What Hamilton can teach us about marketing
Anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking or emailing me over the past couple of months probably knows of my love for the hit Broadway show, Hamilton, because I cannot stop talking about it!
Why? Because it’s amazing!
If you don’t know what Hamilton is, it’s a hip-hop Broadway musical based on the life and death of the first Treasury Secretary and Founding Father of the United States, Alexander Hamilton.
I told you – amazing!
Now, obviously, the Broadway show takes historical accuracies with a pinch of salt (trust me, this show has caused me to read an awful lot of Wikipedia articles – a lot of the show skirts on the truth). But the characters and their stories are fascinating.
So, with a deadline to get an article written closely approaching, and considering I’ve already started down this path, I thought it’ll be worth exploring what the characters of Hamilton can teach us about marketing in a clearly ham-fisted article which allows me to talk more about this brilliant musical.
Let’s begin with the main man himself…
Alexander Hamilton, was incredible! Without him, the world would not be the same place that it is today. America, wouldn’t exist as a country.
Here is just a “short” list of the many things he did:
- Aide-de-camp to George Washington
- Set up a spy network during the Revolutionary War
- Commanded a Battalion during the Battle of Yorktown
- Accomplished lawyer
- Voted as Congressman for New York
- Helped lead the charge for the Constitutional Convention
- Wrote most of the Federalist Papers (which led the Constitution to be approved)
- Was the first Treasury Secretary
- Founded the first national bank of US
- And the New York Post
- And the US Coast Guard
- Established the US mint
- Created and implemented a line of credit for the US
- Led the Jay Treaty which formalised peace between the US & Britain
Yeah… he did an awful lot. He died aged just 47 (or 49 – his birthdate is a bit of a mystery). He’s one of those people that make you look at your life and go “Damn – I’ve certainly wasted mine!”
On top of all that, Hamilton didn’t have the best start to life. He was born in the Caribbean to a poor family. His father abandoned him. His mother died when he was 12. Then, he moved in with a cousin – who committed suicide.
So, it is amazing everything he has managed to achieve.
In fact, throughout the musical, Hamilton’s “catchphrase” is how he’s “not throwing away my shot”.
His story in the show is one of always taking opportunities when they present themselves. And when there aren’t opportunities, he makes them.
But it’s not even just taking opportunities – it’s believing in them. For example, when he first meets his contemporary Aaron Burr, he asks him “if you’ll stand for nothing Burr, what would you fall for?”
What Alexander Hamilton can teach us about marketing
Hamilton is a character who takes opportunities and believes in them. What happens? He advances his position. He overtakes his peers.
Similarly, we can apply this to marketing. In marketing, we need to look for opportunities, take them, and believe in them.
Think about some of the biggest companies in the world. Netflix for instance – they saw an opportunity for streaming TV and films – Blockbuster didn’t, despite being the major player in the category. Netflix believed in their opportunity and took their shot.
Those that succeed, just like Hamilton, see their opportunities and take their shot.
Aaron Burr was Alexander Hamilton’s contemporary. They knew each other. Worked with each other. They fought together.
In the musical, Burr is a character that plays the opposite of Hamilton. He lives by the philosophy of “talk less; smile more”. This puts him at odds with Hamilton who believes in taking your shot.
Throughout the show, Burr’s character continually gets dismissed because of his philosophy; George Washington dismisses him; he is not invited into the room when important decisions are made.
Eventually, this leads to him realising his philosophy is wrong. If he wants to succeed, he needs to think like Hamilton. What happens? He runs for president and fails to win. Why? Because it turns out he needs Hamilton’s support to win. Unfortunately, Hamilton doesn’t trust that Burr believes in anything due to their previous run-ins throughout life.
Burr, now being Vice President, ends up blaming Hamilton for all his failings in life; for thirty years of grievances. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the show or knows nothing about 1800’s US politics). They have a duel and Burr kills Hamilton — This really happened! The Vice-President of America shot and killed a founding father!
Fortunately, they had the duel in New Jersey – everything’s legal in New Jersey – so Burr somehow got away with it. But it definitely put a dampener on the rest of his life.
What Aaron Burr can teach us about marketing
Throughout the show, Aaron Burr always plays second fiddle. Why? Because he takes a back seat. He prefers things to happen around him than being the thing that’s causing things to happen.
Then, towards the end, Burr makes his biggest mistake. He tries to copy his competition and he fails. And then instead of trying to figure out what went wrong – what he could change – he decides to blame his competition.
This is just a dangerous act in marketing – concentrating too much on your competition. Sure, it’s important for you to know what they’re up to, but you’re not your competition.
When you copy them, you won’t get the same success. You need to identify what makes your brand different – what is it that will make your brand stand out.
