So swimming improved my soft skills for digital marketing

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Marketing and communication

Home 9 Marketing and communication 9 So swimming improved my soft skills for digital marketing

The smell of chlorine, the excitement when you’re on the starting block before the start, that dark line at the bottom of the pool that you chase back and forth, the water that holds you up and makes you fly, the moments with teammates during practices and races. These are just some of the flashes that come to mind when thinking about swimming. I have missed these feelings at a time when, because of the health emergency, I cannot train in the pool.

If you have read my other blog articles, you may wonder what swimming has to do with marketing and communication. At this time I am doing some reflections on my professional development, and I have realized that swimming has played a key role in my growth outside the water as well. To learn how to do keyword research or how to write Google-optimized content, I had to study and experiment; instead, thanks to swimming, I developed soft skills that make my work more productive and effective.

Luigi Nervo, swimmer
Luigi Nervo (Vivisport Fossano), masters swimming event in Borgaro (Turin)

Water is able to shape people’s bodies and minds. Sport teaches values and discipline, but it also allows people to develop skills that are very important for goal achievement and teamwork. My professional experience spans journalism, digital marketing strategies, e-commerce, and content marketing(full bio here), and for all these years swimming has been the refuge after work days, but also an environment to reinforce soft skills. Each person will develop different soft skills based on the mix of professional experience, sports and other activities. In this article I want to tell what swimming has given me. It is a celebration of one of my greatest passions, but also a reflection on myself and my work.

KPIs, targets and results

Marketing is based on concrete, measurable numbers and goals. A strategy must generate profit, so we must have in mind the KPIs that allow us to measure its performance, determine whether it has been a success or a failure, and how we can improve. Without these elements, it is not marketing; it is just an exercise in style.

If we talk about achievements in swimming, the first image that comes to mind is that of Mark Spitz with the seven medals he won at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Then I think of the cover of Sports Illustrated with Michael Phelps and his 8 medals won in Beijing 2008. The medal is the quintessential symbol representing a sportsman’s achievement.

Mark Spitz’s 7 gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In fact, in many performance sports such as swimming, the main KPI is time: a stopwatch that by a single hundredth of a second determines victory or defeat, a new world record or, more modestly, a master swimmer’s personal best. I want to improve my time in the 100 backstroke, and I know that to do that I will have to correct the turn or increase my breath. Every workout will be aimed at the goal I have carved out in my head.

At work, I also apply this result orientation that comes from a performance sport where nothing is left to chance. Google Analytics or conversion metrics take the place of the stopwatch. I try to measure everything and do everything I can to achieve my goals and to feel the same excitement that a medal on the podium at poolside gives me.

Analysis and improvement

A good marketing campaign begins with a precise analysis of the market and the resources available. But it doesn’t end there: every activity can be improved and optimized in the process by interpreting the data in the right way (think, for example, of adjusting the bids of a campaign on Google AdWords) and aligning with the changes that in contexts such as digital are very frequent.

In swimming the same happens. We move in an environment, the aquatic environment, that is completely different from land because the pull of gravity, the supports and the direction of movement change. Think of Alexander Popov’s freestyle swim: clean, beautiful and effective. He flies lightly in the water. He understood how best to move in that context.

Alexander Popov’s swimming technique

Once the foundation has been laid, a process begins that leads to improved athletic gesture and performance. Since I moved to Milan, I have been forced to train alone away from my team. My coach always emailed me the trainings, and I followed them remotely. In order to improve, I bought books on swimmer preparation and anatomy, studied and equipped myself with the appropriate tools. Thanks to this approach and the long-distance guidance of my coach, the results were seen and, before Covid blocked the races, my times improved.

I also apply the same approach in my work. Analysis is the basis of every strategy and activity I deploy: it gives me the insights to achieve the intended results and to optimize them on the run. Without data it would just be improvisation, not marketing. I also apply the concept of constant improvement on myself: in a digital environment that changes very quickly, I am constantly keeping up to date. This allows me to anticipate trends in the digital market and keep these activities up-to-date and higher performing.

Attention to detail

Details determine the success of a marketing strategy. We have an overall goal with a strategy that is declined into different activities measured by precise KPIs. For example, we may have the goal of increasing online sales through the e-commerce site. We need to plan different activities to achieve it, such as advertising on Google AdWords, affiliate, social, Seo. To make the ecommerce machine work, each of these cogs must work at their best.

Swimming is also made up of details, and each of them can determine victory or defeat. Mirolad Cavic knows something about this, who in the 2008 Beijing Olympics wanted to stop Michael Phelps’ triumphant ride, but lost the 100 butterfly final by just one-hundredth of a second. The Serb, ahead at the 50 turn, came long at the finish and the Baltimore Kid took advantage: the right timing and perfect execution allowed him to touch the plate that moment before that catapulted him into legend.

Michael Phelps vs Mirolad Cavic, 100 butterfly final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The beauty of swimming is in theharmony of the movements, with the trunk acting as a connector between the upper and lower body. Think of the dolphin swim where the leg stroke continues in the middle and transfers the movement to the lats, shoulders and arms.

