House of Marketing: Lessons from Frank Underwood for More Effective Marketing Strategies

Published 3/13/14
Share This Post: 

Share This:

What the "House of Cards" anti-hero teaches us about marketing

If you’re a fan of House of Cards, and our anti-hero Frank Underwood, you’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks binge watching the second season, and perhaps needing a shower to wash off the second-hand grime. As Frank continues to build his “old stone building that stands for centuries,” believe it or not, his strategies and tactics for power grabbing offer a road map for effective marketing. We’ll try not to give away any major plot lines here, but we’re sure you’re the type of person who will “throw a saddle on a gift horse rather than look it in the mouth.”

Set Defined Goals and Objectives

In the case of Frank Underwood, his goals and objectives are very easy to define – increase and build power. Everything he does, every action he takes, is evaluated against that defined goal. There’s nothing ambiguous about it. In marketing, we often let ambiguity or subjectivity control decision making. How many times have you heard your boss say, “I don’t like blue (or pick a color).” There’s nothing measureable about that. In fact, there’s nothing actionable about it; it’s driven by personal preferences. With clear defined goals you can remove the ambiguity and work toward something tangible.

Develop a Strategy and Follow It

Whether it’s Zoe Barnes or Raymond Tusk, our power-loving “protagonist” had a strategy in how he used these relationships to further his objectives. “If you want to earn my loyalty, then you have to offer yours in return. And if we can agree to that – well, you're a man with imagination.” - Frank Underwood to Raymond Tusk.

Prior to making any decisions, there was thought and evaluation – does this fit with the strategy? Again, this helps alleviate subjectivity and, just as important, keeps concepts and tactics focused on the prize because everything is evaluated and measured against the strategy. Strategies may need to change, but they always serve as the guide.

Explore Different Tactics

While the strategy serves as a guide, there needs to be freedom to explore different solutions and designs in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Frank will try something different if he thinks it will achieve his goal. From his strong-armed tactics in the Senate to his back-channel conversations with Feng, he doesn’t shy away from the unconventional. From a marketing perspective, you need to be open to exploring different designs, media channels, etc. The great thing is that nothing is permanent today.

“Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me.”

Try a display ad; if no one clicks after an appropriate test, change it. Want to experiment with a new home page design? Run a small A/B test. You can even use online efforts to help “experiment” for what will ultimately guide print campaigns. The great thing about analytics and testing is that we no longer have to rely on “instincts.” The user can tell us directly what they like and what they don’t like based on clicking, not clicking, bouncing, etc. You may think that home page design doesn’t work, but you may find out the user’s higher engagement metrics will tell you something different.

Always Measure and Then Evolve

No one would accuse Frank of subscribing to Ron Popeil’s “set and forget it” approach. Just ask Ms. Barnes. When that relationship no longer produced results, and in fact started to become a negative, he … shall we say … shoved it aside. Evaluate campaigns and other efforts regularly. If they’re working, continue moving forward and maybe even increasing the spend for the impactful ROI. If they’re not, don’t wait to see how it goes. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug and reallocate dollars to efforts that are producing measureable and positive impactful results. After all, as Frank once said, “Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me.” Now, just imagine if Frank Underwood were your director of sales and marketing.