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At TopRight, we believe that games are a great way to learn the nuances of business and sharpen your skills. In their HBR article, Games Can Make You a Better Strategist, Martin Reeves and Georg Wittenburg asserted that playing games improves your strategy-making skills in business. With the parallels between players and customers, competitors, playing moves and tactics, business is, in many ways, like a game. So, it should come as no surprise that we believe that there are many lessons learned in playing games that have the potential to improve your marketing skills. For today’s article, we are going to share how lessons learned playing the card game blackjack can help you formulate winning marketing strategies.
“Play has long been infused with the language of business”
– Martin Reeves and Georg Wittenburg
If you’re not familiar, you can play blackjack online at sites like 888Casino and there are a myriad of ways to play the game. From classic variants such as American blackjack to games with side bets such as Live Xtra, there are plenty of ways to test your logic, timing, and numerical skills.
However, for all the entertainment value online blackjack provides, it’s also a game that unlocks certain secrets about marketing. Obviously, we’re not saying that you can learn blackjack and instantly become a marketing expert. However, if you’re already familiar with the “Four P’s” of Marketing, you can take lessons from blackjack to become a better, and more transformative, marketer. To explain what we mean, here are four ways you can use this particular card game to hone your skills and formulate more impactful marketing strategies:
1. Develop a Long-Term Strategy
Blackjack is a game of small edges. Even the best players in the world won’t win every time they sit down to play. However, with the right strategy, they can achieve a long-term win rate that puts them ahead of the curve. This is a simple way of saying that expected value (EV) and return on investment (ROI) are crucial concepts in blackjack. If the math of the situation says that a certain move has a positive long-term EV, then that’s the one the player should make. Even if they lose that specific hand, it doesn’t matter. The focus should always be on the EV of a move over an infinite number of hands.
Making all the right moves in blackjack should, in theory, lead to a positive ROI. This is the same way you need to think in marketing. A single advertising tactic might not hit the mark. However, if it’s part of a bigger campaign that has a long-term goal, it may still be the right move. The point here is that small losses and short-term fluctuations shouldn’t derail you from your overall strategy. Make a plan with a long-term focus, and stick with it. Focus on generating a positive ROI and recognize that you may encounter some negative results in the short term. You learn from mistakes, adapt your tactics and remain on strategy.
2. Learn to Be Flexible
Blackjack players have an overarching strategy, but they also have to be flexible and adapt. This is obvious when you look at the way a professional player will adjust the size of their bets. Blackjack, like business, is unpredictable. Skilled players will increase and decrease the size of their bets based on the flow of play and the real-time information they gather from the game. If the cards appear to be going in their favor, a player will up their bets and pull back when the dynamics change. The same things happen in marketing. The best-laid plans don’t always pan out as you expect. Therefore, it’s important to be flexible and be willing to adapt your tactics to improve your odds of winning.
However, this flexibility doesn’t mean you abandon your long-term plans and strategies. It means that you tweak certain things to address unexpected situations but within the parameters of your overall strategy. For example, let’s say you’ve just created a campaign to launch a new product. The day before it’s scheduled to go live, your biggest competitor beats you to market and launches their new offering. A skilled marketer has to adjust. There isn’t time to completely redo the campaign, so you have to make a decision on the fly. Maybe you reframe the messaging and target your competitor’s weaknesses. Maybe you pause or delay campaign launch. Maybe you reduce your media spend to minimize downside. Whatever you do, the point here is that you have to think like a blackjack player and adjust your tactics and bets.
3. Be Aware of Your Competition
One skill that novice blackjack players fail to appreciate is the benefit of looking at the dealer’s cards. Most people look at their own cards and nothing else. However, skilled players look at their own cards, the dealer’s card, and any other cards on the table. Why? Because the dynamics of blackjack are dependent on every card that’s been dealt. If you know there are four aces in the deck and two are visible on the table, that means there are only two left to be dealt. In mathematical terms, this type of scenario is known as a dependent event (i.e. something in the present affects future outcomes)
If the dealer has a weak card such as a 4, a blackjack pro will be less likely to hit (take a card) than if the dealer was showing a 10. The pro recognizes that there is a high probability that the dealer’s hand will ultimately exceed 21 and he will “bust”. This probabilistic and strategic thinking is what guides the most skilled blackjack players.
There are many parallels here with how the most strategic and successful marketers think about positioning their brand. You can’t focus on what you’re doing and ignore everything else that is going on in the market. Yes, it’s important to deeply know your products, innovate and leverage your strengths. However, you can’t ignore what your competitors are doing and how that impacts the perceptions of all customers in the market. By reviewing what’s out there, you’ll get a sense of what’s on-trend. More importantly, you’ll be able to spot product weaknesses, identify unmet customer needs and outmaneuver the competition.
4. Set a Realistic Budget and Measure Impact
The final way to become a better marketer by thinking like a blackjack pro is managing your budget. Gaming experts understand the value of managing their “bankroll” because they know that nothing is guaranteed and they can easily lose it all. Even if you make all the right moves, you can still lose. Therefore, most blackjack pros bet conservatively. This allows them to ride the ups and downs and, more importantly, keep enough money in reserve to achieve their long-term strategy.
The discipline of Marketing is very similar. When a campaign isn’t having the impact you expect, the temptation is to throw more money at it. Our experience at TopRight tells us this is the wrong thing to do. Don’t spend more than you can afford and certainly don’t throw good money after bad. Set a realistic budget and measure the impact that you are having with your target audience. And if a bet pays off, keep playing until you begin to see diminishing returns. Another mistake we often see is that marketers pull back and cut their spend just as they are beginning to win in the market. If you’re on a roll, don’t fold your cards and walk away! This is a crucial concept to keep in mind and yet another lesson you can take from blackjack to help you transform marketing and deepen your relationships with your customers.
Come to our upcoming webinar and sign up for the TopRight blog! Or connect with me on Twitter and on LinkedIn. If you still want more marketing insight, pick up copies of our latest books: Strategic Analytics and Marketing, Interrupted.