When was the last time you watched The Simpsons? Probably when you were a kid, right? I know what you’re thinking…it’s a show for children. Although you are right, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it because I’ll bet it will teach you a lot about marketing.
Over the last fifteen or so years of my life, I’ve probably watched a few hundred episodes, and I’ve learned a ton. Here are seven marketing lessons that the Simpsons have taught me:
Lesson #1: Take risks
Do you remember the episode where Bart tries to jump across a cliff with his skateboard? There was a good chance of him dying, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to jump the cliff.
In marketing, you have to learn to take risks. And yes, you’ll make big mistakes when taking these risks, but every once in a while, you’ll hit the jackpot.
If you look at the image on the left, its original homepage made sense. They had video testimonials from customers, a detailed explanation of the products, and tons of images to go with it.
The new homepage didn’t explain the product as well, and it dropped most of the testimonials and screenshots, yet it converted 102.5% better than the original.
If you aren’t willing to take risks, especially when it doesn’t make sense to, you won’t ever get your business to its full potential. Don’t be afraid to try new things!
Lesson #2: Be aggressive
Have you noticed that Bart rarely takes responsibility for his actions? If you don’t, this infamous quote that he always uses should help jog your memory:
I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything!
I am personally known to take this approach with almost everything I do. I’m very aggressive with my marketing tactics. For example, one of my competitors has a really popular blog. I had someone introduce me to that person, and I offered to write a guest post on my competitor’s blog.
The person ended up rejecting my offer, but if the blogger accepted, I would have had a prime opportunity to pitch my product to my competitor’s customers. I know this may sound foolish to you, but what’s the worse that could happen if you approach your competitor with such an idea? You get a no.
Let’s take things a step further. When someone complains about my competition on Twitter, I send that person a direct message and try to get her to try my company out.
If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, assuming you aren’t breaking any laws, you aren’t cut out to be a marketer. You need to be aggressive, especially in competitive landscapes.
Another company that was very aggressive when it first started was Airbnb. It scraped Craigslist for all of its vacation rental listings so that it would have content to show its visitors. If you look at it now, it is getting millions of visitors each month.
Lesson #3: Be creative
Do you remember the intro for The Simpsons? Well, who does? For every episode, there is a new, unique introduction.
As a kid, I tried to watch every Simpsons episode so that I could catch the intro. Heck, I actually cared more about the intro sometimes than I did about the actual episode.
Take a page out of The Simpsons by being creative with your marketing efforts. Creativity can get you far. If you don’t believe me, look at Mint.com.
Before Mint got acquired by Intuit for $170 million, it was able to grow its user base by leveraging infographics. At that time, very few companies, if any, were using infographics to market their products or services.
Every week, you would see at least one or two new infographics from Mint that broke down some aspect of finance. These infographics drove millions of people to its site, which resulted in thousands of new users.
Creativity can do wonders for your marketing campaigns as long as you are able to think ahead of the curve. So, don’t focus on copying your competitors, but instead think a few steps ahead of them.
Lesson #4: Never stop learning
My favorite character on The Simpsons is Lisa. She always looks to learn something new and never accepts mediocre results. She always has to have the highest grades in her class and doesn’t care for anything but the first place.
You have to strive to be the best even if you aren’t naturally gifted like Lisa. Track every little thing you do with your company. That way you know where you currently are and how much you need to improve.
For example, my startup KISSmetrics is an analytics company, but that doesn’t mean we know everything about our customers. Just like every other company, we have to track our performance and look for ways to improve. We currently track our conversion rates, life-time-value of our customers and marketing attribution. We constantly analyze our cohort reports, and we are always running A/B tests on our landing pages.
By doing all of this on a weekly basis, we are constantly learning new things about our customers and what we need to do as a company to succeed.
Lesson #5: You don’t have to be that smart to succeed
It’s obvious that Homer isn’t smart. But that doesn’t stop him from succeeding. He has a decent job at a nuclear power plant, and he has a good family. Best of all, he doesn’t let his lack of knowledge stand in his way of accomplishing anything he wants to do.
I have a friend, Tim, who owns a stock site called Timothy Sykes. Although he isn’t dumb like Homer, he also isn’t an expert in everything. He knows finance like the back of his hand, but what he isn’t an expert in is marketing.
Instead of giving up, he paid someone a thousand bucks to pop up a blog. He then shared his stock picks on his blog. He took those blog posts and started to push them out to message boards on Yahoo. Once his traffic started to rise, he knew he was onto something, at which point he found a marketing firm to help him take things to the next level.
So, what can you learn from Tim’s story? You don’t have to be a jack of all trades to get traffic to your website. You just have to go out there and try. If you find something that is working, just keep on doing it. And once you know there is an ROI, you can hire a marketing expert to take things to the next level like Tim did.
If you fast-forward to today, Tim is currently pulling in $150,000 to $225,000 a month in revenue from his blog. Not bad for someone who doesn’t know much about marketing.
Lesson #6: Keep your mouth shut
The richest guy on The Simpsons is Mr. Burns. Over the years, I’ve learned one thing from him: make money and keep your mouth shut. The moment you start telling others your secrets, you’re going to have competition.
I myself made this mistake years ago. I was the first Internet marketer to really leverage Digg. During my peak, I had a 75% success rate of getting stories on the homepage, and I was a top 10 Digg user. With this power, I was able to charge companies anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 to just submit a story to Digg.
But there was one big issue. It didn’t last very long as I had a big mouth. I was speaking at conferences and telling others what I was doing with Digg. And to make matters worse, I was even teaching other marketers how to do the same thing.
After six months of talking about Digg, I found that hundreds of other marketers started using Digg, and it became tough for any of us to reach the homepage. This meant that companies no longer wanted to pay me money to submit their story.
If you find a marketing tactic that works really well, keep your mouth shut. The moment you tell others about it is the day you lose.
Lesson #7: Always be afraid
Although Chief Wiggum is a tough cop, his son Ralph is a scaredy cat. Ralph is afraid of almost everything that he sees, but he is especially afraid of the unknown.
As a marketer, you don’t want to be afraid of the unknown, but you want to be afraid of being banned from a specific marketing channel. For example, JcPenney used spammy techniques to get to the top of Google in February, and it got caught. Google made an example of it, and JcPenney lost traffic, which affected its sales. Plus, it got a ton of bad press.
JcPenney is back on the top of Google these days, but it did get into trouble for a bit. Before you explore the dark side of marketing, make sure you fully understand the consequences. If you are okay with them, then feel free to roll the dice. If you aren’t, then you’d better stay away from them or hope that you don’t get caught.
I myself pushed Hacker News to the limit. Now, if you try to submit stories from Quick Sprout to Hacker News, you’ll notice that they disappear. This is an example of me pushing things to the limit. At the time, I was familiar with the consequences of my actions, and I was willing to accept them if I got caught.
I am not saying you should or shouldn’t do what I did or other big companies are doing. What I am saying is be familiar with the consequences of your actions.
Don’t shut people or ideas out just because you don’t see the value in them. You’ll be shocked to see what you can learn from just walking down the street or interacting with a 3 year-old if you pay attention.
What other marketing lessons can we learn from The Simpsons?