How Marketing is like Battleship


By Chris Manley, CEO, Engenius

The game Battleship has been around for quite some time. In fact, long before Milton Bradley introduced the plastic version with pegs and plastic ships, Battleship was a paper and pen game produced under a number of different names. Now you can get the electronic version, the mini version, or even play it on an array of gaming platforms like Xbox.

No matter how you play the game, the premise stays the same. You place your ships within a defined grid, with each ship taking up between two and five squares of the grid. Your opponent does the same. Once you’re both done, you begin firing at your opponent’s ships, trying to sink each one. To sink one, you must successfully fire on each square taken up by the enemy ship. To mark this on your own board, you place white pegs for “misses” and red pegs for “direct hits”. The first player to sink all of the opponent’s ships wins.

Marketing is a lot like Battleship in some ways that may not immediately rise to the surface. Let me unpack that a bit.

Take chances, knowing that some will be misses
In order to make a direct hit, you have to fire some missiles. A few will hit; many will not. In marketing, you have to try different things. You have to test different messaging. Not everything will work. I tell our team often that what we do is a lot like Battleship: we form an educated guess, we fire our missiles, and then we observe the result. Marketing is making guesses as to human behavior. We can do so in an educated way, but we won’t always be right and should be prepared for our fair share of misses.

When you make a direct hit, keep going in that direction
As I’ve been teaching my five-year-old to play Battleship, his earliest notion was to get excited about a direct hit and then the next turn fire in a totally different direction for a miss. I keep guiding him to the fact that, if you make a direct hit, the ship extends out in one direction or the other a few boxes, so keep firing in that direction. The same is true in marketing: if you find a strategy that works, keep moving in that direction, even if you have to make slight changes along the way.

Once you sink one ship, the others may not be close-by
Depending on the strategy of your opponent, generally players will place their ships in various locations across the grid. Once you sink a ship, you likely should be looking elsewhere for the next one. In marketing, stay open to new ideas and new directions. This will both push you to take chances and to have another strategy in mind once your current marketing campaign sinks.

Take note of where you’ve already fired
If you don’t put pegs in the grid to mark where you fired, you won’t know where you’ve already been in order to refine things going forward. Record-keeping in marketing is vital. As you take your educated guesses, make note of everything that is happening. Collect data like it is gold. One big advantage of digital marketing is that it’s data rich; regardless of your form of marketing, there always some level of data available.

Learn from your misses and think strategically
As you try to find the opponent’s ship, are you guessing every box on the grid consecutively? Bouncing from one corner to the next? Using the data you’re collecting, learn from what is working and what is not. See where the numbers lead you. Use your misses to craft a strategy that can move your marketing forward.

It can be helpful to have a seasoned guide help acquaint you to the game. Use others as resources and guides to form new ideas, to learn from other approaches, and to refine your own strategy. Over time, you’ll have more direct hits and be well on your way to winning the game.


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