Internet Marketing Is Like Chess

Recently, I was having a discussion with my friend David Malone (a java developer in the Minneapolis area) about a web application he’s developing/the strategy he plans to use behind it, and our discussion turned to the subject of chess.  Growing up, playing chess was one of my favorite pastimes, so naturally it’s the first thing my mind turns to when discussing the strategy behind anything.

It got me thinking how in many ways, Internet marketing is a lot like chess:

You need to think several steps ahead to win

If you only know what you plan to do today, how do you ever expect to reach the end goal?  A road map is necessary so you have a clear direction you’re headed.  But in both Internet marketing and chess, you need to be able to adapt when the rules change or when opponents act in unpredictable ways – all part of the business, and the game.  For success, think and plan ahead while keeping an open mind that can adjust where necessary.

Many potential paths to take, but no hard and fast rules

Why do I love chess and Internet marketing equally?  They’re both so creative, and have nearly endless directions you can take to achieve success without any rules per say.  While of course there are formal rules to what moves you can make in chess and what is physically possible through code on a web page, good players don’t really consider either of those things when coming up with strategies because they’re ingrained in their subconscious.  The rules themselves become invisible, because in the end it’s not about technology, it’s about ideas.

A lifetime to master

The skill levels between chess players and Internet marketers is so diverse because of the time commitment required in both to truly grasp not just the fundamentals and concepts, but real application in diverse situations.  In both chess and Internet marketing, if you ever stopped learning you would quickly find yourself at a loss compared to competitors.

You get better by playing a better player (or working with other smart marketers)

The best way to get better at chess is to play a better player.  You will never elevate your skill set if you decide to consistently play those less skilled than you.  Likewise, in Internet marketing, you need to be surrounded with a creative, forward-thinking team that motivates each other to the next level.  Learning on your own is necessary, but working with people at the next level is how you seriously advance your skills.

Proactive strategy is smart

In chess if you are simply reacting to your opponents, they’ll be the ones controlling the game, not you – and they’ll force you to go right where they want you to.  For your online marketing goals to be successful, you can’t always be behind the curve, playing catch-up and in reactive mode or you’ll never get anywhere.  You need to be proactive and be the one confident enough to make moves first and have the bandwidth to experiment to see what produces big results.

You can play into people’s emotions for success

As Maki writes in the key to effective viral marketing is emotional engagement:

“Human beings are far more likely to communicate ideas and information with others when they are emotionally engaged. Find the key issues that concern your audience and then inculcate them within your marketing plan to get an emotional response.”

Something similar is true in chess – except instead of inspiring others to communicate ideas and information, you want them to think with their emotions instead of logic.  Only then will they lose sight of your longer-term strategy and act on impulse.  You can do this through any number of ways, like consciously making an irrational move that would confuse a good player who anticipates you are following a certain pattern.

Both are similar strategies in that they are designed to get emotions involved, but in different ways for different ends.

The best players are equal parts technical as they are creative

While the marketing industry is becoming to a good degree technical, creativity matters as much, perhaps more than ever as the technical skills become widespread.  Also, the best chess players I’ve seen are both technically and creatively skilled, and apply a mix of both to their game depending on the opponent and the situation at hand.  Sometimes a perfect technical game in chess is all it takes to win against an opponent prone to make mistakes, whereas against more technically minded players a creative approach can provide the edge.

Continuous adaptation

The best chess players and marketers understand the importance of seeing everything they do as a fluid, natural motion, adapting/refining as they move forward.  In both the game and the business, opportunities present themselves you need to adapt to take advantage of.  Experience is how you best learn the art of adaptation mid-stream.

The chess analogy has application to business in general, but I happen to think it applies especially well to Internet marketing in-particular.  Your thoughts?

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