Frank Underwood’s Lessons for Digital Marketers

By Leo Strupczewski

May 27, 2014

house_of_cards2-1You can’t deny the draw of Frank Underwood.

We’re big fans of Netflix’s House of Cards here at Monetate, and have done our fair share of quoting it. And that got me thinking: Despite being perhaps the most Machiavellian of all pop culture characters this century has seen, the Democrat from South Carolina can be a guiding voice for marketers.

(Seriously. Bear with me, and you’ll see what I mean.)

What makes Frank Underwood a likeable character—rather than the despicable, hated man he so rightly deserves to be—is his use of direct address. Speaking to the audience, Frank breaks down the fourth wall and, in the process, pulls in the viewer.

You’re not just along for the ride; you’re complicit with the “Underwood scheme to amassing power.”

For a marketer, it’s the perfect example of how to engage your customer and interact with them. Connect with them, deliver an effective message, establish a relationship. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here, then, are some of my favorite Underwood-isms and how a digital marketer can use them as inspiration (provided, of course, that you strip away the evil associated with most of them):

“Any politician that gets 70 million votes has tapped into something larger himself, larger than even me, as much as I hate to admit it. Look at that winning smile, those trusting eyes.” (Season 1, Chapter 1)

The marketer’s message: Build trust.

To build trust, marketers need to deliver valuable, relevant experiences to their customers.

That means listening to your audience, yes; but it also means making sure your audience knows you’re listening. You can do it by using the data at your disposal—demographics, technographics, behavioral data—to deliver those experiences that will resonate with your customers.

Do that, and you will build trust.

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” (Season 1, Chapter 1)

The marketer’s message: Meet your customers where they are.

As a marketer trying to deliver valuable, relevance experiences to your customer, you need to ensure that your customers’ experiences are useable. And that means optimizing your channels so that they can more easily interact with you.

In other words (i.e., Frank’s), let yourself get closer to them by eliminating any roadblocks.

For your website and email, think responsive design. It may not be a cure-all for your challenges, but it’s your ticket to entry if you want to reach your customers regardless of device. And for social, a good source of top of the funnel leads, establish KPIs that help you determine the value of your engagements, find those campaigns that are resonating and replicate them.

“Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power. In this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mc-Mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.” (Season 1, Chapter 2)

The marketer’s message: Focus on long-term relationships instead of one-time sales.

Consider how often the best brands, the brands that command your attention offer a coupon or discount. It doesn’t happen very frequently, does it? No.

Instead of playing the weekly game of coupons and surreptitious email acquisition, focus on building a relationship with your customers. (Bruce Ernst, our VP of Product Management, recently covered this in a post, “Me and Amazon, We’ve Got a Good Thing Going,” by the way.)

Delivering value and relevance to your customers over the long-term is more valuable than breeding dependence through discounts. After you stop giving your customer the coupons, they’ll leave you for the next lowest bidder.

“What you have to understand about my people is that they are a noble people. Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength; it is their weakness. And if you can humble yourself before them they will do anything you ask.” (Season 1, Chapter 3)

The marketer’s message: Talk to your customer in a way that resonates with them.

It’s no secret that the best communicators understand their audience, their pain points, their needs, and their motivations. They shape their messages on those points.

As a digital marketer, you know that your customers aren’t all the same. Use your understanding of the customer, then, to create a personalization strategy for your best customer segments. Create a message that’s contextually relevant to those individuals: What device is that person using? What is her on-site behavioral history? Where is she located?

Answer these questions to build the foundation for your personalization strategy.

“There are two types of vice-presidents: doormats and matadors. Which do you think I intend to be?” (Season 2, Episode 3)

The marketer’s message: Don’t wait. Take action now.

If you’re starting from zero, planning and acting on an effective personalization strategy can be daunting.

Don’t get be paralyzed by what might seem like an insurmountable feat. Start small, and start fast. If you focus your efforts on the quick wins, you’ll build internal support and momentum.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the fact that you’ll be engaging your customers in a more relevant and valuable manner than you would be otherwise. If you wait until you have the “perfect” strategy and the “perfect” tactics, you run the risk of losing them. “Action” is the important word here.

If you can learn from these five lessons, you’ll be on your way to becoming a better digital marketer. And, unlike Frank, you’ll be doing it the right way.

Leo Strupczewski is a former Content Marketing Manager for Monetate. A former journalist, Leo has helped media companies, professional services firms, and business-to-consumer brands identify stories that resonate with their target audiences and to integrate those stories into an organization’s business objectives. He is passionate about technology, but owns a typewriter.

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