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Podcast Recapper: How marketing is like a game of Risk

Last updated on August 30th, 2015 at 10:35 pm

In the mind of podcaster and startup guru Saul Colt, marketing is much like a game of Risk. In his June 2015 keynote speech at Xerocon Denver he explained what he calls “Saul Colt’s Marketing Risk,” and you can listen to the entire 90 minute speech in episode 17 of Xero Hour on iTunes.

The Marketing Risk is all about how a startup can reach its first 1,000 customers in a strategic fashion similar to a game of Risk. For those who don’t know, Risk is a board game where players claim territory, amass armies, and fight for global domination. Colt likens the various countries on the map to being “targets” that a company must strive for. These targets can be various verticals they wish to conquer, or that can be connections they want to establish.

Colt boils it down to two main elements: strategy and ideas. He explains strategy first since it is the more complicated part of the plan, and then he gets in to the fun stuff about ideas later.

“The point of the game [Risk] is to be continually moving forward, because if you aren’t moving forward you’re going to get crushed. If you play defensively, chances are you get boxed in and you get conquered,” he explains. “It’s not that different when you launch a startup, or when you’re working at a startup with any new service or product; you have to constantly move forward.”

Customer identification is where it all begins, so Colt suggests zeroing in on your number-one customer, the low hanging fruit as it were, and making them your first territory. In Risk, this is like starting out with Australia because it’s small and easy to defend, making it easy to expand from as your army grows.

When deciding what targets you want to hit next, it’s important to choose the right ones at the right time. Don’t make a leap to a vertical that’s unrelated from what you currently have.

Saul Colt during a presentation
Saul Colt during a presentation

Winning a vertical is great, but Colt warns against resting on your laurels because constant expansion is the key to building a strong army in Risk, and likewise the key to building a successful company.

Colt also cautions against expanding too fast and spreading yourself thin. Doing so will leave you vulnerable and make it easy for your opponents to tear down your work.

“Remember, Risk is a game about ruthlessly crushing your opponents; it’s an arms race. The army with the most people willing to fight for them will always win,” he says. “Saul Colt’s Marketing Risk is the same thing; you need people to care about your product, to talk about your product, and to actually want to get out there and scream from the rooftops.”

In the ideas part of his keynote speech, Colt gets into many real-world examples of things he’s done to generate a buzz and get people talking about various companies that he’s worked with. A good example is Freshii, a health food restaurant.

Colt noticed one day that McDonalds wasn’t doing well financially and it had lost its CEO. He also had a friend operating a Freshii restaurant. The combination of these two things gave him an idea which was inspired by an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper writes an open letter in the New York Times to the tobacco industry.

Colt did much the same thing. He took out a full-page ad in a newspaper and published an open letter to the new CEO of McDonalds offering a partnership with Freshii that would help improve the company’s ailing image by offering healthy alternatives. After the ad ran McDonalds never responded, but it did get a lot of people interested in Freshii. That was the entire point of the letter; not to partner with McDonalds, but to publicize the Freshii brand.

“Don’t be afraid to take someone else’s idea,” says Colt. “You have to make it your own and you can’t copy it 100 percent, but don’t be afraid to be blatantly inspired by something else. That’s where ideas come from.”

“When you’re being disruptive and doing something that people think is over the line, as long you’re providing value you’re going to be on the right side of history,” he later adds.

Effective marketing is all about creating experiences and conversations, and it’s not as hard as you think. It might help to take a page out of Saul Colt’s book if you want to learn from one of the best.

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons


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Chris Riddell
Chris Riddell
Chris Riddell is a freelance journalist, copywriter and poet from Mississauga who now lives in Montreal. His byline has appeared in many newspapers and websites such as The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, and Torontoist. He's an expert profiler and has interviewed many notable personalities such as KISSmetrics founder Neil Patel, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray, and Hollywood actor Michael Rooker. If you want to find out more about him, visit his website and follow him on Twitter @riddellwriter.