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The sweet and simple marketing lesson from ‘House of Cards’

Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, left, and Robin Wright as Clair Underwood in a scene from Netflix' "House of Cards." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Netflix, Nathaniel E. Bell


A few months ago, I got a hankering for BBQ ribs. As someone who doesn't typically indulge in ribs and the sort, I found myself frequenting local southern BBQ restaurants and even cooking ribs myself. So what was the cause of this sudden craving?


Now, hang with me. One of my favourite shows these days is a Netflix original, House of Cards. In the show, the protagonist, a South Carolina senator named Francis Underwood, often visits a quaint BBQ rib restaurant in Washington, D.C. The restaurant visits are important to the plot as the senator often reflects on critical events or meets secretly with other show characters.

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For me, I can't get past the succulent and tasty BBQ ribs that the senator shamelessly and sloppily feasts on.

While the restaurant is fictional, and no specific product placement is taking place, the lesson is still sweet and simple (pardon the pun): Product demonstrating is a powerful tool to increase awareness and promote action.

You don't need to sell ribs or land a spot on a major cable production to leverage this strategy. Consider these five tips for utilizing product demonstrating for your business:

1. Don't be stingy. Unless you produce products that are expensive (diamond rings) or completely unique (artwork), be willing to give your product away – often. Free samples should be as much a part of your marketing budget as advertising and public relations. In addition to getting the product into the hands of your target audience, you will encourage buzz marketing as people sample and share their experience. Be selective, however, as overzealously sampling will raise your cost and could ultimately cheapen the image of your brand. Lastly, if consumers accept a free sample, be unabashed about asking them to share their experience.

2. Be your own brand celebrity. Let's face it, nobody loves and understands your product more than you. These days, it is remarkably easy to demo your product and reach a huge audience for almost nothing. How? Video. Your company should have a web page dedicated to product videos where you demonstrate the features and benefits. If you can't afford to create and manage a page, start a page on YouTube, Vimeo or other video streaming services. Be sure to review tips on maximizing the impact of your product demo videos.

3. Tap other audiences. As part of your strategy for providing free samples, get your product in the hands of individuals who have large audiences. Bloggers, journalists and celebrities love free stuff, and while some may ask a fee to review and write about your product, a great many will do it for the cost of a free sample and shipping. Again, work only with individuals who operate in your industry and are reaching your customers.

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4. Place your product. While placing your product on a show such as House of Cards may be out of reach for most entrepreneurs, it doesn't mean that you can't have it placed in other ways. Research and establish a report with influencers and newsmakers in your area and your industry. Understand the basics of creating effective press releases and how to broadcast them in your network. Newsmakers are always looking for interesting stories to cover, especially if the topic of interest is in the industry you all work within. It may not be Kevin Spacey consuming or using your product, but it is visibility nonetheless.

5. Understand return on investment. If you are like me, engaging in marketing activities that I can't directly measure the ROI is gut wrenching. Unfortunately, when the goal is to raise visibility, casting a broad net with no strings makes it very difficult to measure impact to the bottom line. One thing is certain, demonstrating works, so if you have done your homework and planned your promotion strategy, then you can be assured that your efforts are not being wasted.

Today, with mobile-content consumption on the rise and the looming potential that cable networks will start serving up shows a la carte, small companies will find it increasingly difficult to reach customers through the traditional means of advertising and promotion. These tips on leveraging the power of product demonstrating, however, will help keep you competitive with your larger peers.

Now, all this talk about ribs has made me hungry. BBQ time.

What unique methods have you used to demonstrate your product? Please share with others below!

Peter Gasca is an entrepreneur, small-business consultant, author and business adjunct lecturer. He is the co-founder and CEO of Wild Creations, a specialty toy and game developer and manufacturer. Previously, Gasca had a successful career as a business-development consultant for USAID and a long career in real estate development. He is the co-author of One Million Frogs.

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