Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Texas Hold’em marketing

Marketing is a competitive sport.

How do you compete and win in the world of high stakes marketing?

Anyone can play poker and a lot of us do, over 70 million Americans are estimated to have played. It’s a simple game to learn and seems to involve none of the deep thought required to play a good game of chess or bridge. Chess and Bridge are the rocket science or brain surgery of competitive games, if someone tells you they are a bridge master or a chess master you may give a few sage nods and impressive looks (arched eyebrows work well here) and change the conversation before your brain begins to hurt, the same response you would give on hearing someone is a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist.

There is a different response that normally occurs when someone hears you are in advertising or marketing. The response is along the lines of: “hey have you seen that ad with the guy and the thing? ... amazing/great/terrible/killer ad what’s it for again? Hey I thought of a cool ad the other day you’ve got this girl, right and …..” I’m not sure how the rest of the conversation goes I’m normally numbing my brain by beating it against the table or feeding it Jack Daniels by this point. The problem with marketing, to borrow a punch line from Rodney Dangerfield, is you “don’t get no respect.”

The reason for this is that your end product is aimed at, and needs to be understood by, the public at large and therefore, from the outside in, it seems all very simple. We aren’t the chess masters of the world we are the poker players, the game is easy to understand and from the outside its difficult to see where its more than just a game of chance. You don’t find many people standing behind a chess master and giving him tips but anybody can and will tell you what you should have done differently in the last hand at the poker table. Anyone who has ever worked in the marketing department knows that this applies to marketing. No on ever questions the legal team on their complete obfuscation of the point or the accountants on their categorization of expenses, but everyone from the tea lady to the MD will have an opinion on the color used in your latest promotion or the body copy of your latest ad.

Memorizing the hand rankings does not make you an expert on poker any more than watching ads and buying stuff makes you an expert on marketing. True marketers relish the prospect of competing against companies where the legal team has had as much input in the latest campaign as the VP of marketing. It’s a wonderful thing for a poker player to sit at a table full of players who think that, no mater what they do, the outcome will depend only on the fall of the cards, card sharks keep a sharp lookout for these weak “fish” and know that the game gets progressively easier to beat with each fish at the table.

In my years as a marketing and advertising professional I have come across the tendency amongst most people to equate marketing as a game of smoke, mirrors, illusion and luck. Most companies don’t consider their marketing departments to be the backbone of the company, and fill the positions with reasonably competent individuals amongst all the soft hires and sheltered family employment, after all the real business is done in the production, finance, distribution and other real working arms of the business.

These companies are making the same mistake as a fish sitting down at a poker table of Vegas sharks, they believe that the apparent simplicity of the task is all there is to the game. Let them keep thinking that while the rest of us swim with the sharks.

To be continued ……

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Merchant and the donkey

A poor merchant pushed his wagon through the market sweating as he hefted the cart and manoeuvred through the narrow streets. Stopping to wipe his brow and stretch his aching back he noticed a well dressed man loading a donkey with a variety of items and giving the donkey a gentle pat on its rear sending it on its way down the street. He then moved on to another donkey and proceeded to do the same thing. Curious enough to overcome his shyness he approached the man and asked him what he was doing.

The man stopped what he was doing offered the merchant a seat and a drink and proceeded to explain that the donkeys he sent off had been trained to deliver merchandise to different areas of town. While they are delivering he had more time to go about meeting buyers and attending to business. The merchant was astounded. “If only I had a donkey like that” he thought “then I could make something of my business”.

Emboldened by the idea he immediately began to negotiate a price for one of the donkeys and having secured the deal walked the donkey home with a smile.

The next morning he loaded the donkey with merchandise and sent it on its way with a note to his largest customer across town. He then went about his business and even took the time for a leisurely lunch as he waited for the donkey to return.

The next day he decided that if he were to add a bit more merchandise to the Donkey’s load he could cover all his deliveries in one load and would be able to go out of town for the day and see if he could sell some merchandise in the neighbouring towns. The donkey didn’t seem to mind the extra weight and everything went according to plan. He now had time to visit more customers and the orders began pouring in. He was now having some trouble fulfilling orders. He began loading a little more onto the donkey each day in an effort to speed things up and it didn’t seem to affect the donkey.

A few days later however the donkey didn’t simply go on its way but a well placed hit on its rear with his hand solved the problem and the donkey went. The same thing happened the following day and he reasoned that the donkey had reached its limit it needed a little more coaxing than before but that was nothing he couldn’t handle. When the donkey didn’t immediately go on its way a few well aimed hits with the palm of his hand normally sorted it out, and on the odd day that it was particularly stubborn he would find a stick, not only did it improve the donkeys motivation but it prevented the sting he would have felt on his hand.

In time the donkey grew more and more stubborn and he began to lighten its load in order to get it going, but still found himself reverting to the stick more and more to get it started on its way. Until one day when the donkey stubbornly refused to move. He hit it, pulled its reigns, shouted and ultimately removed half its load but still it refused to budge. Finally he tied a rope to the reigns and began pulling it along. He made his way through the market cursing and shouting and bemoaning his fate to all within earshot.

“Look at the luck I have this stubborn beast worked for years for someone else with no trouble but no sooner do I buy it and it stops working. This is why I’ll never be a rich man.”