When marketing is like a slot machine that rarely loses.


This week my beautiful wife and I decided to jaunt to Vegas for 3 days. I nice respite from our day-to-day activities in San Diego… but, wow, is it hot out here. 112 degrees when we arrived yesterday.

A marketing nerd like me gets all sorts of stimuli here in Vegas. Lots of imagery. Lots of compelling benefits, either said in headlines or unsaid in the photography. Sexuality is a common theme…. a great one as it plays on human emotion. All ads have pictures of people (not just products), typically sexy people enjoying the product and experiencing the benefits, so they know how to play the game of humanizing their images to make them more powerful and compelling to consumers (see my previous blog posting on this topic).


Are you up or are you down?

As I was at the pool this morning with The Fine Wife (TFW) my mind drifted into the similarities between gambling and marketing. There are many analogies. For one, both as gamblers and as marketers we are focused on ROI… what is our return on investment? You hear people say that they are up $250 or down $800. They know their ROI at any split second. As direct marketers we are also very focused on this metric.


Stacking the odds in your favor.

I was also thinking about how to play the game when all of the odds are stacked in your favor. It’s both a marketer’s and a gambler’s ideal scenario.

When I gamble, I often enjoy playing craps. Fun game. Very social. Lots of numbers and probabilities to stimulate my mathematics geek background. I know that craps, when played intelligently, gives me the best odds of winning.

In craps I play the Don’t Pass line. My friends taught me this strategy and jokingly refer to it as “The Dark Side” because we win when everyone else loses. But, put another way, it is very similar to how the house plays the game. When you play the Don’t Pass line, and when you play the odds correctly, the house’s advantage is almost nil. Most everytime I bet this way using $10 bets, I will often walk away from the table after 20-30 minutes and be up $50, $100, $150. Not bad for a nerd like me.

In direct marketing we also want to stack the odds in our favor using every conceivable advantage at our disposal. And everyday I am shocked when I see people market the same way they play roulette…. they close their eyes, pick a number and then pray while the wheel spins.

The way to get the odds leaning in your favor is to simply follow the fundamentals of direct marketing.  But the secret sauce that we have discovered, the strategy that is similar to playing craps with the Don’t Pass line, the way to get all of the odds stacked in your favor is to target prospects right when they are in buying mode. To reach people when they have their wallet open and are about to spend a boatload of money on products and services for their home, financial products and more.


Timing is everything.

This notion of targeting people at just the right time, or “Marketing to the When” that we talk about so much, is indeed the secret sauce.

  • If you are selling life insurance, target people that are pregnant with their first child.
  • If you are selling satellite TV services, target people the instant they move into their new home.
  • If you are selling high end doors and windows, target people right when they start their construction project.
  • If you are selling furniture, target homeowners that have just taken a home equity loan on their house and have a wad of cash burning in their pocket.
  • If you are selling copy machines, target people 6 months before their current lease expires.

Our clients are getting $16 in revenue for every $1 they spend (bet) using this strategy. And my clients always win. It’s like a Vegas Slot Machine that never loses. It’s like playing craps on the Don’t Pass line and collecting winnings everytime.

It makes so much sense. You target very few people, but at just the right time. Since you are not mailing to the thousands of people that are not in buying mode, waste is virtually eliminated. Thus costs are kept low. Meanwhile, since you are targeting people when they are in buying mode, your response rate goes way, way up.

So many marketers fail in stacking the odds in their favor. I see examples of their work all the time on TV, radio, billboards, direct mail… everywhere. A marketing Hall of Shame might a great way to glorify these bloopers.

What is sad is that these marketers go by trial and error. They don’t have a solid strategy. They hope. They pray. Meanwhile their CFO is not seeing any ROI on the money they are spending on marketing…. Now there’s a strategy to go bust.

There’s a better way.  Target your customers at just the right time when they are actively shopping.

Good Selling!