And, a final word of warning, never blame your marketing failings on your competition’s success.
Here comes the General! The pride of Mount Vernon, George Washington! George Washington – if you didn’t know – was the Commander of the American forces during the Revolutionary War and first President of the United States.
In the mythical view of George Washington, it’s easy for him to appear as some demi-god-like figure who achieved everything by himself.
But that’s not true. He couldn’t possibly do it all by himself. In fact, he didn’t. He had a right-hand man. A man he trusted throughout his life. That man? Alexander Hamilton.
Washington relied on Hamilton more than people realised. Washington realised the intellect and skill of Hamilton and was keen to always hear his points of views on matters.
What George Washington can teach us about marketing
In the song ‘Right-hand man’ (classic song by the way) George Washington quickly realises that he cannot be everywhere at once.
This is true in marketing too – one person cannot do it all. One person cannot be a master of strategy, data analysis, copywriting, design, adverting, SEO, user experience, events management, photography, videography, branding, press release, social media…
What’s important is to build a team, be that internally or externally, that is made up of people you can trust and help your marketing succeed.
King George III
King George III was the ruling British monarch during the American Revolution. And he even decided to rock up in Hamilton to sing some songs for us!
In the show, King George III is shown to be an arrogant character. He doesn’t expect the Americans to win the war – how could they possibly win against the might of the British Empire after all?
But – *spoiler alert* if you really know nothing about history – King George III loses and the Colonies get the opportunity to form their own country.
What King George III can teach us about marketing
The British lose because they’re arrogant. They believe they will win because they’re bigger, richer, and more powerful.
The American Colonies are the underdog. They are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered and outplanned.
But they still won.
The biggest lesson we can take here is to not get arrogant about your position. Eventually, an underdog will rise up and take your place – will take your market share. Typically, this is through having a competitive advantage or through differentiation. They have a different strategy to play out.
My mind is always drawn to how Dollar Shave Club completely disrupted the men’s shaving industry through clever marketing and pricing strategies. A sector that was so arrogant that all the key players thought the most impressive marketing element and differentiation was the number of blades on a razor.
Marquis de Lafayette
America’s favourite fighting Frenchman – Lafayette!
A Major General during the Revolutionary War, Lafayette was a master of tactics (and mad rapping skills). Whilst Washington & Hamilton oversaw the strategy to win the war, Lafayette was the one that figured out and implement the tactics.
Much of the war saw Lafayette getting supplies for the Colonies and engaging in guerrilla warfare against the British.
What Lafayette can teach us about marketing
Tactics are just as important as strategy. Whilst strategy is the overall aim you’re looking to achieve, tactics are smaller plans and methods of reaching it.
Take a strategy to increase sales for an ecommerce website. What tactics can be used to implement that?
- Social Media
- Pay Per Click
- Remarketing Ads
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Website Design & User Experience
- Upselling & Cross-selling
- User-Generated Content
- Reviews & Testimonials
All these different tactics need planning and matter just as much as the overall strategy.
He needs no introduction – it’s Hercules Mulligan.
Yet another fantastic character in history. Mulligan was a friend of Hamilton and actually provided accommodation to Hamilton when he first moved to New York.
Trained as a tailor, he became a spy for the Revolutionary Army by becoming the ‘go-to’ tailors for British troops. Using his trade, he got information by talking to British troops and passed it on to Hamilton.
The result of his intel was priceless. He managed to save Washington’s life – twice – and provided information on British troop movements.
What Hercules Mulligan can teach us about marketing
Intel matters! Knowing what both your customers and competitors are doing is invaluable in making your marketing decisions.
Fortunately, with modern technology, this is easier than ever. For instance, you can utilise Analytics to tell how users are interacting with your brand. You can use tracking software to see how your competition performs against you.
The more data and intelligence you can gather, the more relevant decisions you can make and strategies you can devise.
I’m a big believer that creative influence can be found anywhere. It doesn’t matter if that’s in taking a course, doodling in a notepad or watching a hit Broadway show on Disney+.
So, what can Hamilton teach us about marketing? Quite a bit actually.
- Alexander Hamilton can teach us that we should take the shots that approach us and that we shouldn’t be scared to try new things;
- Aaron Burr teaches us that to ‘talk less; smile more’ gets us nowhere and that focusing too much on the competition will consume you;
- George Washington can teach us that everyone needs a ‘right-hand man’ and surrounding yourself with experts will help push you forward;
- King George III teaches us that being arrogant about our position and dismissing new players in a market place will cause you to rest on your laurels;
- Lafayette shows us that the tactics we use are just as important as the overall strategy we decide to implement;
- Hercules Mulligan can teach us that having data, intelligence and information is important in making strategic decisions.
Of course, let’s not forget…