Why Internet Marketing Is Like Poker (and the mindset that can help you win more...at both)

Posted by JD McNamara on May 09, 2013

A game is defined as 'a competitive activity involving chance, skill and endurance.' Poker has all three in spades and, despite what some people might say, is a game in every way. But what about Internet marketing? While not a 'game' in the traditional sense, having a set of goals and striving to accomplish them more successfully than your competitors seems pretty game-like to me.

There are certainly skills necessary to Internet marketing. Writing, editing, designing, coding, analyzing and creativity are all skills that can be found in an Internet marketer's toolbox. Endurance? You better believe it. Whether sifting through heaps of data, examining code line-by-line or reading up on the latest Google algorithm change, Internet marketers need staying power. That brings us to chance. Is there, or should there be, an element of risk to successful Internet marketing campaigns? I believe the answer is yes, and here's why:

Constant Change

At the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1970, there was only one tournament with seven players (and the winner was determined by secret ballot). 20 years later in 1990, the WSOP Main Event had only grown to 194 entrants. By 2012 however, the WSOP featured 61 events and culminated with 6598 people playing in the Main Event (for a first prize of $8.5 million!). Something about the game of poker has changed and the makeup of a winning player is drastically different than it was even ten years ago. Instead of looking back at the players who were winning fives years ago, it's more productive to be aware of how they achieved their success, expand on it, and take risks by doing things that nobody else is doing.

While the WSOP's jump from seven players to over 6500 in 40 years was huge, the growth of poker pales in comparison to the warp-speed evolution of marketing due to the Internet. The simple act of marketing - getting people to do a specific thing you want them to do - has been around much longer than any of the mediums we've used in the last century. But even in those 100 years, the number of ways we've marketed - and how fast some have come and gone - is staggering. We've gone from newspapers, magazines and billboards, to telephone and radio, then television, and finally into the digital age with mobile, email, the Internet and social media.

The digital age brought with it the explosion of Internet marketing and all its seemingly different disciplines. Consider that in 1995, 0.4% of the world's population used the Internet. Last year, 34.8% of the world's population used the Internet, and that number is only going to creep higher (source). A large percentage of those Internet users are also social media users, and both populations are increasingly accessing the web from their smartphones and tablets. It's no surprise that the flow of marketing dollars to the Internet continues to rise.

Content Aces Blog   Internet User Growth

Analyzing stats from the past is a useful exercise, but data can be overwhelming, especially if you get caught-up wondering what to do or where to start. Much like the poker world, the Internet marketing industry is in constant flux, and the way to succeed in a changing environment is to keep your head on a swivel (but mostly facing forward, to the future). Take risks. Guess where the market is going and get there first. Try some things nobody else is doing because you never know, they might just work.

Dynamic Situations

People (who are just curious, bless them) always ask me, "So what do you do with pocket aces...just go all-in?" or "Do you like to bluff?" It just isn't that simple, so I never really have an answer. What I do on a given street of any hand depends on multiple other factors, like how many chips I have, what level the blinds are at, who I'm in the hand with and my history with that player, the timing of the hand, and the overall flow of the table. It's not that it's a bad question, exactly; it's just not a question that can be answered in the same general sense it's being asked.

Poker is very situational, and although you come across many similar scenarios, each of those instances has its own set of dynamics that make it unique. Internet marketing is very similar in that it's also situational, so thinking about it with a general mindset (like in the poker example) is similarly one-dimensional. 

People think they should go all-in with pocket aces because it's the best starting hand. Yes, it is, but is going all-in the best way to extract optimal value out of the hand? In some cases, yes, in others, no. It depends. In the same way, businesses hear they need to use social media because it's popular and the next big thing. That's true, but is jumping into social media (or any other marketing tactic) without really knowing how or why you're doing it going to get you the best return on your investment? Probably not.

Risk/Reward

With more people flocking online and a higher percentage of businesses willing to try new tactics and strategies, it's becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the backdrop of a crowded Internet. The one thing not all businesses will do, however, is take risks.

The risks of playing poker are obvious. You sit down at a poker table and you either win money or lose money. While marketing your product or service might not seem similar to poker on the surface, you're risking money and hoping for a good return on your investment - so in other words, gambling. But there's safe marketing and risky marketing, so while the majority of businesses are doing the same kinds of things, why not take a risk and give your company a chance at hitting a home run with some riskier content? Delve into a form of content you've never tried before. If it works, great. If it doesn't, learn from your mistake and try again. If a company as established as Coke can bet the farm on content marketing and take risks 10% of the time, you can too.

How to Change Your Mindset

1. Keep an open mind. Don't assume something will work for your business because it's popular, but also don't rule strategies or tactics out by assuming they're too difficult, time-consuming, or expensive. Be willing to think outside the box and tackle things that make you uncomfortable.

2. Be willing to learn and read a ton. There's no shortage of good content about Internet marketing (and it should be very easy to find!). Even if you read one article a week and take a few days to digest it, you'll learn a lot. At the very least, you'll have some idea about the kinds of things that will help your business and can seek those services. Go. Read. Industry giant SEOmoz has a great daily SEO blog, and I'm constantly inspired by what Mackenzie Fogelson and her team are saying and doing. But don't forget to come back to check out what I've got to say, too!

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Internet marketing can be daunting, there's no doubt about it. If you don't have the time and need to focus on your business, don't be afraid to ask for help or find an expert to give you a proper rundown of your online presence and how it could be improved.

Oh and I almost forgot, if you play any poker at all, applying these three concepts can help you win a few more bucks on the felt too!