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Marketing Analogy: Playing High Stakes Poker is Easy, Winning is Hard

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

One of the analogies I shared with an audience earlier this week resonated with the crowd so well that I decided to share it in today's blog post. (Those of you who know me personally or have seen me speak know I LOVE using analogies to simplify concepts.)

First, the back story.

After listening intently to the speaker preceding me, an exasperated attendee spoke up:

"Maybe I just am not smart enough, but I have been spending thousands of dollars on this Internet marketing and getting nowhere. Today, after listening to all of these details, it turns out to be even more complicated than I previously thought. Can't you just do this for us?"

While a cynic would assume his comment was an unsurprising payoff to the vendor/speaker's evil plan, I can vouch that the speaker was both clear and informative. What's more, she was definitely not "salesy" in her presentation.

I chimed in when it was my turn to speak.

"Playing high stakes poker is easy. Winning is hard."

After receiving more than one quizzical look from the audience, I went on to explain my point.

The fact is, many forms of marketing are deceptively simple in concept, but difficult to execute well, especially in a competitive environment.

Now the preceding session was about pay-per-click advertising, and it illustrates my larger point well. (Though this story applies to almost any form of marketing.)

These days almost everyone wants to be at the top of Google. While it can take many months or even years to work your way up the pile organically with search engine optimization (free search), pay-per-click offers advertisers the ability to leap to the top of the search engine results page within minutes.

The trouble is, pay-per-click advertising is such an obvious, popular strategy that the marketplace often becomes overly competitive. When that happens, bid rates skyrocket for everyone. Experts (and their clients) can still win, but the amateurs are guaranteed to lose. The truly "dumb money" crowd can lose a bundle very, very fast.

Hence the poker analogy.

You can learn to play poker in an evening, but that doesn't mean you should naively join the high stakes table. Poker has many nuances and requires lots of experience and a very deep understanding of the game. As you would expect, the expert players love it when amateurs try to lock horns with the them.

I speak from experience. I once knew a professional high stakes poker player who was so good that he sometimes would win over a million dollars in a single night from the otherwise smart and successful people who thought they could beat him.

Pay-per-click advertising is similar to poker in that you can open an account with Google and get started in about an hour. That's where the trouble usually begins.

Many people start with a budget so small (say $200 a month) that their ads generate almost no traffic. Others go out and spend a lot and lose it all. Either way, their results are usually so poor that they give up prematurely.

Their failures are understandable when you consider the number of variables.

What should the ads say, what pages of the website should you send visitors to, what is the offer, how are you going to trap off inquiries, what time of day should the ads run, which days of the week, what geography, which keywords, how much should you bid per keyword, what is your maximum monthly budget, which keywords should you exclude, should you use "broad match," "phrase match," or "exact match," which keywords yield better qualified inquries, how are you going to analyze the data as it comes in, should you consider content, display or text, etc?

So our seminar attendee didn't lose money because he is stupid (he is actually very smart). He simply never had a chance because he was playing a sophisticated, complex game that seemed simple until he was actually playing (and losing money).

But the real tragedy is, our attendee could have hired an agency at a reasonable rate to create the strategy, do all the work, run the testing and optimize results. It just doesn't make financial sense to take the risk and spend the time to try and go it alone. Instead of losing his budget, he could have made a lot of money.

(In case you are wondering, I am not "hinting" for you to use our firm. While we do a ton of Internet marketing, there are lots of other people out there you can talk to as well, including the aforementioned speaker.)

There is no reason for you to blow a bunch of cash with hit-and-miss marketing. Find someone qualified to help you. An experienced healthcare SEO agency is a great place to start.

By the way, if you decide to ignore my advice, be aware that your savviest competitors DO have qualified people helping THEM.

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