4 Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Card Players

What does a poker table in the back room of a casino have in common with a brainstorm session of marketers around a whiteboard?

Both of these scenarios require tactical moves, strategic plans, firm intuition, calculated risk assessment, and strong communication.

Just as these skills aid a poker player to reveal the winning hand, they also can help marketers launch campaigns that resonate with audiences and create brand awareness.

In fact, notes Jon Brody, the CEO of Ladder, “Business, like poker, is all about making optimal decisions to position yourself for success […] For young companies to achieve the growth they crave, their marketing teams must leverage data and software to reduce risk, maximize budget and out-think their competitors trying to do the same.”

So here are four tactics that poker players use to gain the upper-hand—which can be just as effective for a room full of marketers devising their latest social media promotion. 

Take Your Cues from Learning to Read a ‘Tell”

In poker, only some of the crucial information about an opponent is visible—since the other players’ cards are face-down, all you know for sure is what’s in your own hand.

This is why an experienced and observant player learns to recognize non-verbal clues from a competitor such as mannerisms, chip handling, eye contact, facial expressions or betting patterns, for instance.

These behavioral “tells” can indicate how that player feels about their hand which then impacts how you work out your next move.

That same approach can be used in marketing, but in this case, it’s other brand campaigns and SEO analytics whose tells you need to understand.

You can never be absolutely sure how a piece of content on your website will rank in a Google search result or how many followers will see a targeted post on your social networks.

But you can harness the predictive algorithms of your past campaigns to determine which increased traffic, boosted conversion rates and reinforced the audience’s purchasing habits.

This information then helps you tailor content, so it’s ranked by Google and seen by consumers.  

Combine Your Instincts with Concrete Metrics

On the subject of analytics, poker is a game informed by data—this might surprise you, but it’s true.

Sure, poker players do execute strategies based on their intuition, but they are also thorough number crunchers who don’t hinge all their prospects on a current hand.

Poker teaches you to evaluate the stakes, critique the outcome of your own actions and use these metrics to formulate a decision in real-time. The more data you collect and examine, the more honed and accurate your raw instincts will become too.

Success in marketing also requires a balance of external data and natural intuition.

As you build the framework of a new campaign, it’s important to test and measure your plan against the metrics obtained from the previous website rebrands, Facebook or Instagram Ad boosts and product launches.

But numbers alone should not drive all facets of a strategy—as with poker, there is an interdependence between hard figures and that sharp “gut” instinct.

As CMO of Tableau Elissa Fink, points out, “Data does not tell the whole story. You need human judgment to interpret, understand, compare and contrast.” If you can recognize the need for this – your campaigns will gain more traction.

Opt for Moves with Long-Term Expected Value

The most competitive, dominant poker players are those who choose to take deliberate and incremental actions with long-term payoffs rather than making an emotional or impulsive choice that is beneficial in just the short-term.

This is called expected value (EV), and poker players use it to determine the likelihood of a winning hand.

So if a bet is placed that has a probability of long-term success, the EV is positive, but if a success rate is only short-term, the EV is negative—poker players know to avoid those quick, brief wins.   

Expected value works as a blueprint for marketing too because if you spend too much time focused on the instant gratification of a one-off project or the fluctuating approval of a client, you narrow the scope considerably.

While these goals do offer a temporary sense of accomplishment, they can also cause you to lose track of the ultimate objective.

What grows brand awareness and increases revenue is not short-term efficiency, but long-term impact and effectiveness, MarketingWeek confirms.

Be Willing to Fold Your Hand when Necessary

Nobody wants to accept loss or defeat, but sometimes in a poker game, the smartest move you can execute is to fold a hand that isn’t worth the risk.

Even the most seasoned poker players can be outmatched by a difficult sequence of cards, but a shrewd competitor is able to recognize one of these “trouble hands,”estimate the cost-benefit analysis, then decide whether the odds are just too much of a gamble.

As a marketer, you also need to acknowledge when a certain idea or plan does not work out how you intended.

While it’s easy to become attached to that spark of creativity which just came to you in a brainstorm session, the fact is, you might not have the data to back it up.

You also might not have the resources, bandwidth or expertise to follow through on it. Maybe, what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time is actually mediocre and unrealistic.

In these instances, it’s important to take a step back and reevaluate. You can also build a list of future initiatives and keep these ideas on it – just in case it comes back around and it’s doable. Be willing to be flexible with your ideas and you will reap the benefits.

Successful marketing requires you to brainstorm, troubleshoot, re-evaluate and initiate new strategies.

It’s about being innovative and anticipating the next big thing – but also learning and really knowing your customers and their journey. The same can be true for a game of poker.

There’s a lot to learn from both situations that can be beneficial to cross-apply.