Are You Playing Chess or Checkers (Draughts)?

If you’ve never heard this phrase before, I’m surprised. But, bear with me if you can. Denzel Washington in the epic movie Training Day says “this shit is chess, it ain’t checkers” talking about his job. It’s a phrase used to make a point that something is more complex than it may seem. There’s more to it if you will. When comparing chess to checkers, we’re really comparing a complicated and strategic game, Chess, to the more simple and easy to play, checkers (also known as draughts in the U.K.).

When it comes to your business and your marketing, I’ll ask again. Are you playing chess or checkers?

What’s the difference?

When a chess master is playing chess, it’s all about anticipation and strategy. He’s working out 3, 4, 5 or more moves ahead of where he, or she, is at that point in the game.

In checkers, you play one move to the next, hoping to get the advantage. But in chess, you’re mapping out the plays, and you’re bringing someone into your game. It’s all about strategy.

The same is true when it comes to your marketing.

Chess or checkers in marketing

When it comes to marketing, it’s easy to spot the quick, off the cuff, checkers style moves that brands make. They’re not well thought out, executed too quickly and ultimately leave little to be desired. The result is usually not great.

When we play chess, we’re sizing up the adversary. We do the same in marketing. We create audience personas, target audiences, and lookalike audiences. We get inside their minds.

How would they play this game? What for through their minds? What does the purchasing experience look like? What about the purchasing behaviours?

All of these questions, when answered correctly, help to build your strategy for your game.

Think 3 moves ahead

Before running off and creating ads, try to think a few moves ahead. How is this game going to unfold?

Just like in chess, we think ahead, not just to the next move. We play out the next several moves. In marketing, we do the same. We map out the customer journey. What does that look like? How does it start? What are the moves that take us closer to the conversion?

Mapping out the moves

Think of any customer journey. Think of the last thing you purchased for yourself. Did you research the product? Did you read up on the product to better understand it? Did you check reviews?

If you did all these things, why would it be any different for your customers?

Planning a strategy involves understanding the various steps on the customer buying cycle. From discovery to education, research to convincing, and finally across the line to conversion.

Way too often we see brands that are missing the importance of some of these steps.

There’s a big difference between someone who is searching for “what is SEO” for example, compared to someone searching for “best SEO tools”. The intent is different. The first represents someone that is firmly in the education part of the cycle. The second, however, represents someone that’s looking for a solution.

Seeing the world as a game of chess

No matter where you look, you’ll often find examples of people that are more “successful” at something or another. In business, you’ll see it just as clearly. Those that are prepared and are mapping out what comes next and taking that into account before making their next move, are far more likely to win.

The late Kobe Bryant said it perfectly:

“These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out here playing chess.”

Not just in marketing

If you’re a small business, there’s a lot to be said for working “on the business” not just in the business. Do you recognise the difference?

It’s true in marketing. I’ve seen it more times than I care to count. Business owners tell me they are “on Social Media because they have to be”. What’s the point in that? If there’s no objective and therefore no result, why waste the time and effort?

The same goes for all aspects of a business. If you have a strategy in place, if you’re thinking 2, 3 or 4 moves ahead, chances are you’ll be more prepared than the majority of your competitors. You’ll move faster, change quicker and adapt like other organisations are unable to do.

Mark Miller, author of the book, Chess, Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game said it concisely:

“If you want to build a high-performance organization, you’ve got to play chess, not checkers.”

So ask yourself one question, are you playing chess or checkers?


Chris Bruno
Chris Bruno

Chris, founder and CEO of Social INK, has devised and consulted on more digital marketing and social media marketing campaigns than you can shake a stick at. He’s also got a bit of a thing for online advertising and social media advertising.