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What Would Don Draper Do?

By: Danny Iny



If you are not caught up on Mad Men, read ahead at your own risk as there are spoilers ahead.
As the final season of the seminal series Mad Men came to a close, we can’t help but reflect back on the fascinating characters, intriguing plot lines, and of course, our love-hate relationship with the show’s iconic anti-hero.
But Don Draper is not just a brilliantly complex character or a charming ladies’ man. He’s a master of marketing.
Though his 1960s, Madison Street ad world might seem starkly different from our reality today, the fact is that what made Draper a killer in the pitch room and the board room can (and should) be applied by marketers today.
I’ll leave the 3-martini lunch and office shenanigans up to you, but you’d be wise to borrow these smart moves from the Don Draper playbook.
Always Tell a Story
One of my favorite parts of the show has always been Don’s pitches. Even when his personal life is in shambles, he’s able to spin a yarn that leaves the clients wide-eyed and smitten with his ideas.
Just think of the incredible pitch he did for Kodak.
“There’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product,” Don says before turning off the lights, clicking through a slideshow of his own life, and waxing philosophic about the power of nostalgia.
Hell, it’s so effective that Harry Crane rushes out before the lights come up so that no one sees his misty eyes.
It’s one of the most basic forms of communication and it never gets old. The rapid rise of content marketing is a perfect demonstration of this fact.
Now, brands in all industries are becoming more and more like people, using social media, ads and blogs to create an intimacy with their audience through good ol’ fashioned story telling.
Spin It
Don is the master of putting a pretty spin on an ugly situation.
No matter what was thrown at him, he could always do a quick pivot that put him and his firm in a positive light.
Recall the monumental statement Don made when he took out a scathing full-page ad in the New York Times to explain why his firm wouldn’t touch tobacco with a 10-foot pole.
This had nothing to do with his principles or ideas about health and everything to do with the fact that the firm had just been rejected by 2 different cigarette brands.
As his future wife Megan said, “I know it was about ‘He didn’t dump me, I dumped him.'”
Sure, you could see this as the impetuous whining of a kid who didn’t get picked for the team, but we see that his bold move has an immediate pay-off when the American Cancer Society comes knocking at the firm’s door.
When you work in marketing, you will inevitably face media crises, bad reviews, etc. And your fate will be decided not by how bad it was, but by how you respond and how well you spin a negative into an opportunity.
Stick to Your Guns
Draper is a consummate salesman; that much is true. He always wants the sale and won’t walk out of the room without a “yes.”
But he won’t bend his beliefs or his creative certitude to do something he thinks is wrong or sub-par, even if that means a short-term win.
To some extent, the client is always right, but you’re the expert in the room and it’s your job to find a way to delicately tell them that their idea is terrible and that yours is good.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be flexible or find ways to compromise multiple visions, but you shouldn’t be strong-armed by a client into producing something you’re not proud of or don’t believe in.
Get Inside Their Heads
Watching Don carry out brainstorm after brainstorm over these 7 seasons, we’ve repeatedly seen him use one strategy at the start: Putting himself in the minds of the customer and finding the best way to solve their problem.
Take, for example, the Burger Chef client of last season—Peggy and Don continually return to the target customer, a busy mom, and go back to the drawing board again and again to try to hone in on what she wants and what will reassure her that it’s OK to feed her family a fast food dinner.
Even when they think they’re done, something feels off, so they go back to the mind of that mom to inspire new ideas.
It’s critical that we, as marketers, don’t ever get carried away with our own cleverness or creativity and lose sight of the end goal. The best ideas are ones that showcase a brilliant idea that was directly inspired by stepping into the shoes of your audience.
Have Swagger, Will Travel
Let’s not play games here… one reason Don Draper always gets what he wants is because of that magnetic swagger of his. While image is certainly not everything, it is something and it counts for a fair amount in industries like marketing.
Don wouldn’t have captured the hearts and minds of nearly so many brands or beautiful women if he hadn’t had a certain je ne sais quoi that was more than the sum of its parts: an impeccable suit, a confident posture and a preternatural skill for painting a picture with words.
Of course the work you do is what matters most, but you’ll never get an opportunity to do that work if you don’t put a polished and professional face forward in the form of your website, your social media presence and even the impression you make over the phone and in person.
Image matters, and you’d do well to invest in making yours enticing as all get out.
For all of us die-hard Mad Men fans, it’s hard to think of saying goodbye to Draper; especially now that we’re not even sure if he’s still flexing his advertising muscle on Madison Street or has joined some hippie commune in Northern California.
Though we haven’t always approved of his actions or even respected him as a person, he’s taught us a lot about how to be better at what we do. And for that, we thank him and hope to do work that would earn his silent and begrudging approval.
Did you ever see any lessons you could use in your business watching Mad Men? Or any other shows, for that matter? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally published by Firepole Marketing
Author: Brian Burt is the founder and CEO of WebRev Marketing & Design, a boutique digital marketing firm in Chicago. As a faithful Mad Men fan, he’s long been a disciple of the Don Draper school of marketing. When he’s not busy starting new companies or exploring new strategies, Brian enjoys vintage cars and travel. For more info, visit www.webRevmarketing.com.
Published: June 18, 2015

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Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, is the proud founder of Firepole Marketing. He’s also the author of the Amazon best-selling book Engagement from Scratch!, the Naked Marketing Manifesto, and the Audience Business Masterclass. In addition to all of the above, Danny is a super-friendly guy who makes a point of responding to emails and messages within 24 hours—so follow him on Twitter @DannyIny, Google+, or just send him an email and say hello!

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