I have played poker professionally on and off over the last decade, and spent thousands of hours reading, practicing and working on my game. As of April 15th , the Unites States has effectively put the clamp on those of us who used to play poker online. As fate would have it with this recent news, I now have a considerable amount of time to focus just on my marketing career rather than my poker career, and I think there are some great poker leanings that can be used in marketing as well. The poker examples of these learnings in this post comes from a nice article by Steven Ruddock about the 5 traits of a winning poker player. I appreciated how the article really broke down what it took to be consistently successful at the game beyond just understanding the rules and strategies. I feel we can take these same insights and use them to improve our marketing game as well.
Trait 1 – Discipline
“The word discipline has very wide ranging definitions, so let me be clear; discipline in poker is when you know what the right play is, and you have the discipline to follow through and make it. A disciplined poker player not only has the knowledge, but is able to apply that knowledge.”
As marketers we are constantly being tested at the tables in order to do our jobs. This ever-changing world of budget cuts, office bureaucracy and fear of failure has us marketers second-guessing our tactics. Often we cave in to what’s easier or less likely to make a splash. This makes us a break-even or even a losing marketer. However, by having good marketing discipline, we know we should stand up for what we think is going to bring the best results. Good poker players don’t settle for little wins with little risk, they go after big wins with calculated risks. This same philosophy applies to winning marketers. So, next time a co-worker questions your tactics or strategy, remember you are the expert and while it might be easier to just fold your hand, have the discipline to stand up for what you know will work and shove your chips in the pot.
Trait 2 – Focus
“A winning poker player is focused on the task at hand: the game and the players in it. Poker is an exercise in information collection, and the best way to gather that information is to pay attention. Forget about the game on TV, browsing the net, or any other distraction that can be found near a poker table.”
In today’s marketing world, most of us don’t make time to focus. Outlook is always open, our smart phones buzz constantly and our calendars remind us of the the little time we have to do the actual “work.” In order to be winning marketers we need to be constantly looking at the performance of our programs and campaigns. For some of us to focus, we just need to get away from the noise. Close your email; turn off your phone and block out 3 hours this week. Take this time to focus on the performance data. Are your tactics working? Are you adjusting and improving accordingly? By spending a few hours each week focusing on the data, we force ourselves to market better.
Trait 3 – A strong work ethic
“Players with strong work ethics do the little things: review questionable hands, read and re-read books, take notes on players, and so on. Losing players just can’t be bothered with these ‘small’ edges. What they don’t understand is, a small leak can sink a great ship.”
Now that we are disciplined and focused, we need to be consistent. Ask yourself the following:
- Am I letting things slip by?
- Am I pushing my partners and myself everyday to innovative and be more effective?
- Am I staying on the current trends by reading books and blogs?
- Am I going back and re-visiting my favorite books and articles to refresh?
- Am I going to conferences and implementing new insights?
There are no magic pills we can take to make us good marketers. If we want to be the winning marketers at the table, we must work hard to constantly be sharpening our skills and expanding our knowledge.
Trait 4 – Mental toughness
“Winning players have the ability to depersonalize the game, this allows them to shrug off bad beats and stave off the elation of big wins for longer periods of time than most people. Losing players look for ‘revenge’ against the players that gave them the beat, and end up on tilt quite easily.”
As marketers we live in chaos. If we are not are not mentally prepared to handle complaints, office politics, un-responsive vendors, broken technologies, we will get frustrated and start making mistakes. In poker when we let these unforeseen events get the best of us, we call this “going on tilt”. Marketers can fall into this same trap, but instead of playing more recklessly and taking bigger risks, we actually stop experimenting and trying new things. We revert to what’s comfortable and easier to handle if something goes wrong. Remember, a winning poker player doesn’t play to break even; they play to win. Why should a winning marketer be any different?
Trait 5 – Be honest with yourself
“You can learn very quickly if a player is a winner or loser, see who they blame for their losses. Winning players look within: Could I have done something differently to affect the outcome of that hand, or was it simply a bad beat. Losing players blame their opponents, the dealers, even the cards for their losses. Just because you are knowledgeable doesn’t mean you are infallible.”
We often want to point at the outside reasons why our brilliant ideas aren’t working. Our partners could have executed better. Our budget wasn’t big enough. Our bosses interfere too much. But, aren’t these just excuses? Like our campaigns and programs, we need to always be analyzing ourselves and adjusting constantly. We all have bad days and get dealt bad cards, but in the end we are the ones responsible for pushing forward and being successful.
While these traits are definitely not marketing magic bullets, I think they bring some great perspective on how we can improve our marketing game. Personally, it took years of effort to acquire these traits and bring my poker game to the next level, so don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. However, with purposeful practice and repetition these traits will start coming out more consistently, and your marketing wins will become more and more substantial.
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