Frank Underwood Knows Content Marketing—And We Can Prove It

by Jessica Ramesh Liberty Marketing

To coincide with the release of the new series of House of Cards, Liberty Marketing set out to demonstrate that Frank Underwood, the show’s manipulative protagonist, has a few words of wisdom to offer about content marketing

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Unless you’ve spent the beginning of 2015 off the grid, then you’ll probably be aware that the new season of House of Cards has started.

Regardless of the fact that Friday was pay day for the vast majority of workers in the UK, it’s safe to say that this weekend there were more than a few hermits staying in to binge watch the best show on Netflix.

Francis J Underwood is a charismatic, wise individual. He also looks a lot like Kevin Spacey.

In our book, it’s certainly not a stretch to delve a bit more into some of Frank’s choice HOC quotes and pull out a few tasty content marketing titbits.

The man’s an evil genius. His ruminations can sure as hell be applied to content marketing. So, in the name of celebration, we thought we’d share what we’ve learnt on Frank’s steady ascent to power.

For those who are just starting out in content marketing, as well as businesses that maybe want to have a dabble themselves, Frank Underwood’s got you covered.

He is the most powerful man in the free world, after all.

Warning: contains spoilers!

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1. “Even Achilles was only as strong as his heel.”

Whereas Frank was waxing lyrical about his delicate web of intricately spun lies, we’re going to interpret this little pearl of wisdom in terms of links.

According to our industry’s own personal Frank Underwood, Matt Cutts (ok, he’s a little less murderous but hey ho), guest blogging is on its way out.

He says it’s becoming an increasingly spammy practice that’s boiling down to money for links. And that’s not cool.

It’s a bummer—what started out as an authentic way to share quality content has become a low-effort, quick-win tactic that’s spawned thousands of shoddy guest blogging sites and even shoddier posts.

Google is pretty much definitely going to penalise this type of blogger and your link is going down with it, so don’t use them.

This isn’t to say that guest blogging is completely useless—it’s great for exposure, branding and increasing reach—just that flogging your wares to all and sundry is a pretty pointless tactic these days.

Think big multi-author blogs and shoot for the stars!

You want Raymond Tusk (pre-arrest) on your side, not (and I’m sorry to say it) little fish like Freddie’s BBQ.

Frank doesn’t hesitate to cut out those who can harm his rep, and neither should you!

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2. “If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

Oh Frank, you’re so wise. This little gem comes from Frank’s less than subtle efforts to influence foreign policy early in season two but, like so many of Frank’s insightful sound bites, it can be applied to content marketing too.

This point is all about innovation. If you’ve tried your standard written blogs, dabbled in an infographic or two, and you’re still not getting the results you want, then it’s time to flip that table.

The CMI defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action”.

The best stuff, the stuff that turns the tables, has elements of the useful and the inspirational, and evokes empathy in the people who see it.

A tired old once-a-week ‘how to’ guide isn’t going to do that.

Think clever curation and crowd-sourcing, behind-the-scenes brilliance, and quality, brand-building concepts that will stick in the mind of your audience.

Before you panic—innovative doesn’t have to mean technical. Develop existing content and present it in an inventive way—kind of like how Frank remodelled Peter Russo in season one. Before he, you know, offed him.

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3. “Sometimes, the only way to gain your superior’s respect is to defy him.”

Another of Francis J’s classy asides here—but instead of straight-up saying ‘no’ to the most powerful man in the world, as Frank does, we’re just going to recommend a subtle ‘do one’ to the most powerful search engine instead.

This is a risky one, but we’re going to put it out there anyway because it’s damn useful to small businesses that can’t afford to keep on top of the constantly-changing minutiae of Google’s algorithms.

Screw Google.

Wow, we said it. It feels so naughty—do you think they heard us?

OK—before we get penalised and sent down to the depths of page 101 (it’s like room 101 but so much worse), we’d better qualify this statement.

According to Rand Fishkin himself, no matter what they tell you, you don’t have to keep up with Google’s day-to-day changes.

We’re not talking to SEO professionals here—just those trying to get a grip on content marketing. Our pal Rand over at SEO resource provider, Moz, says that despite being constantly refined, Google’s algorithmic evolution is heading one way. If you can keep your eye on the destination, then over time the journey will be pretty irrelevant. So, forget the silver bullets and focus on quality.

Here’s the quote:

“If, in 2004, you balanced SEO best practices with usability/user experience needs and created a site with content that was optimal for people and engines, you probably had an SEO strategy that would still work today.”

