I love Jeopardy!. It’s a classy game show floating in a sea of alternatives that ask contestants to face lie detectors and eat bugs for money. After years of enjoying the show, I can’t help but notice just how much can be learned from it (beyond knowing facts like: this product was advertised with the suggestive line, “Take it off, take it all off,” in the 1960’s.[i]) Jeopardy! has taught me a lot about marketing.
- You need to be well-rounded and well-prepared
Although there are a number of ‘typical’ Jeopardy categories, the best competitors seem to excel in even the most random of them. That’s because they’re prepared with a wide variety of knowledge – from opera to politics, geography to language. Marketers need to approach their jobs with the same attitude. It’s not a good idea to only understand copywriting and have no clue about networking strategies. If you’re lacking in skills in a particular area, read up on the topic – being flexible is one of a marketer’s greatest assets. Just think of tee-totalling Ken Jennings and his absolute domination of the potent potables category.
- You need to scan the environment and understand your competitors
Any Jeopardy! player or watcher worth his or her salt knows that the game is full of competitive strategy. Wagers on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy, even category selection is based not only on a player’s skill, but on the skills and positions of players around them. Marketers are also unable to operate effectively in a tunnel. Scan the environment, know the competitive landscape, because otherwise you’re making big decisions without all the important information.
- You need to understand the value of a well-thought out risk
Every time a contestant buzzes in on Jeopardy!, they run the risk of losing as much as they could potentially gain. So why do people continue to buzz in on clues when they aren’t certain of the answer (well, question technically)? Because they have a long term strategy to win the game and they have to be in the game to win it. Don’t be afraid of well-thought out risks. Even if you don’t get it right this time, you’ve learned something new and hopefully won’t make the same mistake again.
- You need more than understanding or knowledge, you need the skills to execute
Knowing the right answer is only the first half of successfully responding to a clue. It’s easy to see new contestants frustrated by their inability to buzz in before their competition. In marketing, execution is the name of the game as well. It’s great to have a sound strategy and tactics, but if you don’t execute on them, you aren’t going to win.
- You need to recognize that everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you mitigate and recover that matters most
Even famed Ken Jennings (who as you’ve probably noticed is a bit of a hero of mine) got answers wrong. He won 74 straight games[ii], is a legend in his own field, but like everyone else, he’s fallable. The same goes for you, the marketer. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s OK, it’s expected – what matters is that you have a solid plan in place to help mitigate the fallout of those mistakes, and that you learn from them.
[i] What is Noxema shaving cream – trivia courtesy of the fun ‘Page-A-Day’ trivia calendar I have on my desk.