What Annie Duke taught me about competition

When I play poker, I have an advantage.

I mean, let me start by asking you, “What kind of advantage would you have if a world class poker player showed you not just the tricks of winning at poker, but gave you play-by-play instruction on how to keep ahead of all your competition?”

Well, on multiple occasions, Annie Duke schooled me while I supervised her giving lessons to high rollers at San Manuel casino.

But, being who I am, I never wanted to be a poker player. While listening to her explain strategy, and watching her with people, I learned. I learned a lot.

I learned that she is a caring person. And focused. And I also learned more about what I do – marketing.

Hearing her explain the play on the table, there were life lessons happening. From a business perspective, what if you could know which of your competitors were really doing well, and which ones were just full of crap? Well, she showed me the way to do this, and it’s just one important lesson I learned from poker legend, Annie Duke.

Business Poker

Just like a poker game, struggling businesses try to convince you of their success. After all, if their prospects knew that they were weak, they wouldn’t get the business. The stronger they act, the more likely they are to get the client. And if the competition believes they are successful and strong, they will respect them and work at staying competitive with them.

When you have a strong company, you can ignore competitors in your field. Or mimic them. It’s better for your competitors to think of you as nothing. Let them spend their time fighting other competitors, while you go about winning their customers and keeping yours.

So, here’s the big reveal. If you want to get a sense of how your competition is doing, ask them. If they brag. If they boast and tell you how successful they are, they just may be struggling. Shop them and look for their real tells.

But, if they respond that they’re “okay,” or that “business is puttering along,” then these may be the true winners. Watch them. Look at all aspects of their business.

When Annie asked why I paid so much attention to what she was saying, I told her. She laughed and told me how she sees business… “It would be ridiculous for a million dollar business to risk all of their capital on one investment.” But she also pointed out that changes when you have very little money, “Then you can risk it all.”

While this doesn’t really dive into specifics, it is a pair of pocket aces. And that’s where my expertise comes in. You can use my skills I’ve developed through years of watching and listening.

Annie Duke playing poker relates to business

Annie Duke starts with the obvious, “In poker, when you’re dealt a weak hand, you have two options – fold or stay.”

Take away to consider

Keep this in mind. When I asked Annie Duke what the best lesson she ever learned was. She quoted Paul Newman: “If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”

It’s very personal

Imagine it's someone you care deeply for when you're justifying business practices. In my head I sometimes see Grandpa Juan.

Imagine it’s someone you care deeply for when you’re justifying business practices. In my head I sometimes see Grandpa Juan.

I never fail to surprise myself when I catch myself saying “It’s not personal, it’s business.” When in reality all business is personal and emotions come into play at every touch point.

It has always been this way. When I was in high school and my history teacher, Mrs. Miller talked about how hunter-gatherers would trade from the early agrarian societies that was business in its purest form. A fair exchange based on value and trust. And in middle school, when I traded my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a school lunch ticket, it was very personal.

Why is business now about a balance of power? Holding the “consumer” at arm’s length. Making the transaction between them and us. Brands and consumers. I refuse to accept the use of currency as an excuse. Go back just one generation and the local grocer knew that at a basic level.

When did people stop being people and become, traffic, customers, users, members, followers or a target audience?

The people I want to do business with, the ones I want to connect with and am hoping will respond are not just labels in my marketing vocabulary or a share of their wallets to be transacted with.

They are my friends, my family, and these people deserve to be treated like it’s personal. Because when I make a connection with them it becomes person. No matter how they rationalize their buying decision. It is personal to them and it should be to you.

Good Marketing/Bad Marketing

The most you can hope for is to try to maintain your influential role in consumers' decisions and behavior.

The most you can hope for is to try to maintain your influential role in consumers’ decisions and behavior.

Customers are becoming more and more fed up, but really they are just tired and annoyed by bad marketing. Customers appreciate relevant information because it is the only way to be updated about what is interesting to them. Marketing has always been, and it will always be about being the connection between you abd your customer. You must be caring, helpful and even entertaining. And sincere.

Everyone buys for a different reason. Being helpful to your customer requires investing more time on the strategy and basics of communication.

Companies feel that they can’t afford the extra time, but what they really can’t afford is to keep annoying customers. This is your wife, your son, your Dad. Many companies don’t think in these terms. Unnecessarily annoying your friend is making it harder for everyone else, including you, to get the chance to tell your story. In the near future, the person annoyed today will become more reluctant to engage with you.

