June 26, 2007

Texas Hold 'em Poker

These days, you cannot toss your remote at the television screen without bumping into televised poker.

Given my analytical background, I'm fascinated by poker.

Given my business background, I'm fascinated by poker. There are many ways that the dynamics of poker mirror real life.

Let's explore some of the light-hearted ways that poker applies to our industry.

Social Media Gurus: Your blogging and social media experts sit at the poker table with laptops ablaze, using Twitter via a wireless internet connection to "have a conversation" with their social network, soliciting their "community" for betting help.

Catalog Marketers: We tend to like "sure bets", things that have a proven return on investment. We wouldn't invest in a 7-2 offsuit, we'd bet A-K suited like our lives depended upon it. The catalog marketer thrives by winning numerous small pots. It is unlikely you'll ever see us bluff to win a hand, even though we logically know we have to take risks from time to time.

Online Marketers: These folks would test many different scenarios, always trying to optimize performance. They would play hands differently against the same opponents, so that they knew which strategy worked best. Similar to the catalog marketer, the online marketer thrives by winning numerous small pots. Different than the catalog marketer, the online marketer thrives by betting "after the flop", optimizing strategy much in the same way one optimizes conversion with customized landing pages.

Brand Marketers: The most exciting players at the table! They move "ALL IN" without hesitation. A select few hit it big, winning tournaments, gaining notoriety. The vast majority flame out quickly, and move on to the next table. All talk about the importance of developing a "persona" at the poker table. All of these players remind us about the importance of "building a brand" over time --- that the success or failure of any one hand or one tournament is not what it is about. These folks have extensive debates about whether wearing dark sunglasses is good for the brand image of a player. Other folks at the table believe the brand marketers bluff a lot, but the brand marketers earnestly believe their strategy is right. They will cull examples from Apple, Starbucks or Nike to defend their point of view.

Market Researchers: Similar to the social media gurus, the market researcher asks a focus group of highly targeted poker fans which strategy is best for any given hand. Whereas the social media guru draws upon a worldwide empire of online friends, the market researcher polls the actual audience in the casino for advice.

Business Intelligence Analysts: These experts are likely to develop a KPI dashboard that highlights the specific scenarios when winning is most likely. Heated debates about various hands are matched by heated debates whether Business Objects or MicroStrategy provide the best dashboard development environment.

Web Analytics: Everything is about "conversion rate" for these folks. Each hand is recorded in real time in Google Analytics, showing where players abandoned their hands (aka shopping cart abandonment), illustrating which scenarios yielded winning hands (aka conversion rate).

Finance: Your finance department wants a detailed business plan that demonstrates, prior to the start of the poker tournament, how you will end up in the top ten percent of players --- the group that win money in any poker tournament. The finance department is less interested in whether you win or not, they simply want to know that, over time, you will consistently finish in the top ten percent. The finance team is unlikely to play in the tournament, given how much riskier poker is than opening new stores or investing in Canadian currency.

Human Resources: You'll want at least one of these folks at your table. They will intervene should a player rub your face in a bad beat. They'll also make sure that food and restroom breaks are conveniently scheduled throughout the tournament.

Operations: The operations executive is unlikely to play in the tournament. Instead, the operations executive will play the role of the dealer. Going largely unnoticed, the operations executive never wins or loses. However, the poker tournament cannot happen without the operations executive playing the role of the dealer.

Merchandising: Your Chief Merchant is unlikely to play poker, but will identify the best poker tables, decks of cards, and poker chips to be used in the tournament. Each year, the table, cards and chips are "better than last year", are "trend-right", and are "really popular in London or Milan".

Creative: Your creative executive will probably not play in the tournament. But the look and feel of the tournament cannot happen without the creative executive. S/he will determine the appropriate level of lighting, and will take aspirational photos of the competitors, so that next year's tournament will be more appealing to a larger, maybe even younger audience.

E-Mail Marketer: You'll get a mixed bag of individuals here. Highly reputable e-mail marketers will send targeted verbal messages to competitors, telling the catalog marketer that she has a pair of Jacks, knowing that the message will cause the catalog marketer to fold. Spam-based e-mail marketers just yell random, loud messages, non-stop, to anybody and everybody. The spam-based player bluffs all the time.

Information Technology: In spite of all the needs of the tournament, all anybody wants from IT are earplugs to block out the spam-based e-mail marketers sitting at the table.


  1. I have to say I have not spent a lot of time watching poker on television but I know enough to have found this immensely entertaining. I especially liked the Merchandising commentary -- almost passed a large amount of latte through my nose upon reading it....

  2. I love our merchandising parters ... my career could not happen without their brilliance.

    That being said, I've heard comments similar to those every six months for the past two decades!


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