I haven’t published a blog in over a year, the main reason is I’ve been working for large companies with weighty HR departments and I write “cunt” a lot and I can’t actually afford to get fired.
A secondary reason is I’ve also been working quite hard in a new role, which requires me, for the first time in almost 20yrs working in gaming marketing, to be one step back from the actual product I’m selling to players, and it’s taken me a while to adjust.
This week, in my (home)office job, I had cause to meet with one of the company’s design-leads. I don’t really know what designers do anymore than I know what coders do, but I am aware that I am not allowed to knock-up logos on Paint or send-out emails with my holiday snaps as header-images, so I need to work with designers sometimes.
This designer is a super-smart lady, and she will be working on multiple projects at any time. She is expected to interpret the half-baked wafflings of marketing-campaign owners like me as we talk about products in which she is not an expert.
She then has to build a full creative and design concept to appeal to an exact target group of customers that she may never have heard about before our meeting at 10am on Thursday.
Imagine being that Designer as I rock up into your Zoom screen first thing in the morning screeching about “equity” “value” and “ICM” when you know nothing about poker.
I need the designer to create a concept to support a promo the poker team have created for “thinking poker players” and so the designer needs to understand who that is.
Poker is not the leading product of the brand-house I work with, so I am super lucky that we get these kind of resources allocated to work with. It’s really important to me that I take advantage of them and make the best use of her time.
I could tell the Designer just wasn’t getting it, she instantly understood the mechanics of the promotion (as I said, she’s smart) but she didn’t get the marketing message, she didn’t understand our community. She didn’t know the guy.
You know the guy.
I am the guy.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably the guy.
This is why we’re a community.
The promotion the team designed is aimed regular but recreational players who are slight-winning/BE/slight-losing players, but rarely have the time they’d like to commit to study or play hours.
They will directly cite their forced low-volume as the main reason for marginal results.
They take a day/week off work occasionally to play poker online/go to a live event.
They understand, at even a super-basic level, the mathematical concepts of the game, and will have applied the word “variance” to poker.
They will have made a minimum of four “witty” applications of the word “variance” when not referring to poker.
They likely trade stocks/commodities/crypto.
They sometimes sit inside playing nitty computer games when it’s sunny outside.
They like to study, define and argue small points across multiple subjects.
They have responded to at least one non-poker Facebook comment with “Fold-Pre”.
They like spreadsheets.
They pay $10 per month for PokerGo but ruin laptops with viruses getting free porn.
Sometimes I learn more about poker from talking to someone who has no clue about poker, and my Thursday morning meeting with the Designer was one of those times.
Almost my entire adult life has involved poker to a greater or lesser degree, and I know that it is a very strange product in that it is niche enough few people seriously engage with it, but mainstream enough almost everyone has heard of it, or had a go at it once.
It’s not as if I was attempting to explain an entirely abstract concept, the Designer had played poker before at a company event.
She knows what cards and chips are. She grasped the maths-mechanics of the promo a lot quicker than I did (I get there eventually, speak slow, point at the beans).
When we came to the part of the meeting where we agree whom this promotion is for… we hit a wall.
She didn’t know the guy.
I’ve worked in poker marketing in various forms for a long time, I know other people have tirelessly created content and worked in pushing forward concepts, games and players, companies have invested money in low/negative ROI live events and media campaigns to keep the niche world of poker alive for many years.
I know that because the Designer works in the gambling industry, she will have likely been unfairly exposed to poker marketing and media through her work Social Media contacts, so I decided to find out what elements of that had bled thru to her working conscious, and I asked her:
“Which poker player have you heard of?”
And she snap, SNAP, replied “Dan Bilzerian”.
RIP her fuckin earballs as I let-rip in zoom.
Somehow, after twenty years of lots of different people and sources championing THE SKILL GAME of poker, the marketing-message that has leaked through to an educated mainstream audience is Dan Fuckin Bilzerian.
The demographic that may potentially have the mental capacity and the financial means to join our community in a happily recreational level believe they are going to have to sit next to Dan Bilzerian.
Inside, some celebrated members of our community have minds that could slice a block of concrete, but outside, the face that represents us is Dan Bilzerian.
How the fuck has it happened?
I don’t even know who Dan Bilzerian is; I know he is rich and likes swimming-trunks and the company of ladies.
I know he’s not generally respected as a deep-thinking poker player by other deep-thinking poker players.
And now I know he’s likely to be one of the first things potential customers think about when they think about poker.
I do understand there’s an argument that Bilzerian’s lifestyle could be seen as attractive with the yachts and the lovely ladies and the booze and stuff…
There are plenty of people with a lot of money who are not impressed by Bilzerian’s lifestyle, proven by them already choosing not to have it.
If Bilzerian is our mainstream media face, then what if people who have full-time, well-paid jobs, and could spend some of that money in the poker community shop, are put-off because they do not identify with Dan Bilzerian?
Who does identify with Dan Bilzerian AND regularly play poker?
I know he has loads of fan-bros, but are they actually grinding on days off?
Good marketing in the digital age is becoming less about how to directly get money out of pockets and more about how to get eyeballs onto screens.
Any product is competing for people’s time and attention (customers now have a pre-expectation to pay for satisfactory enjoyment of time) and in a very noisy leisure-money world, self-identification within marketing or PR designed to communicate a product is a potent differentiator.
The people who dream of speedboats and oily sex-objects as a permanent lifestyle choice are not our poker people.
If Dan Bilzerian is the face they see next to poker when scrolling for their next distraction, we have failed as a combined marketing team, because potential customers will scroll past, either due to immediate lack of self-identification, or because, to a thinking mind, Dan Bilzerian’s lifestyle looks a bit suspiciously good to come from poker winnings.
When they Google him they will learn his lifestyle isn’t due to poker, and if he’s the best mainstream media route into poker it’s not ideal; he makes us look like a big house of cards, when we’re a solid little brick-homestead community.
I’m not suggesting Bilzerian is outside the poker community, how could he be?
He’s clearly one of us, whatever you have to say about him, but is he an average representation of what new people will meet if they open the door to the poker saloon?
When the Designer said “Dan Bilzerian” to me, it felt like a personal failure.
I am background cog in a large machine marketing the skill game of poker to a global audience, and want to believe we are in control of the face our potential customers see first, but I don’t believe we meant it to be Dan Bilzerian.
Selling poker is my whole life and Dan Bilzerian is a drunken weekend away.
No-one wants the lasting message of their whole life to be defined by a single weekend-holiday.