Business Lessons From MadMen

Next year, Mad Men will air its final season. For six seasons, we have been watching Don Draper and the men of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price, and … oh never mind … work to become the best advertising men on Madison Avenue and to juggle their increasingly complex personal lives at the same time.

More than entertaining, the mad men have taught us all some valuable lessons about business and marketing. Whether you operate a business online or a brick-and-mortar establishment, the show has some valuable lessons you can use to help make it a success. Here are 5 business lessons you can learn from Mad Men:

Have a Clear Brand Identity

As the years have passed, partners have come and gone. Some have died, some have been fired, and some have gone on to greener pastures. At the same time, the agency continues to take on new partners, most recently merging with another agency in an attempt to become the best in the city to attract large clients like Chevy.

The problem is that with all those partners coming and going, the name of the agency has become a kind of alphabet soup, and the string of letters just keeps getting longer. It begins to become a joke with clients, and the agency’s reputation starts to suffer. While you may not have an issue with managing multiple partners for your business, having a clear brand identity is just as important, all the same. Define who you are from your name to your services to your values and your customers will respond with their loyalty and respect.

The Client Isn’t Always Right

Don Draper is famous for firing clients. He is so assured of his own vision that when clients don’t agree with him, he doesn’t try to come up with another angle that they will love, he just fires them as clients. He feels so strongly that they don’t know what’s in their own best interests that he isn’t willing to tie himself to substandard work in order to make them happy.

When you are a small or struggling business, it may be scary to think about turning away or losing any business. However, you need to remember that with each client, you are creating a track record from which to win new business. If you have a record of shoddy, ineffective work, you aren’t going to win new clients, and you aren’t going to take your business to the next level. Have the courage to recognize when your vision is the right one, and don’t compromise it.

Change the Conversation”

One thing that Don Draper loves to say is “If you don’t like what customers are saying about your business, change the conversation.” It’s not your job to simply react to market changes. To really be successful, you need to be an innovator. Change the conversation by showing your customers what they didn’t even know was important to them. Change the conversation by drawing their attention to what you want them to know about.

It is easy to get fixated on following trends and keyword searches and responding to customer reviews. However, if you really want to take your business to the next level, you need to create a product or service that pushes boundaries and sets new standards for excellence, thereby changing the conversation.

You Have to Keep Up with Market Changes

While you should be an innovator, it is also important to recognize and stay up-to-date with market changes. On Mad Men, the agency had to learn this as social changes brought about market changes. For example, they learned to advertise in markets that appealed to other races and classes as diversity became more encouraged. They hired and promoted women and other minorities (even if they aren’t yet bastions of equality).

We hope that your business isn’t struggling with stamping out prejudice and racism. However, there are likely many other market changes that are affecting your business that you will need to recognize and adapt to if you are to be successful. It could be a new social network like Tumblr or Instagram, or it could be a new viral marketing strategy, like flash mobs or text campaigns. If you don’t meet your customers where they are, you risk losing them.

You Have to Choose the Right Marketing Channels

Don Draper and company are often bemoaning the fact that their clients don’t want to invest in television or don’t have the budget to do so, even though advertising there would give their marketing strategy the power it needed to be successful.

It is equally important for you to find the right marketing channels for your business. That could be pay-per-click advertising, banner display ads for blogs, or other online channels. Or it could be something more traditional, like direct mail or e-mail marketing. The key is to do your research and to put all your resources into the strategy that will be the most effective.

Television programming isn’t just for mindless entertainment. Sometimes, between the drama and the steamy story lines, you can actually find lessons to apply to your real life. On Mad Men, there are a number of great lessons that you can use to make your business successful.

Do you watch Mad Men? Tell us what other business lessons you’ve picked up from the show!

[box_light]Bridget Sandorford is a freelance food and culinary writer, where recently she’s been researching the salary of a chef. In her spare time, she enjoys biking, painting and working on her first cookbook. [/box_light]