The Role of Luck in Marketing
This past weekend I went to Atlantic City with a friend of mine. Every year, we pick a place to get together and then bet on the Kentucky Derby. (And, of course, do a little gambling in other areas as well.) For those who know horse racing, we had been grinding out race after race, but one thing that was good – we had set ourselves up well, leading into the Derby itself. What I mean by that is we were still alive in several multi-race bets known as doubles, pick 3s, and the pick 4, all ending in the big race. All we had to do now is have the winner in the Derby and, luckily, we had spread the race (covered many of the top favorites and others). Most of the payouts for even top horses in the Pick 4 ranged in the thousands if not more. We were poised for a big day.
Until we weren’t.
As everyone now knows, an 81-1 longshot named Rich Strike swept past two of the favorites in the final 100 yards to shock most of the betting public. We, like many others, had left this horse off our tickets, as the only race it had previously won was against non-winners (albeit at Churchill Downs). As a friend remarked, you couldn’t have paid bettors to put that horse on their tickets.
If you did have the horse to win, you would either have had to know the connections, liked the number or the name, or just decided to bet the longest shot in the field. In other words, it would’ve been pure luck.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – luck obviously plays a role in gambling. But what does it have to do with other areas? Well, a lot. Businesses and all those successful entrepreneurs may not like to hear this – but life (including a lot of marketing) is simply luck.
Marketing as well? With all those agencies, marketing consultants, and marketing gurus telling me they can guarantee results? That they will definitely improve your performance, ROI, or revenue because they “have a system, which always works”? The truth is, there’s no such thing. Let’s explore that a bit more.
Why Marketing Can Be Sometimes More About Luck
If you take a step back and think about the reasons people or businesses purchase something, it could be for any number of reasons, some of which have to do with marketing, some of them really don’t. Indeed, if you consider all the marketing pieces that have to fall into place and the factors that have influence buying, it would be a rather staggering list. To wit, here are just some of ones that can figure prominently in a single purchase process:
- The strength of the product or service
- The trust others have in your products and services (typically in the form of reviews)
- The company’s customer service
- The industry (B2B or B2C)
- The length of the buyer journey
- The existing brand identity and awareness of the company
- The quality of the messaging/copy and any content
- The use of compelling images and video
- The audience targeting and focus
- The audience you happen to get in front of (influencers)
- The campaign promotion and distribution channels chosen
- The landing page and conversion/ecommerce experience
- The timing of the campaigns into the market
- The quality of your sales team (if you’re a B2B company)
- The advertising / marketing budgets you set
- The proximity of the buyer to the product or services (convenience)
- The goal horizon of your CEO or leadership
- The data you collect and the analysis you do on the data
- The optimizations you chose to make or not make
- And of course, the execution of all the little things that matter along the way to encourage people to take the next step toward purchase.
Consider all those things that have to be right in order for purchases to happen. For example, it might be that your promotions just happen to get in front of the right people at the right time. And those individuals happen to be influencers that could sway others to purchase. That’s sometimes not so purposeful, but rather accidental – and it happens ALL the time, despite what some agencies may suggest to you about their targeting skills.
That’s why many companies just simply try to improve their odds of securing more buyers/customers by pumping up brand advertising. The problem, of course, is that not everyone has the money that large companies do and to reach that volume of individuals likely isn’t in the cards for the average small-to-midsize business. Plus, at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that such tactics will work. Take a look at JC Penney, Toys ‘R’ Us, Century 21, or any number of other big-name advertisers that have run into tough times.
So How Do You Approach Marketing If That’s The Case?
That’s not to say that marketing is completely random. One bit of advice we’ve always followed and discussed with many clients is to “put themselves in a position to be lucky” – and that can be done regardless of budget. Some of that is hard work, some of that is trial and error. But for the most part, it’s using established marketing fundamentals to maximize performance as much as you can. A few things you most definitely can do here when thinking about your strategy and approach:
- Develop marketing processes. These days, marketing requires attention to detail – a lot of attention to detail. We recommend setting up processes that are repeatable so that any time you produce marketing collateral or copy, it comes out with the highest quality and impact. For example, if you work on a website, make sure you have an SEO process and an editorial process for any page you produce. Also, it helps to put together a consistent brand implementation process (see below). Down the road, you’ll find such processes will pay off tremendously.
- Pay attention to specific tactics. The hard part about marketing is that something as small as a good call to action can be the difference in someone converting or clicking and someone who doesn’t. Tactics (as we define them) are those things you do to help move potential buyers through the customer journey more efficiently. For example, if you do email, the tactics to focus on might be a really engaging subject line/preview text, making sure the sender name is a person (rather than simply a company name), or making the call-to-action button stand out with a unique color or language. Focusing on the right tactics can help you drive incremental gains in your performance regardless of the channel you’re in.
- Project your brand consistently. If you haven’t done an exercise to establish your marketing narrative, it’s perhaps the most critical thing you can do. As our friends at the Narrative Playbook often explain, most everything you do from a marketing standpoint hangs off your narrative. One issue we often see is that companies will sometimes inconsistently project their brand, swinging wildly among different audience focal points, messaging, and even creative. Maybe they latch on to the latest and great thing, maybe it’s using colors or fonts that are a complete departure from the exiting brand, or it’s simply messaging that doesn’t work with how customers have come to know a particular business. Whatever the case, inconsistent brand projection can make potential customers unsure if you’re for them. Projecting your brand consistently can help you build more trust – an essential element to buying.
- It’s audience, audience, audience. It sounds like a cliche at this point, but knowing your core audience(s) and revisiting who they are on a regular basis will certainly help you improve your conversions and/or purchases. That’s because everything in marketing flows from the marriage between understanding the customers’ challenges, and how you project your brand in a way that meets those needs. The better you can match up the two elements, the more successful you’ll be.
We know a lot of so-called entrepreneurs or experts who claim there’s no such thing as luck. But let’s face it, they’re wrong. And they’re wrong for so many reasons that we can’t even detail them all here. And if they tell you otherwise, they’re lying to you or they’ve bought into their own BS. That said, we think you can certainly improve your chances of success by simply doing the marketing fundamentals (that we laid out above) well.
On a final note, after the Derby, we sulked off to the blackjack table having incurred significant losses on the big race. That night, I ended up winning about 12 hands in a row – and maybe 20 of 25 – something that had never happened to me before. I ended up reclaiming much of the money I had lost – all in the space of an hour. You call that lucky? I certainly do.
 Of course, the pandemic put further strain on these companies’ fortunes, as well. Again, that’s luck. Or being unlucky in this case.