10 Lessons Digital Marketers Can Learn from HBO’s Silicon Valley

Do you like to binge-watch a TV series?

I don’t do it often. Hardly ever, in fact. But yep, I’ve done it before. For me, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

Every once in awhile, I’ll find a series totally “binge-worthy.”

It can make you a little crazy, especially if you spend the better part of the night glued to the TV.

But it’s pretty friggin’ enjoyable.

One series in particular that’s binge-worthy is HBO’s Silicon Valley.

If you’re unfamiliar, it’s about a team of young IT entrepreneurs who launch a startup called Pied Piper.

The show chronicles their successes and failures along the way.

It’s super funny and perfect if you’re at all entrepreneurially inclined or just like to geek out on tech.

But I also think there are some golden lessons digital marketers can take away from the show.

After all, even though it’s a comedy series with some wacked out episodes, it does have a lot of truth in it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, so I can relate to what’s going on in the show.

The show is legit.

Whether you’ve been at it for years or are new to the game, you can learn something that’s practical, even from a comedy like this one.

Here are 10 lessons to be had from HBO’s Silicon Valley.

1. Being flexible is a huge asset

You’ve probably heard the statistic that eight out of 10 businesses fail within 18 months.

While this stat is debatable (The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 50% of all new businesses make it to their fifth year and one third make it to their tenth year), many businesses do in fact fail.

But if you’re flexible and nimble, you can switch up your game plan to account for change and unexpected curveballs along the way.

In the show, the team’s initial idea was to create a music app for songwriters to ensure they weren’t infringing on any copyrights.

But after getting feedback, they quickly realized this idea wasn’t going to fly.

What did they do?

They took a completely different approach and developed a “compression cloud” solution, widening their demographic significantly.

Just like in the show, adaptability in business is incredibly important in real life.

It’s not always who’s the smartest or who has the most financial backing.

Sometimes, success comes to those who are most able to adapt to change, making the necessary adjustments.

If it’s clear a particular digital marketing technique isn’t working, you may need to change your direction to get the results you’re looking for.

2. Don’t burn bridges or make enemies

Erlich Bachman is a funny guy.

But he’s also quite crude at times.

He has a bad habit of pissing off venture capital firms and thus missing out on valuable funding opportunities.

As a business owner or a marketer, you definitely don’t want to do that.

Relationships are huge.

In many cases, your relationships (or lack thereof) can make or break you.

Don’t take them for granted.

Always make an effort to remain professional even if you don’t always see eye to eye with everyone.

Even if your colleagues’ ideas completely suck, don’t bash them for it.

Instead, conduct yourself with tact.

3. Don’t overlook legalities

We live in an extremely litigation-happy world.

You see it in Silicon Valley—the show and the real thing.

Thankfully, there’s this guy:

He’s very uncool, but he knows how to keep the startup from getting screwed over by lawyers.

And it’s a good thing because “there are over 100 million cases filed in US state courts every year.”

Law is a recurring theme in Silicon Valley, especially as it pertains to intellectual property.

When it comes to digital marketing, you’ll want to have some basic knowledge of branding and trademark law to ensure you’re not overstepping your boundaries or infringing on anyone’s brand identity.

Check out this resource from Branding Strategy Insider for more details on this.

4. Be careful of shameless publicity

There’s an old saying that “any publicity is good publicity.”

But this isn’t always the case.

At one point, Erlich tries to shamelessly generate publicity for himself and Pied Piper.

In the process, he blows through massive wads of cash, nearly ruining the company.

The point is be careful about how your brand is depicted and with whom you choose to align your brand.

And let’s be honest.

It’s not all that difficult to tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Between review sites and social media, a few unsavory comments can quickly bring the walls crumbling down.

Although you can’t totally control how the public perceives your brand, try to stay away from stupid publicity stunts that may do more harm than good.

5. Building a brand is a process

If I’ve learned anything during my time as an entrepreneur, it’s that patience is a huge benefit.

We live in a microwave culture, where instant gratification has become the norm.

And many marketers get frustrated and disillusioned when they don’t see overnight success.

But it doesn’t work like that with branding.

It takes time. Sometimes, it takes several years for any noticeable results to emerge.

In Silicon Valley, the team goes through a lot of twists and turns before Pied Piper becomes a household name.

So, a big part of making it is simply staying the course.

You need to have the mental fortitude to keep moving along and take it step by step.

But the thing I love about branding is the snowball effect, when a brand keeps getting bigger and bigger with time.

While your brand equity may be next to nothing initially, it keeps growing to the point of explosion.

Understanding that branding is a process that takes time should help sustain you when things seem bleak and you’re tempted to give up.

6. Embrace mistakes (but learn from them)

I absolutely love this quote from Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek:

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.

This simply means that mistakes are an inevitable part of making progress.

I’ve learned not to beat myself up too badly if I botch something or even flat out make a stupid mistake.

I just chalk it up to progress.

In Silicon Valley, people make mistakes all the time, but they always work to get past them.

In digital marketing, you’re likely to make plenty of mistakes along the way.

I know I did (and still do).

But as long as you’re genuinely learning from your mistakes and utilizing that knowledge to improve, you should be good to go.

7. Strive for a healthy work/life balance

Working hard and having a strong work ethic is good and all.

But it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own personal well-being.

I know this all too well because I have workaholic tendencies.

In the show, Richard explains to his doctor that he’s been having night sweats induced by stress.

The doctor explains that this can be a precursor to bed-wetting, which is never a good thing.

It’s quite embarrassing.

Try not to allow yourself to get overwhelmed with your marketing activities.

Strive to find a healthy work/life balance, and recharge your batteries from time to time.

This will make you more effective in your marketing, and you won’t have to worry about being an adult who wets the bed.

8. Keep your eyes on the prize

It’s easy to get distracted in business and marketing.

There are always new techniques and tactics that can distract you from what you’re good at and what’s really working.

For instance, at some point in the show, the team is forced to work on a non-core product, which ended up being a major distraction.

In turn, this created a road block on their path to success.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment, but it’s important to focus on your strengths and not lose sight of the ultimate goal.

9. Quality is key

At one point, Gavin Belson, CEO of a competing company, presents company’s new product Nucleus, which ends up being a complete disaster.

This serves as a reminder that quality should always be of the utmost importance.

You want to put in enough time and energy to ensure your audience is getting the best possible experience.

Whether it’s creating blog content or running your social media campaign, it’s better to focus on quality over quantity.

Taking shortcuts is never the way to go.

10. Make the right hires

If you’re assembling a marketing team, you need to go about it the right way.

Don’t carelessly choose someone without ensuring they’ve got the chops and will mesh with your culture.

A bad hire can kill your vibe and stall your progress.

In the long run, this can also put a damper on morale and be disruptive to team chemistry.

For tips on hiring and creating an awesome team, I suggest reading this article from Wired.

Conclusion

Although Silicon Valley is a comedy, there are many lessons that can be applied to digital marketing and business in general.

In fact, I feel a lot of wisdom can be extracted from this show.

Whether it’s learning to adapt in an ever-changing marketing world, learning from your mistakes, or simply refraining from being a douchebag, the lessons from Silicon Valley can make you a better digital marketer in many ways.

Can you think of any other business- or marketing-related takeaways from the show?

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