It is bad enough that so many brands compete for the same customers, but it makes it even worse when others that have nothing helpful to offer or say simply join the noise.

Part of the problem is not enough resources, relevant information and time to do a good job at trying to target potential customers. It’s more effective to be helpful to a few than annoying to many. This way, we have a better chance to succeed and customers will want to learn and be helped.

Conclusion – for now

In order for your company to maintain your influential role in your consumers’ decisions and behavior, you have to do a much better job. Personal marketing is more difficult to plan and execute, but it is the only way to convince customers that today is the day they should buy from you. And you won’t break your trust to them tomorrow.

One of the biggest mistakes in marketing is to think that marketers are the experts when the truth is that customers are. The customer tells us if we are right or wrong. Still, in most cases we don’t listen to them.

I listen.

The Consequences

The challenge is to find someone who can think. And be nimble in a very different, saturated and competitive marketplace. Inexperienced or careless marketers can look like good, sensitive and helpful to your business. But when they come under fire, then what? No one can be truthful and say they can do their job until they have done it under combat conditions.

By that I mean you need someone that has excelled when problems come up. Oh, and problems will happen. As sure as you hear the uninitiated say “I’ve got this under control.”

The only way you can survive your customers is by using a great marketing person.

Even good intentions won't protect you from inexperienced employees and bad choices.

Even good intentions won’t protect you from inexperienced employees and bad choices.

Consequences

It is scary that bad social interactions on the internet is disturbing the fundamentals of communication. Customers have always appreciated receiving relevant information, but often today they are not interested in listening, even when you have something helpful to say.

I am worried that the art of good marketing and sales, which has always been rewarded by customers, might vanish due to bad marketing. Marketing is becoming a commodity, and the art of promoting and selling one-to-one is becoming almost impossible.

Many customers may not give companies a chance to sell to them.

We might be heading towards a time when you can only upload content and wait to be searched by customers.

What Are the Consequences?

Everything has consequences.

Everything has consequences. The best you can hope for is to control your actions.

All of these so-called new marketing tools and huge market changes are dramatically influencing the way we do marketing today; but the effect has not always been positive to customers and marketing in general.

The problem is that so many of these new channels are quick to get started on them, easy to use, and inexpensive. But the arrogance of so many companies is that they hire based on what they want to pay for the job, not on what the person hired can do for the company. And in today’s transparent marketplace, an employee can affect a company in a positive or negative way very quickly.

If you don’t have the right person to plan and implement your marketing strategies, the best you can hope is that nothing happens. No sales. No engagement. No negative impacts to your bottom line.

We get to hear about the worst that can happen almost daily as cautionary tales in the news and as “fails” on social channels. Some inexperienced employee replies to a negative attack or a troll post, or some experienced business executive thinks he can ignore a problem until something that meant nothing to him goes viral and costs him his career.

Today a different set of skills, experience and DNA is needed. Even though a lot has changed, something that hasn’t is the fundamentals of marketing and communication.

Or consequences.

Hope is no way to do business

What is your customer really looking for?

What is your customer really looking for?

We have a tiny farmers market in Redlands every Saturday morning. Each week these small local farmers show up and hope. They hope that someone might come by and buy something. And then hope even more that they will fall in love with their produce and become their customer for life. The sellers show items that any passer-by might want, usually the same produce that they could get somewhere else if they weren’t going to buy it on impulse between 9am and 1pm on this Saturday.

The girl selling honey has a different strategy. She understands the worldview of the hipsters and grandmas who come to buy her honey. They don’t really want honey; they want to feel more connected to the world. They want a story. And honey from the daughter of a World War II veteran who returned from the war and only wanted to raise bees and produce organic, unrefined, unfiltered, single crop honey has a cool factor. And that she is helping him live his dream even now is a great, feel good story.

Andrew_Phipps_9372 900x600

The honey maker knows her customers and what makes them tick before she sets up her stall, and she creates special offerings just for them. And people line up to pay for her stories she tells.

It shows me that understanding your customers is a better strategy than hope.

Ideas come in many forms

What inspires you? Make the emotional connection be authentic.

What inspires you? Make the emotional connection be authentic.

A movie. A label on a can.

A directional sign at the beach.

Recognizing and harnessing the spark is the hard part. Seek more inspiration.

How the best creative happens

You're not being paid to create art. You're being paid to communicate a message.

You’re not being paid to create art. You’re being paid to communicate a message.