Take that Garett Walker. And Google. Pretty much anyone who stands in our way.

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4. “Treading water is the same as drowning.”

One thing we have in common with Frank here at Liberty Marketing is our dissatisfaction with stagnation (that, and how damn sexy we look in all-black lycra running gear).

We believe that maintaining an average position isn’t good enough. We, like Frank, want to be the best, and we want our clients to be the best too.

So what does this mean in content marketing terms?

You may be doing reasonably well, you may be pleased with your metrics, but you can always do better.

5. “Generosity is its own form of power.”

Once again, Frank’s hit the nail on the head here, but instead of dangling a sprat to catch a mackerel (and no, despite our use of that lovely turn of phrase, we won’t be collecting our pension any time soon), we’re talking about purpose-driven content marketing.

At its most basic level, cause marketing involves the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business with a non-profit organisation for mutual benefit.

It’s a great way for your business to bond with its target audience over a shared interest—namely supporting a cause dear to their hearts. If, as a by-product of your charitable efforts, you happen to create some quality content, then that’s all-the-better for everyone.

So, choose your cause, be authentic, commit to it long-term, share your tangible results and you could benefit from a halo effect generated by your generosity.

Not that that worked for Zoe Barnes. But that’s beside the point.

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6. “Of all the things I hold in high regard—rules are not one of them.”

Rules tell you the way that the average person does things most successfully. Applying them consistently can set you on the route to moderate success, but blindly following them is never going to take you to the top of the pack.

The advice we’re going to distil from this Underwood utterance is this:

Aspire to more. Yes, it’s scary to step outside the realm of rules and instructions, but when you throw away the paint by numbers, you could potentially create a masterpiece.

Over the past decade, digital marketers have self-curated a whole stash of unwritten content marketing rules that are often referred to by industry novices. You don’t have to follow these down to the very last detail.

For example, let’s take a pretty basic content marketing rule: develop a plan and stick to it.

While we’re not going to profess to breaking this one every day, we find it certainly helps to be flexible and to adapt as the environment changes around us.

When you become rule-bound, you set yourselves up to be average. Listen to your customers’ requirements and make up your own rules to reach new heights.

And if you find Frank Underwood to be a less-than-palatable revolutionary rule-breaker (although we can’t think why you would), think Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, who all flouted a few rules on their way to the top.

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7. “Nobody can hear you, nobody cares about you, nothing will come of this…”

Alright, Frank. No need to put such a downer on everything.

He’s right though.

Even if you write the most revolutionary blog post in your industry, create an infographic that explains the theory of relativity in five easy steps, or film a video tutorial of cats doing contouring (that weird makeup thing), if your content isn’t seen by anyone, it’s useless.

First and foremost, you need to optimise your content so that people can find it. We know this.

It’s distribution that we’re going to focus on in this point—feeding information to the right people and places, with as much careful aforethought as the former Chief Whip.

After all, Frank wouldn’t put all his eggs in a search engine’s basket, now would he?

In content marketing, distribution is everything.

Content marketers need to think about all of the different pathways people take to find great things. We need to identify how big brands like BuzzFeed are getting their content out there and let it inform our own distribution process.

Social media, e-newsletters, email signatures and reaching out to influencers are all tried and tested ways to expand your reach.

Don’t forget things like hashtags relating to topics in your blogs, as a huge percentage of Twitter users regularly monitor hashtags they care about.

And last but not least, ask your employees. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it works. And Frank wouldn’t blink twice before asking Doug Stamper to do his dirty work for him.

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The Round-Up

Yes he’s a murderer, a master-manipulator, and, quite frankly, a maniac. But the man talks a lot of sense.

So much sense that we’re going to wrap-up this piece by going for a triple whammy (read it out loud in a devilish Southern drawl, if you please…)

In content marketing, don’t get disheartened by incremental improvements, after all, “That’s how you devour a whale—one bite at a time.”

Remember, “We are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal”.

Half the battle is just being present and being a part of the conversation.

If you’re not talking to your customers, they’re not listening to you. They won’t know you’re there, and they won’t give a hoot.

And finally, if you want a bit of help with your content marketing efforts, give us call. “It’s so refreshing to work with someone who’ll throw a saddle on a gift horse rather than look it in the mouth.”

*BANGS RING ON TABLE TWICE*

This article also appears on Liberty Marketing’s blog page.