A simple game of skill
Poker players are said to number 70 million in The USA alone, most playing the game as a form of entertainment amongst friends in a home game. Most of these players think they are playing a game of chance and you will invariably find that in every poker school there are 1 or 2 regular winners who understand some of the workings of the game.
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.
Poker is deceptive; it is quite easy to see how people who do not know the game (and even some who play it regularly) would confuse it with other card games where luck is the over-riding factor. Players are dealt cards and the one who has the best hand at the end wins, where’s the skill in that?
If you fill a table with poker novices the game will be played in such a way that luck is the only factor. The game is very simple to understand, anyone can pickup the rules and be playing in minutes, this is a contributing factor to the fact that poker is so easily misunderstood as a game of chance. Poker is quite unlike other games of skill such as bridge or chess where it takes time to figure out the workings of the game and one can immediately see the depth of the understanding needed to win. The complicated workings of these games lead people to the immediate conclusion that they are games of skill. When the game is simpler most people tend to put the game on the level of a simple game of chance, you can play blackjack if you can count to 21, you can play roulette if you can push pieces of plastic onto a felt table. Likewise you can play poker if you can order the cards according to the hand rankings and figure out which hand is the winner. Notice in all of these cases I have said play, not win. Roulette is as close as you can get to a pure game of chance, if you play perfect strategy blackjack you have a chance of lessening your losses in the long run but unless you can count cards, and not be detected by the house, you will never be a big winner. Professional roulette players do not exist, professional blackjack players are more commonly known as compulsive gamblers, but poker is different. There are a select group of people who make their living winning at poker, men and women with ever increasing bankrolls of cash who consistently beat the game. Either these professionals are very lucky or there is an overriding skill in the game of poker. If you take the time to delve deeper into the strategies, mathematics and innate skill of a poker professional and you will find that luck has very little to do with winning in the long run.
"These two have no idea what they're about to walk into. Down here to have a good time, they figure, Why not give poker a try? After all, how different can it be from the home games they've played their whole lives? Luck. All the luck in the world isn't gonna change things for these guys. They're simply overmatched. We're (the pros at the table) not playing together, but we're not playing against each other, either. It's like the Nature Channel. You don't see piranhas eating each other, do you?"
-Excerpt from the movie Rounders
So where does marketing fit into all this? The tendency amongst most people to equate marketing as a game of smoke, mirrors, illusion and luck I spoke about in my last post in this topic is a telltale sign of the amateur. Most companies don’t consider their marketing departments to be the backbone of the company after all marketing is just about pretty pictures and words. “anyone can do that”, all you have to do is make sure it looks good, shows your product and tell you some stuff about it.
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 mechanics is all there is to the game.
Anyone can (and indeed most people do) have an opinion on marketing, it is the one area of business where anyone in the company from the managing director to the bookkeeper will offer advice and expect to be taken seriously (try that with your legal department one day).
Marketing, like poker, is simple to understand and difficult to master, anyone can put together an advert or choose a package design and hope that their choice will be correct when the cards fall. Few can take a product and elevate it to the point where it will become an automatic choice for the consumer.
In every home game around the world there is someone who dominates, he might venture beyond his home game to a nearby casino or poker club where he will meet other guys who have dominated their home games for years and he will invariably be fleeced by the local sharks. These local sharks might one day make the trip to Vegas and play in the lower limit games if he holds his own here and manages to grind out a profit he might become a Vegas regular who invariably plays a tight low risk game and beats the rake and the local tourists. Those who manage to dominate the game move up in stakes and find a tougher and tougher game until they swim with the real sharks the Vegas Pros who win and lose millions on the turn of a card and the slightest hint of a bluff.
Most marketing departments start off in small companies with one or two people who can hold their own in the small local marketing needed to get the company off the ground. As the company grows and the game develops it is the ability of these people to grow with the game or the foresight of the company to bring in heavy hitters that understand and can play the game and compete at the highest levels that distinguish a company’s marketing strategy and how it gains or loses market share in a tough marketplace. The Scott Bedburys and Sergio Zymans of the world are marketing’s equivalent of a Vegas Pro someone who can be thrown into almost any competitive marketing situation and come out ahead of the game.
If you begin by understanding just this about marketing it won’t make you a marketing-shark overnight but it will illuminate some of the skills you will have to hone and perfect to sit down with the masters of the game.