The best creative happens when we don’t try to design it and just get our ego out of the way. Just share the message. If your customer wanted a masterpiece, they would go to an artist and just say, “Create!” But if your customer wants a brochure about their company, tell their story. Don’t try to create a portfolio piece or win an award. The more you try to show off, the more you get in the way of the message.

And when the brochure makes a customer buy that product that is the best creative in the world.

The role of color

Here is a short (haha!) lesson in color theory that I put together from my experience working week-in and week-out at San Manuel casino. With over 40 different acts every year, plus special promotions and events, I was able to track what colors sold an act that was determined to be a “dog” or hard-sell, and what colors could even kill what should have been a sure-thing.

Color is a balancing act.

Color is a balancing act.

Color plays a key role in the success of advertising. After all, it’s pretty much the first thing anyone notices, making color your best – and sometimes only – chance to get a message across. For this post, I will concentrate on color and save font choices for another time.

The use of color in most design for marketing and advertising is driven by certain obvious reasons; the need to reflect a specific brand, as well as the attempt to communicate a certain mood determined by the product. Company branding is pretty straightforward – specific colors dictated by logos and other collateral will need to be incorporated into at least part of the design. The choice of color scheme for conveying the ‘personality’ of a product is often a lot harder to develop.

 

But some colors are actually more right than others. There is a psychological and physical impact on people. The significance of various colors isn’t universal and unchanging – in many ways it’s quite the opposite: various ethnicities and cultures often associate the same color with very different emotions and ideas.

 

And if this all sounds questionable, good. It means you have a brain, now use it. I have found that color can actively influence consumers and I use my knowledge for good and evil… Here are some of my basic color facts:

 

Red

Red, the most vibrant and powerful of colors, seems like a good place to start. Since studies have shown that it’s the first color babies recognize, and one that continues to appeal to most people throughout their childhood and into their adult lives. At a purely symbolic level, it’s the color of fire and blood, an association that’s common to all cultures and therefore extremely powerful. Less specifically, it’s a color that seems to be associated with energy, war, danger and power, not to mention passion, desire, and love.

 

So what does that mean for marketing?

To start with, some of these associations are so deeply ingrained that it’s stupid to use a color other than red to represent certain things. Try showing extreme emotions such as violence or passion with shades of blue and you’re going to run into problems. What’s more, I have seen in its brighter variations (tomato), red actually provokes a physical response by creating action in both men and women. For this reason, its use in ‘sexy’ advertising scenarios or as an erotically charged statement (on lips or fingernails) should quite literally set hearts beating faster – and as I mentioned, it works equally at arousing both men and women. Whether the physiological ‘red effect’ happens simply as a result of its associations; or because the color itself somehow provokes such a response; or, if, indeed, this effect relies on a combination of the two isn’t something that matters. Who cares why? What is important is that red, like virtually every other color, exerts a measurable influence on the consumer.

 

More about the ‘red effect’… different from any physical reactions it might provoke, red is association with force, and power, and is an extremely dominant one. Consider all the small details in our everyday lives that support this: red icons on switches to indicate their ‘on’ state, the plastic coating on ‘live’ wires, the tiny red glow that tells us an electrical appliance is working. All of this makes red the best color to suggest fast-moving action or extreme force – examples of uses that fall into this category include sports, slot machines, action-adventure or dancing. This deep-rooted association with power also makes red a good candidate for any product that seeks to impart the idea of improvement, rapidity or physical change. Red also increases appetite, making it an excellent choice for advertising food (Chinese restaurants use red color schemes for this reason, but – red simply happens to be a very popular and ‘lucky’ color in the Chinese culture). However, if enticing diners to eat heartily is something you’re aiming to do, an all-red environment is a good way to get stomachs rumbling.

 

Pink

Although it derives from red, pink has little of red’s forceful qualities. In fact, although it’s usually perceived as a warm and fairly upbeat color, it is, of course, popularly associated with femininity and even passivity. A cliché, perhaps, but its vigor-reducing reputation has again been shown to have some basis in fact. A famous study showed a shade of bubble-gum pink used in certain cells in a men’s prison was unexpectedly found to change aggressive inmates behavior and make them more docile. Research corroborated the fact that pink did indeed have significant calming qualities – although a subsequent study revealed that after a certain time these effects were dramatically reversed as prisoners became more agitated and aggressive than before. (Surprised? You try living in a bubble gum pink environment). The fact that pink does induce at least a temporary sensation of calm makes it a powerful factor in the color-coordinated approach to advertising. It became a favorite for any female only promotions such as Ladies Night Out. This association was explored on a very limited basis because the strong association with femininity means that anything ‘too’ pink is was completely ignored by men.

