their own money, signed it and sent it to a kid in a Portland, Oregon-area hospital. When his fans learned this, they were impressed, proud and wanted to share the story.

A focused and unwavering content marketing plan can yield many of the same results. Maintaining a focus that is true to the mission of the business and marketing plan results in a trustworthy and dependable message. However, it’s stories that come not from the subject, but about the subject that endorse these messages.

An example is in one of our national accounts. We worked with this particular client to gather user-driven content in the form of pictures. Once customers used this client’s product, they would upload a picture of it to their website. After it had been approved, we would distribute the pictures on social media and on the web. Customers showed the value and breadth of the product. All we had to do was make the content available to others. 

3. His Performance Stoked the Flames

Mariota played each game impressively. He has the highest quarterback rating in the country and leads in many other categories. Needless to say, even before winning the Heisman, he had proven himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in NCAA football.

And he left it at that.

His fans did the rest of the talking. Once a story came out, they would share it. Once a stat came out, they would talk about it. There was no paid campaign for him to win the Heisman and there didn’t need to be.

Likewise, good content marketing performs and then lets others talk. When the correct research is done before a campaign and the content is crafted in accordance with the findings, distribute the content confidently. If it is authentic and focused, its likelihood to perform grows significantly.

Post-Game Recap

In order to be authentic, focused, and perform in a way that your audience appreciates, consider these closing points:

Be Authentic:

1. The most engaging stories rarely have conclusions.

2. The best stories aren’t all about the author.

3. Stories are told in several ways – not just through words.

Be Focused:

1. An executable game plan (content calendar) is essential to winning.

2. Content should be focused on customers, not authors.


1. Do the proper research beforehand.

2. Maintain authenticity and focus.

Mariota’s fans grabbed a firm hold on his story and eagerly waited for more. They wanted to learn more about him. They wanted him to succeed. That’s our goal as content marketers: To create fans that want more and share in the success of our clients.

andy Andy Baker is the Inbound Marketing Director for Snapshot, a digital agency located in the Pacific Northwest specializing in creative, technology and digital marketing. Reach him at @andybkr or www.linkedin.com/in/acbaker021/.