Become a Student of the Game

Hey, it’s Shawn…

I’m writing solo today while André and Anita are sipping wine in Napa Valley and California dreamin’…

We spent last week together in San Diego for Traffic & Conversion (2023), which was…uh…interesting

Full disclosure, I’m not really into the conference scene. It’s fun for a day or two — after that, my inner introvert needs to recharge.

However, I heard something so interesting that it made the entire trip worthwhile.

I’m going to share that with you today. (That’s what friends are for, right?)

And yes, of course, it was fun to hang out with my partner in crime too. Except everyone thought I was his bodyguard. Someone told me that my black shirts, boots, and “menacing expression” didn’t help…

(I’m probably the only person who takes “menacing expression” as a compliment.)

If you’re not familiar with T&C, it’s three days jam-packed with speakers discussing all aspects of digital marketing, with a few general-interest keynote presentations too.

The final speaker this year was Molly Bloom.

Molly created and ran the highest-stakes poker game in the world. Movie stars, athletes, politicians, the rich and famous — and a few criminals — sat at Molly’s tables where hundreds of millions of dollars changed hands.

Until the FBI arrested her and confiscated nearly $10 million.


Molly’s story is fascinating.

(Check out Molly’s Game, directed by Aaron Sorkin, or Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World if you’re interested.)

She said something so insightful, so powerful, and so important I want all of you to hear it too.

Molly spent thousands of hours watching people play ultra-high-stakes poker, and she observed that the best players at the table all had something in common.

Each had become a student of the game.

Take a moment and think about what that means. They took the game seriously. They studied it — how they played, how their opponents played, what worked, what didn’t.

All while putting millions of dollars on the line.

During the long flights home, I kept thinking about that idea. When I look back on my career in digital marketing, I see the same pattern.

The people who I’ve seen succeed, time and time again, have been students of the marketing game.

They understand the importance of learning, practicing, and internalizing marketing fundamentals.

Distilled to their essence: those fundamentals are connecting an interested audience with an irresistible offer by way of an engaging experience.

That’s where they focus their energy — over and over (and over) again.

The rest are just details. Tactics that change like the wind.

Want to know what they don’t do?

They don’t use AI to generate garbage copy…

…or rely on fill-in-the-blank email templates…

…or think the latest marketing ‘hack’ will make the difference between success and failure.

During the twenty-one years I ran an agency, I worked with more than 240 clients in some of the most demanding markets in the world.

I also count among my friends many of the best marketers in the world.

Wanna guess how many of those clients and friends use AI-generated copy, templates, and marketing hacks?

Rounded up a whole number: zero.

Not one.

Just like Molly said — the best in the world become students of the game they’re playing.

(If you want to become a student of the digital marketing game, you know where to look.)

Enjoy your weekend.


Note: This is a reprint of a previous Emergent Marketing Newsletter. If you’re not receiving our email newsletter, you can subscribe here.