6 Lessons Mobile Marketers Can Learn from House of Cards

Becky Doles

Season three of House of Cards went live on Netflix recently, providing 13 additional hours of evil genius and endless manipulation courtesy of Frank Underwood and his clandestine acquaintances. If you’re a hardcore fan, you’ve likely already had the chance to binge, purge, apologize to your soul, and get depressed because this “fictional drama” feels like a legitimate portrayal of modern politics.

(If you haven’t had a chance to watch just yet, don’t worry, this article does not include any season three spoilers.)

Although Frank and other House of Cards characters are endlessly engaged in activities that range from the marginally unethical to straight-up evil, if you’re willing to look past the underhanded, deceitful, egotistical behavior, you can actually extract bits of sage advice with relevance to mobile marketing and app development.

Applied to your own mobile marketing, the following House of Cards quotes and concepts can help take your apps to the top.

1 – Favor the enduring, long-term strategies.

Despite his penchant for the devious, Frank is not short-sighted and he’s not cheap. Cheap gets you caught. On the contrary, much like a grandmaster in chess, Frank is deliberate and is always planning ten moves ahead. He favors the methodical strategies that foster long-term success and culminate at a much larger end goal.

In mobile marketing, the opportunities for short-sighted, grey- and black-hat tactics abound. To provide one example, manipulating app store rankings is an area of constant abuse. The photo below surfaced recently, highlighting the lengths some app developers and marketers are willing to go to achieve higher rankings.

Ranking manipulation

If Frank were a mobile marketer, he wouldn’t engage in these types of petty practices. That’s for the amateurs. Building your brand reputation and solidifying your relationship with the major app stores is far more important than the short-term gains that can be achieved through illegal and unethical practices. The major app stores are constantly improving their ability to identify fraud, and it’s only a matter of time before you get busted. And when you do, your apps and your brand are done.

Alternatively, legitimately optimizing your presence in the app stores and leveraging the relationship between your paid and organic installs can help your apps and brand dominate the Top Charts.

2 – “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

This quote is one of many that capture Frank’s obsession with power and provides an additional nod to his desire to build a legacy that endures over time. Whether or not you agree with Frank’s perspectives on money and power, changing a couple words in this quote drives home a concept fundamental to long-term mobile marketing success:

Installs are the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Lifetime value (LTV) is the old stone building that stands for centuries.

Make no mistake, the competition in the app store is fierce, and driving a high number of installs is worthy of celebration. But after you’re done high-fiving yourself, channel your inner Frank and acknowledge that installs are largely a vanity metric. If you focus solely on installs, even that McMansion in Sarasota has a better shot at a long life than your apps do.

App developers and mobile marketers have come to realize that LTV is the true measure of app profitability. There are many approaches to calculating LTV, all of which require in-depth insight into your post-install data. If you take the time to figure out LTV and market to that metric, your apps may not last for centuries, but the odds that they’ll provide you with a stable revenue stream are greatly improved.

3 – “The higher up the mountain, the more treacherous the path.”

A major part of what helps Frank climb higher up the mountain is his knowledge of the competition. Yes, his path gets more treacherous, but because he has insight into the strengths, weaknesses, and strategies of his competition, he is able to successfully outmaneuver and continue climbing.

As alluded to earlier, app store competition is intense. When your apps are ranked near the bottom, a few minor tweaks can give you some easy wins and improve your position. But as your apps climb the Top Charts, the path becomes more treacherous and it takes increasingly intelligent strategy to displace the apps ahead of you.

Considering that an app ranked first is eight times more likely to be downloaded than an app that ranks tenth, the value of having yours apps well-positioned in the Top Charts cannot be overstated. Utilizing an app store analytics solution to understand where your competitors rank, which keywords they use, and other strategic factors, enables you to optimize your app store presence and continue climbing the mountain, especially when the path gets treacherous.

App store ranking - downloads

4 – “If you want to earn my loyalty then you have to offer yours in return.”

Time after time Frank is able to leverage partners and relationships to accomplish his master plans. To be clear, the feigned loyalty and callous, self-serving approach Frank applies to his relationships is not worthy of emulation, but it does shine a light on an important principle: partners and relationships can help you reach your goals.

When Frank loses the ability to control and manipulate, he’s quick to discard in merciless fashion (just ask Zoe), and this absence of genuine loyalty is an obvious deficiency that makes Frank an unreliable partner. As a mobile marketer, you potentially work with dozens of ad networks, publishers, analytics providers, and other industry partners. The right partnerships enable you to accomplish things you would not be able to do otherwise, but if you use, manipulate, control, and discard your partners, chances are you’ll end up like Doug Stamper – lying on your face out in the woods after the person you’ve been manipulating slaps you in the head with a brick and drives away comfortably in your Lincoln.

Well… maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I think you get the idea.

Building and maintaining genuine, transparent, loyal, partnerships is essential to extending the reach and impact of your marketing campaigns and is an additional building block of long-term success. If you want to earn loyalty, offer yours in return. If you’re not sure which mobile marketing partners to engage with, here’s a good place to start.

5 – Break the fourth wall.

A signature device of House of Cards is Frank breaking the fourth wall and it has a powerful effect on the audience. When Frank speaks directly to the camera, it makes us feel more engaged and invested, and helps us discover more of what we love and hate about him. From the perspective of a mobile marketer or app developer, it might be helpful to think of breaking the fourth wall in a broader sense of opening a dialogue between you and your users.

Breaking the fourth wall is essential to discovering what your users love and hate about your apps. Not only should you be speaking to your users, you need to provide multiple opportunities for users to easily share input and feedback with you. You don’t need to heed every comment, but if you listen, respond, and implement changes based on meaningful feedback, users will understand that they’re a part of a greater dialogue that actually improves the app. Further, if users run into any problems with your app in the future they’ll reach out to you first instead of heading to the app store and blasting you with a negative review.

By breaking the fourth wall, you’re helping users feel more invested and engaged, and ultimately, creating true advocates of your brand.

6 – “To improve is to change. To perfect is to change often.”

Technically that quote is Winston Churchill, but Frank had it inscribed on the back of a watch he gifted to Remy when he left to work as a partner at Glendon Hill. It’s application to mobile marketing is a good note for us to part ways on, as it was for Frank and Remy.

Frank is constantly adapting to his circumstances, gathering and processing new information, forging new paths forward, and creatively modifying his plans until he reaches perfection. campaign perfectionIn order to perfect your campaigns, you must understand them. As a mobile marketer, you have access to tools and technologies that enable you to understand which ads are driving the most installs, which publishers are responsible for users with the highest LTV, how users are engaging with your apps post-install, and other fundamental data.

Continuous change is inherent in mobile marketing. Measuring campaigns and implementing changes that improve performance is only possible with a mobile analytics solution. Without the insight gained from analytics, as Frank said, you’ll just be “connecting dots that don’t exist,” and your attempts at improvement are vain.

Additional insight

The list above are just a few of the many lessons Frank Underwood and House of Cards provide with relevancy to mobile marketing. Here are a few others to consider:

• “Why does everything have to be a struggle? Can’t some people just say yes for once?”
• “Congress Mobile marketing is a game of chess, and you must never let your opponent see your pieces.”
• “Every kitten grows up to be a cat.”
• “Appeal to the heart not the brain.”

There’s additional mobile marketing insight to be gained from these statements. Share your most creative advice from these quotes or other House of Cards gems in the comments below.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

One response to “6 Lessons Mobile Marketers Can Learn from House of Cards”

  1. Tim Woitkun says:

    Great post Andrew – I particularly enjoyed the quote “Installs are the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years. Lifetime value (LTV) is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

Leave a Reply