But there are also very important phases in race management: we talked about Phelps’ arrival, but the start and the turn are also crucial. As a dorsist, I am aware of the importance of tacking at the right time because if you come in too short you lose the inertia of the glide; conversely, if you come in too long the angle of the tack changes and you lose the thrust force.

I also transfer this attention to detail to my work. I am aware of which elements can increase traffic to a website and which can improve conversions. Knowing these things, producing high-performing websites and content is a breeze.

Sacrifice and adaptation

To achieve important goals in marketing, one must work hard and not give up. There are no miracle formulas for increasing your online customers, only dedication and expertise. On the one hand, you need the willingness to put yourself out there even in new situations, and on the other hand, thepractical experience that helps you make the right choices.

In swimming, as in any sport, training is crucial because it allows the body to learn the correct movements and make them automatic. Training has to be constant, and sometimes great efforts have to be made: it is not for everyone to train with short breaks for an hour and a half chasing a dark line at the bottom of the pool. I remember when I was swimming in Fossano, after work I would go by the house and leave to go to the pool in the evening, 30 kilometers from home. I was coming home at 10:30 at night and still had to eat dinner. But this is the spirit of sacrifice that leads to improvement.

During the lockdown with closed pools, I had to find new ways to train at home. I bought a treadmill for a cardiovascular workout even during the cold of winter and did some dry fitness training (in this regard, I recommend two resources that have been very helpful: the Swimout training method and the book Swimming Anatomy by Ian McLeod). This is an example of adaptation. As soon as the pools reopen, I will measure the effectiveness for my swim.

The spirit of sacrifice in a sport like swimming allows me to work assertively even when I am sitting at a desk and achieve results even when elements beyond my control may create some problems. Thanks to adaptability, on the other hand, I am able to move from one activity to another, even very different ones, quickly and effectively; in fact, I work in digital marketing ranging from commercial to more technical contexts.

Courage and determination

In marketing and in very changeable contexts such as digital you have to have the courage to dare. Data gives us a solid basis for planning any activity, but there is often a hint of uncertainty due to new situations. Only those with the courage to dare can truly make a difference. And when things are not at their best, we can always learn.

One of the best memories related to swimming is my first race in the 200 freestyle at the National Championships in Riccione in 2011, during my first year among the Masters. It was a disaster, but the emotions are indescribable.

Luigi Nervo, masters swimming competition
Luigi Nervo (Sisport Fiat Torino), swimming competition

After an exhausting journey from Turin (a highway accident had paralyzed traffic), I found myself suddenly catapulted onto the starting block in the evening in a spectacular, floodlit pool with many people in the stands. I felt a chill at the start. This gave me a strength that overcame the accumulated fatigue and I got off to a very strong start, matching my personal best in the 100 done just the week before in Saint Vincent (in swimming jargon this is called a “pheasant start”). In the second 100 I died and the result was not beautiful, but I learned how to handle the race better and I will never forget those 4 pools.

In work, I look for challenges-it‘s too easy to win when everything goes right. I like to put myself out there, experiment and dare. I am used to thinking outside the box and always looking for innovative solutions. I have also made mistakes from which I have learned, but I can see opportunities where others see only difficulties.

Teamwork and sharing

Teamwork is the most important element. I left it for last to reward those who read this article all the way through. We talk about marketing team because if you need to have a general knowledge of all aspects, there are people whose skills and experience are specialized in specific areas: Seo, social media, programming, sales, etc. A marketing strategy works if all these people are able to Working in harmony toward a common goal And to support each other.

Swimming is an individual sport: you are alone in a lane against 7 opponents. Actually with you are the teammates who helped you during training, who are in the stands or on the sidelines and who comfort you after a defeat or congratulate you after a victory. Feel the strength of your team with every stroke. Even it was during the relays, with teammates on the changing block, that I did some of my best times in the 50 backstroke.

After moving to Milan, I missed the team both during training and sometimes during races since I did many of them alone in Lombardy. However, every time I saw the teammates again, I found an additional strength, the strength of the team. With them I shared joys and disappointments, advice and suggestions, important moments in and out of the water.

At work, I enjoy building genuine collaborative relationships with my colleagues where everyone can benefit to add value to their activities. Throughout the years, excellent fellowship has enabled me and my colleagues to improve performance in a peaceful internal environment, even in the face of difficulties outside the team. Sharing resources, knowledge, and experience is the key to good teamwork in a company that wants to grow. I have also cultivated good working relationships with other teams (e.g., sales and development) and external suppliers. Thanks to all of them, I have improved and together we have achieved fantastic results. It is the approach of an individual sport where the team is the most important thing.

Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).

Keep in touch

Would you like to add value to your digital marketing activities?

Keep in touch now! You can find me on LinkedIn, or you can write filling the following form.

I hope to hear from you soon.

2 + 5 =

Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).