 

There’s one other area in which pink has an interesting effect, however – and one that didn’t alienate males. It was in food product posters on-site. I theorized that the color lead consumers to believe they’re tastier, or even identify a flavor that isn’t actually present. And pink coloring is a particularly effective way of suggesting sweetness. This may relate to the fact that it’s often used as a coloring in candies, but whatever the case, the association is powerful enough to substantially increase a food’s perceived sugariness or even depth of flavor. Although in these health-conscious times sweet, sugary foods have lost much of their popularity, the marketing of products inside the casino, on the floor worked: feel-good desserts, ice creams, and shakes.

 

 

Green

Occurring naturally as a sign of plant growth and renewal, green is one of those colors that are universally seen as positive, fresh and fertile. It’s the easiest color for the eye to assimilate and therefore one of the most relaxing; it induces feelings of calm and restfulness, and can even improve vision. In short, it’s a very positive color indeed. This emphasis on nature, freshness and renewal means that I commonly used green to emphasize the new, improved offerings of a repeated promotion from a previous year. But if you notice a certain irony in this, good, because green, of course, has steadily evolved into the symbol of all that’s ecologically aware. Congruity in advertising – or the notion that what’s implied about a product should be supported by its reality – is one of the most vital aspects of marketing. Get this wrong, and there’s no consumer forgiveness. Its current associations have equally led to opportunities for more refined targeting. Wholesome, healthy food items were quickly identified as such through predominant use of green.

 

Different greens, different meanings… Green is a symbolically complex color, and particular shades transmit subtly different messages. Darker greens – the classic color of money – have long held an association with casinos. The added implication of wealth and savings made green a good choice for promotions, particularly any Ass-In-Seat promotion. Lime greens sucked. It never sold anything when it was used. Finally, association with green from its use in traffic control to signify ‘go’ was a great tie-in. This link with movement, forward motion and vehicles made it a good choice for anything related to transportation: bussing, train networks, travel promotions. And for online advertising, using green for buttons or links – clicked – you’re practically inviting a user to go ahead and do so. Oddly enough, red in this context never seemed to work, maybe green was seen as a less risky click.

 

Blue

Blue is the world’s most popular color. And as one that, like green, occurs in nature – the hue of skies, water and sea – it’s not surprising that it’s so well loved. With such universal associations and widespread appeal, blue is an important asset to any color use. Unlike very warm colors, which provoke impulsive, passionate responses, blue is a cerebral color that’s commonly associated with clear thinking and intellect. Surprisingly, darker blues have a widespread appeal among men and works fantastic in and out of a casino setting.

Blue emerges as a clear favorite in almost any casino advertisement. Its implication of steadiness made it an effective choice for San Manuel’s branding, although its white-collar association with conservatism could have hurt perception, in the long-run, it helped. Blue’s lighter, brighter shades, takes on happier, sparkling and spontaneous overtones. The pure and natural aspect of such blues convey a sense of cleanliness and freshness and drew patrons from every demographic. Bright blue became the obvious choice for the typical entertainment advertising. Evocative of cloudless skies and inviting pools, it gives a tantalizing taste of tranquility and relaxation. In fact, blue is such a flexible and well-liked color that it’s almost impossible to miss-use – with one major exception.

Foods really don’t benefit from any kind of association with blue. Maybe the blue/food combo induces feelings of nausea. We instinctively associate the color with something that’s rotten and unsafe to eat, but whatever the case, it’s not a great choice for marketing any type of casino meal.

 

If you’re still with me…

I will cover yellow, white, black,orange, purple, and brown in another post.

For now… takeaways to consider: Sometimes the decision is partly intuitive – most people understand (even at a very basic level) that bright colors will convey a different kind of mood than neutral grays or dull and muted colors. The guidelines of traditional color theory come up as a kind of balancing act to ensure that everything works together and that the right kind of colors are used.

The Riches Are In The Niches

Have 23 target markets?

My advice to you is simple: pick one. Focus all of your energy on one market, and then once you’ve made this market notice you, and then love you, branch out. Branching out happens after you have achieved millions in annual revenue.

Of course, every industry and every niche is its own unique situation, but this is for sure: You must dominate your niche before you expand your reach.

One niche - 45 holes. And this is just one restaurant. What's your niche and how do you plan to fill it?

One niche – 45 holes. And this is just one restaurant. What’s your niche and how do you plan to fill it?