Frank Underwood as Marketing Mastermind

ROBIN WRIGHT, people! Image cred: Netflix

ROBIN WRIGHT, people! Image cred: Netflix

Hopefully you've managed to finish the third season of House of Cards. But even if you haven't, the snippet of episode five that I'm about to detail isn't much of a spoiler. If you haven't watched any House of Cards... I don't even know what to say. Just... Robin Wright. 

Frank Underwood understands the power of stories. Think of his insistence that Russo leverage the recovering addict angle (lesson: vulnerability can win people over if it's balanced with strength and courage), or the reason he decided Zoe was a valuable ally (lesson: stories act like silver bullets if you manage to shoot first). It's as if he were flexing his marketing muscles throughout seasons one and two only to sink his teeth into the meat of his agenda in season three. At this point, as president, he's desperate to get the public on board with his America Works program in time for re-election. He again turns to the power of stories:

We need to sell America Works.... We need more than ad buys. We need the philosophy behind it, we need something of substance.... We need something that will capture the imagination.

He's talking to the writer who will carry out his next marketing maneuver: a book about the program he hopes will redeem his presidency. His point? Advertising isn't selling. Advertising is a tool people use to establish brand recognition and create buzz. But everyone already knows about his program; that's not his problem. The problem is getting people to buy in--selling the America Works program to the American people. So, what is selling if not advertising? Selling is persuading. You can't persuade people without words, and, as Underwood notes, it doesn't require overt manipulation. All you need is a story that's authentic and personal:

No sales pitch, just your honest curiosity.... I want something different, something unique--your voice.

While Frank Underwood typically demonstrates how political and marketing machines utilize manipulative tactics for persuasion, there's no denying the efficacy of his story strategy. I look forward to justifying my House of Cards binge habit with marketing wisdom again next year.

Email Blasts: the painful truth

The more I meet people at networking events, the more I get added to people's "contact list," which means that my inbox gets steadily more crowded. Which would be fine with me... if most of them didn't suck. After all, these smart, social professionals probably have some pretty valuable things to say. And they are willing to share their knowledge for free. On top of that, they're willing to reach out to me and share that valuable information so that I can sit on my couch in my pajamas and soak it all in at my leisure. But what happens to most of these convenient, informative, valuable messages? They get deleted. Why?

  1. They are boring. I open them up and there are blocks of plain text with canned messaging and no voice. I don't recognize the shining personality of the author. Instead, my eyes glaze over and I try to skim for important info, but it all blends together and I get overwhelmed and angry that this person made me spend my time skimming their email. I hit delete.
  2. They are not concise. If you want people to open an email and read something important, why bury it? Readers don't have time for an intro paragraph. They don't have time to click on that link that takes them to the tiny flash slideshow which, after text-dissolving slowly for three minutes, invites you to "click here!" for more information. Unless, of course, you've built up a solid reputation and you send an email blast with the heading, "THIS IS MY LAST MESSAGE, GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD."
  3. They aren't special. I know, I know, we can't all possibly be special. So, be honest with yourself: are you special? Think you might be a little special? THEN WRITE LIKE YOU'RE F***ING SPECIAL. If you're irreverent, write irreverently. If you're funny, write funnily. If you're super smart and nerdy, write smartly and nerdy-ly. If you're boring, don't write or hire someone who has a voice/personality. People will appreciate an irreverent, funny, smart voice more than a calm, collected, "professional" one. I'm not saying you aren't special if you happen to be a calm, collected, professional person... just consider what voice you can authentically inhabit and understand that people have a sixth sense for superficialities. Choose authenticity--you are what makes you special.

Here's an email you can send to your email-blasting colleague-friend:

Dear [special professional person who I happen to appreciate],
I've noticed that you've begun sending informative email blasts to, what I assume, a long list of contacts you've accumulated. I was wondering: have you gotten a lot of response from them? I ask because I've been reading these emails and I have a feeling not many other people have been.... And I bet that when they click on that link "Access Your Information," people don't stick around very long.
As your friend, I want to let you know that you're possibly hurting your brand with these sorts of email blasts. For one, people who know you (and obviously like you) might open the first few emails, but when they find the info boring/dry (no offense) and lacking your personality, they will stop opening your emails. And what's worse than being consistent in your messaging is having your messaging associated with "unimportant" or "boring and dry" or, even worse, "annoying." Because then, when you have something really important or valuable to share, people won't pay attention.
So, if you're interested in keeping your brand shiny and potent, my suggestion is to write with a voice, present your info in a more interesting/entertaining way, and make it prettier (graphic design is actually an important consideration for email blasts, especially when you're contacting people who don't know you very well since you'll have to visually attract them to read your content). Or perhaps consider halting further email blasts before it's too late and you lose your audience. Once you lose your audience, it's really hard to win them back.

And so, my friends, think before you send.