Select Page

Why the Name Middlegame?

All of us have been through a series of rough months so restarting the blog little less serious than usual has been on my mind.  We haven’t been asked about the name of the brand for years, but it came up twice in recent client discussions.  Revisiting how Middlegame Marketing Sciences got its name became an idea for a quick reset of the blogs.  Here is the story.

On a Wednesday in April of 1999, I watched “CBS Evening News” when I returned to my hotel room. Dan Rather was on location in the former Yugoslavia and reporting on the war in Kosovo. He painted a picture of the current struggle between Brussels and Belgrade. The piece started by defining the term endgame as “a chess word when a decisive move is made by one side making the outcome inescapable.” Clearly, the conflict hadn’t reached that point yet. Rather next explained that “this is middlegame” and defined the current situation as a war of wits and will just as much as it was a war of missiles and bombs. The next day, I sent Burrelle’s Information Services a request for the transcripts. I wanted to know exactly what Rather had said.

The middlegame is the stage of the chess match that comes between the opening and the endgame. A definition that I once read said that middlegame is the part of a chess match after the pieces have been developed and the players attempt to gain and exploit superiority on the board. I obviously wasn’t the first person to compare the marketing function to chess, but there rarely is an endgame in the real world. The middlegame sounded a lot more like the right analogy. The category of different SKUs (representing different brands, packages, sizes, flavours, etc.) develops and the different “players” attempt to gain and exploit positional and material superiority with shoppers. The retail shelf and the first moment of truth (FMOT) are just another version of middlegame.

A recent chess article by Yury Markushin explained the “7 Most Important Middlegame Principles.” I am only an amateur chess player, but I really appreciate his principals and can  translate them into what we do from an analytics perspective. One principle is avoiding the creation of weak squares in your position. A weak square is one that cannot be protected by a pawn. It can become a strong outpost for your opponent. If the weak square is close to your king or in the center of the board, it creates more trouble. This reminds me of various portfolios that are too skewed in either their price position of size offering. If smaller brands or private labels can control the middle price and medium size position, they can easily use merchandising and discounting to further push national brands into the corners and steal even more relevance with shoppers. Regardless, that is the full story. It is fun to look back after twenty years and see a snapshot of the branding and marketing in the work that we did for our firm as well as for our clients.  Many crises have come and gone since then.  The goal is to make the “next move with confidence” like the tagline says.  Stay safe everyone!

Middlegame is the only ROMI consultancy of its kind that offers a holistic view of the implications of resource allocation and investment in the marketplace. Our approach to scenario-planning differs from other marketing analytics providers by addressing the anticipated outcome for every SKU (your portfolio and your competitors’) in every channel. Similar to the pieces in chess, each stakeholder can now evaluate the trade-offs of potential choices and collectively apply them to create win-win results.