To Master Marketing, Play Dungeons & Dragons

If we’re being honest, all marketing boils down to stats and probability. Who will buy your product? You’re likely to use demographics and behavioral indicators–stats. Need to increase leads? Use data from previous successful campaigns to increase the probability of action. Hiring a new person for the team? You’re looking at stats again.

In my head, it all comes down to character sheets and gear. A tool–say your CRM–is gear. You and your campaign have character sheets. You’re stronger in some areas than others. Potential customers have character sheets in the form of targeting parameters. They, too, have strengths and weaknesses.

So why am I pushing Dungeons & Dragons to a bunch of professionals? For starters, you can gain a better understanding of stats and probability. But if you examine D&D more, there’s the opportunity to better understand how you affect the world around you.

You Are Not the Dungeon Master

Recently, a friend asked what I thought of surefire formulas for marketing campaigns. I told him the following:

While following rules will lead you in the right direction, marketing itself is a D&D campaign with a dungeon master who won’t let you [argue] your way to success and who is mercurial. You [must] read the situation as you’re in it, plan for what you can reasonably assume will happen next, and hope you get it right. There are predictive indicators, but those indicate. They don’t assure.

(Chris Brady in a chat message, June 2019)

There are a lot of people on the internet who will claim to have the answer to all your marketing problems. Can you take them at face value? It depends on your situation. Keep in mind, though, that no amount of ads can fix a website that’s broken. SEO can’t address a phone tree that’s confusing. Social media won’t solve budget problems.

In marketing, when we consider our stats and gear, our solutions address specific problems instead of generalized issues. This is similar to Dungeons & Dragons in that what works against skeletons won’t work for an angry mob of wizards. The solution must address the problem at hand. The game encourages you to maintain flexability with your expectations. You can plan, but plans often don’t account for all variables. How could they? You didn’t create the dungeon.

The same is true in marketing. We can plan to reach people aged 18-25, only to find out our product is more appealing to moms aged 35-46. What then? Shift gears. You can regroup and go after the original target audience. You can accept that you misread the situation and that moms are the way to go this time. The choice depends on the client’s parameters and how you agree to move forward. My point is this: Doing the same thing harder doesn’t change the results. It just means you’re doing it with more emphasis.

Changing the World by Writing the Story

We know that no one exists in a bubble, and in D&D, choices make a difference. Ignore an insane farmer now, and find that his village burned to the ground later. Listen to his panicked rants, and you just might save the village. There’s no indication that this is the case, though. In D&D, as in life, sometimes we make choices without realizing we’ve made them.

In marketing, your hold on the zeitgeist also affects how the world sees you. Figure out that “you can still dunk in the dark” and receive praise like Oreo did. Misread societal malaise and end up looking terrible (I’d site specifics, but it turns out the in-game big bad can be cease and desist requests). How people see you and the brands you work with is within your control, if you’re willing to take the helm. It’s not the easiest place to be, but it’s a great position if you want to truly advocate for your clients and your work.

Long story short, try playing D&D or any tabletop game. It’s worth it, if only to give you an outlet for your deep-seated desire to be a bard. Or a wizard. Or to pretend to be Karen from accounting since she’s definitely a barbarian with a shitzu. Once you’re aware of how you control the story you’re in, you’re in a better position to control the stories of the brands with which you work.