I’ve come to find similarities between poker, the ultimate skill-game, and advertising, the ultimate gamble. The easy correlation? everyone thinks they can do it. If you haven’t heard this common adage, I find it all too true, “Every business owner claims two skill sets, the skill that started their business … and marketing.” As you might expect, that often leads to poorly formed communication.  

On the poker side, the internet poker boom of the mid 2000’s more than proved that millions of home poker players thought they had the right stuff to make some real scratch at a card table. In 2006, the World Series of Poker main event hosted 8,773 entrants. But it doesn’t take much digging before you realize that these two professions (advertising and poker) are more difficult than they appear at first glance. 90%+ of online poker players lose money. And 96% of businesses fail within 10 years. 

My point is, this crap ain’t easy.

If you take a step deeper, you will find some serious commonalities between the average marketer and the typical "home game" poker player.

They make the obvious plays... They are impatient... They make quick, rash decisions... When faced with a tough choice, they take the safe out... And most often, they get stuck focusing on one thing (the wrong thing). 

Essentially, these two groups are inexperienced and unprepared. 

But it’s not all bad news here. Successful poker players, like the best advertisers, have a system. A system based on the understanding that this crap ain’t easy. In advertising, that typically manifests itself in the form of a strong team. A team that understands the challenges at hand and is prepared to create a way forward.

To me, 4 things stand out. 4 characteristics of advertising that make me feel like I am sitting at a poker table of life. 

1. Game of Grind

Advertising is NOT about quick wins. I repeat, advertising is NOT about quick wins. This has to the biggest misconception in advertising, just like it’s the biggest misconception in poker. Winning takes time. It takes a long series of good decisions, and the composure to mitigate losses when poor decisions are made. Unfortunately, the “gratification-now” mentality in our world makes it hard for advertisers to set expectations up-front, but it’s utterly important. Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb … these products are the exception, not the rule. In reality, you need to embrace the grind. The goal is building a long-term relationship with your audience. The overabundance of options in 2017 makes the grind more important than ever.

2. Advertising is half numbers, half art

Being good at both halves of advertising is difficult. I don’t mean being good at both building pivot tables and designing graphics. I mean being good at both understanding and communicating to your audience, and analyzing the available data to inform and improve those communications. Advertisers must find a way to tie those two halves together. Perhaps it means you need help from outside, or perhaps it means evolving the way your internal team uses insights to inform creative decisions. Either way, invest in uniting those halves. It will pay off in the end. 

3. Come with a plan, or get the hell out

This seems fairly self-explanatory, yet over 50% of advertisers enter the game looking like a dude wearing a Hawaiian shirt in Vegas. Prepare to get eaten alive. The worst part is, you won’t realize you’re losing … until it’s too late. So if you don’t have a thoroughly conceived plan of attack with your upcoming advertising campaign, don’t sit down at the table. Find someone to help you build a plan. A smart plan.

4. "Get your money in good”

A common phrase used in the poker world is, “tight but aggressive.” Made famous by Matt Damon in the movie Rounders (watch it). The base idea is pretty simple, if your hand is good enough to call, it’s good enough to raise. Be aggressive, set the tone, set the expectation up front, and 'get your money in good.' This mindset carries over nicely to the advertising world. Building rapport with your audience is not about throwing money to the wind in every direction. It’s about strategically deciding when and where to strike, then aggressively making your play. In practice, this could mean investing heavily in 1 or 2 channels, rather than spreading yourself thin across 5 or 6 channels. At the poker table, sloppy players are referred to as ‘donkeys’ ... Don’t be an advertising donkey. 

Find help ... it will pay off long-term

In the end, winners are made from preparation and intelligent decision making over an extended period of time. It’s not easy. It’s not luck. Everyone cannot do it. Invest in thoughtful planning and a team that can build your business into a long-term winner.