• Nicc Lewis

Is Marketing Just A Poker Game?


To be a top Marketer you need to have a freakish blend of statistical data analysis abilities, understand human behavior and psychology, plus, possess bucket loads of creativity. For some this is instinctual or natural talent; for others it comes with education and learning the necessary skills. Marketers research, understand their target market, set goals, strategize, budget, create, execute and optimize.

Are these not the exact same qualities of a good poker player? I am not saying that good Marketers are good poker players, or vice versa. My contention is that if you apply the same principles and efforts as you would to winning a game, your results from Marketing will improve. It is not restricted to poker, we put the same principles and efforts into most strategic multiplayer games: Chess, Checkers, Monopoly, Clue (or Cluedo, depending where you are from), Rummy and the list goes on. I use poker as an example only. For the purposes of this article we will see how it applies to Marketing Strategy formulation.


Marketing is a skill

Before the game even starts


Before a game even starts the best players will have mapped out their end goal, formulated a plan on how they are going to achieve it and have calculated risks. From the world of poker tournaments, there is a choice of two main strategies: try to win the whole tournament, or try to achieve one of the top x positions that give a payout. Winning an entire tournament has greater outright rewards but a much higher risk and potential costs with re-buys. Going for a paying place will give stable income, but with less risk there is lower reward (and glory).

The second consideration relates to you as a player. Some players are more aggressive in nature, some are “tight” or more cautious. In general, a more aggressive style is suited to winning a tournament and a more cautious approach to gaining a paying position. You can win a tournament with a cautious strategy too, but either way you play, you need to mix it up. Even the most cautious players can catch timely wins with unexpected aggressiveness that the competing players have difficulty reading.

The first question to ask any company before drawing up a Marketing plan is: What is the end goal of the company? If the goal is for the company to be sold or floated on a stock exchange then generally the Marketing goal needs to build the dream and story for new investors. This means capturing Market Share and a more aggressive Marketing Strategy with higher investments and lower net profit per user/client. If the goal is to keep and grow the business it needs to be funded from the cashflow with a more conservative strategy based on optimal ROI both financially and in time.


Be flexible - adapt!

As the game develops circumstances may change - so being aware and adaptive is key to being successful. Sometimes it is a case of opportunism, sometimes just a change in direction; either way you need to adapt and be prepared.

In poker, you need to seize any opportunity that arises. There are two opportunities that arise during a game - first, you have a winning hand and another player is willing to bet against you; the second, you sense weakness in your opponent and can get them to fold with a reasonable stake.

Again, Marketers can identify. Building Brand Awareness, Recognition and therefore strength, you expect to see higher conversion rates and more direct traffic or direct searches, plus higher search rankings. This leads to more traffic and should lead to more time on site. Strength builds strength. The second scenario, sensing weakness, may be a little more tenuous. Marketers are constantly looking for that golden combination of keywords with high traffic and low competition. For a relatively low bid and some investment in content you can dominate the keyword or keyword string.


Starting the game


n poker most professional players will tell you to sit down and not place a single bet for at least 10 hands. This is the time you observe the players; look at their behavior patterns, betting strategies, look for tells and gather information.

As you start to play hands you are testing the hypothesis you have drawn up for each player. Step by step, adjusting your observations and retesting new strategies and patterns.

Again, there are strong correlations to Marketing. In building a strategy you would look at historical data for patterns and formulate models. For example, on AdWords you would check search histories, look at potential reach for display, past campaigns - anything to build a picture of what, where and who to target; with what message and call to action, and, what landing page to bring them to.

You are not going to go all in in your first week or month or even months. Test, optimize and increase investment.

One aspect poker players keep in mind is position and relative chip stack. When your strategy is to play a tight game for an end position you need to make sure that you grow your stack relative to the blinds so that you are not in a position that your next bet is all in or nothing. When you are playing to win the whole tournament you need to make sure that you amass as many chips as possible to be in a position of strength when you reach the final table.

Marketers run the same kind of thought pattern. For example when bidding on keywords on AdWords, there is a fine balance between marginal changes to bids to position of the ads and the potential returns. When looking at market share the bids will be higher, the aim would be position 1, but the returns may not be that much more than positions 2 and 3 when compared to the increase in investment. For positive and fast ROI, positions 2 and 3 may bring more profitable returns but for less traffic. The same kind of calculations can be made for display, plus online and offline media. It can also be made for spending on Brand Awareness versus Direct Response and there are many more examples.


It’s not a game!

Poker players will tell you that poker is not about luck and it is not a game, but a strategic process. Marketers will tell you that Marketing is all about the numbers and data. In both cases, we can see that in the professional game of life, it is all about calculated strategy.

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