Selena Blue

Marketing Management: 6 lessons from The Walking Dead for your team and marketing efforts

October 20th, 2015

For decades, people have been pulling leadership and life lessons from film and television. From sports and war inspired movies to law dramas and comedies, we see characters make tough decisions, lead their teams to victory or support them through the losses.

For me, apocalypse stories often have some of the most dynamic and interesting characters to watch. To survive in such circumstances, they often learn important lessons that you just don’t think about or encounter as dramatically in a normal day-to-day life. Stripping them of their modern conveniences and the restraints of society and laws, you quickly get to see who they really are as a person.

Even though the office place doesn’t require the same life-or-death decisions, we can still draw out valuable lessons from the decisions these characters make.

The Walking Dead fans like me know that Season 6 has finally arrived. To celebrate, I’ve rounded up six lessons marketing leaders can take away from the drama and apply to their teams.

6 lessons from The Walking Dead for your team and marketing efforts


Lesson #1. Don’t let your guard down (and keep testing)

“You’re not safe. No matter how many people are around, or how clear the area looks, no matter what anyone says, no matter what you think. You are not safe. It only takes one second. One second and it’s over. Never let your guard down. Ever. I want you to promise me.”

—    Rick Grimes, Season 5 

You might be asking how this relates to marketing. Replace “you” with “your webpages” and switch “safe” to “bulletproof.” Your webpages are not bulletproof.

When Rick said the words above to his son, Carl, they had already been living in a world with zombies (or “walkers” as they’re called in the show) for nearly two years. Clearly, Carl knew that the world is a dangerous and ever-changing place, but it’s important to remember that it only takes one second to change a situation.

While it may take more than a single second for the successfulness of our webpages to change, it might only take one factor.

An initial test might show the treatment works best in say, March, but circumstances change, audiences evolve and the market fluctuates. The effectiveness of your page changes with those factors.

Continual testing confirms whether your landing pages, checkout processes, emails, etc. still appeal best to your current customers.


Lesson #2. Be willing to let go of legacy ideas

Lesson #1. Don’t let your guard down (and keep testing)

 “Get off the farm now! Maggie, it’s lost!”

—    Glenn Rhee, Season 2

This lesson goes well with the previous one. Sometimes as a company, it can be easy to say, “We’ve always done it that way” or “It’s all we know.” However, as the marketing industry changes, especially with technology and customer expectations, you have to be willing to adopt new processes, new messaging and sometimes even new products.

That means you have to also be willing to let go of the legacy ideas you’re so used to.

For almost three months in the show, Maggie and her family had been able to survive the initial breakdown of society and the zombie outbreak on the family farm. The ability to stay in a familiar environment  their childhood home  must have brought a level of comfort to a crazy world.

How often do we hold onto a landing page design or particular messaging because it’s all we know, or maybe we were the ones to create it?

Testing is certainly one way to bring to light the best course of action. You can say definitively, “This new copy performs X percent more than our old copy.”

When it comes to replacing legacy products or pages, it’s important to remember it’s not about you — it’s about the customers. Your products, webpages and email should all serve their needs; that’s where you’ll find success.


Lesson #3. Build your team with purpose

“How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?”

—    Rick Grimes, Season 4

The creation of a team is central to the success of a team — whether in a zombie world or corporate America. Just because someone has the right skills doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the job.

For Rick, it was the answers to these three questions that were most important in accepting new members. There could be endless answers to the first two questions; it’s the “why” that puts them into context and really paints the picture of who these people are and what they’ll bring to the team.

Do you have a set of questions that helps you get the heart of a potential team member? What core value do you look for in an employee?

If you’re not considering how candidates would fit into the culture of not only the company but also the team you’re considering them for, you could be looking at team chemistry problems down the road.

For example, your team spends a lot of time collaborating and brainstorming together, as well as working together on many steps of a project. A fiercely independent person used to completely owning projects from conception to completion might not mesh well with your team.

As a manager, you’ll want to identify the key qualities you want and design interview questions that will help you determine if candidates have those qualities. If you don’t hire with purpose, you might end up with brilliant puzzle pieces that just don’t fit together.


Lesson #4. Prepare your team for emergencies

“Today, we’re talking about knives. How to use them, how to be safe with them, how they could save your life.”

—    Carol Peletier, Season 4

After losing her young daughter to zombies in Season 2, Carol begins to see sheltering children as a disservice to them. Unexpected situations and emergencies could leave them alone and in need of protecting themselves. They can’t do that without the proper training.

Similarly, your team needs to have training to deal with unexpected absences and emergency workload increases. Cross-training your team protects the health and wellbeing of your team, department and company.

One employee having the knowledge of certain procedures or processes is dangerous. If they suddenly leave the company or take medical leave, what would you do?

However, cross-training has more positives than just being able to survive disruptions. According to an article in Forbes, it provides your team better professional development for employees, better team efficiency and better teamwork. Understanding different parts roles on a team allows employees to see the bigger picture of how the work the team produces comes together.


Lesson #5. Be versatile

Lori: “You are a doctor?”
Hershel: “Yes, ma’am of course. A vet.”
Lori: “A veteran? A combat vet?”
Hershel: “A veterinarian.”

—    Season 2

When Carl is accidently shot by a man hunting deer, luck was on his side. Hershel, who lived on the aforementioned farm, was a veterinarian before the zombie outbreak. Of course, while his training wasn’t the same as an ER doctor used to bullet wounds, the general knowledge was there.

When teams are small and budgets are tight, sometimes you have to look at how you can transfer different skill sets. Marketers often wear multiple hats in companies big and small, nonprofit and corporate.

At the heart of it, if you understand your customer and what they need, you can use that knowledge to apply your skills to other areas. You might have only email marketing experience, but you can use those writing and storytelling skills in other mediums, from social media to landing pages.

Even if you’re not in an organization that requires a jack-of-all-trades, you still have to be adaptable to the ever-changing technology that marketing relies on. Just 10 years ago, the social media marketer didn’t really exist. As technology changes, so does how people engage with one another and companies. If you can’t adapt with those changes, you could find yourself going nowhere fast.


Lesson #6. Basic can be effective

“We’re friends with the chick with the sword and the kid in the hat.

—    Carol Peletier, Season 5

“A bowman. I respect that. See a man with a rifle, he could have been some kind of photographer or a soccer coach back in the day. But a bowman’s a bowman through and through.”

—    Joe, Season 4

Michonne is well-known as “the chick with the sword,” and Daryl is definitely the bowman.Lesson #6. Basic can be effective

In a world where ammunition is gold, the ability to wield old school weapons, like a katana and bow, has a certain advantage. You can’t reuse bullets, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. If you have time to stop, you can reuse arrows. The katana is a standalone weapon.

It can be really easy to get swept up in new technology and strategies. However, if you don’t have the right messaging and understanding of customers, you’ll be shooting blanks.

Say you want to produce and share a publication. There are many formats you could use. Do you use a mobile app or an embedded HTML5 flipbook? Or would your audience be better served with a good old fashion PDF?

Sometimes the basic tools available are the best ones. It’s all about understanding your audience.


Image credits to AMC and Gene Page.


You can follow Selena Blue, Manager of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter at @SelenaLBlue.


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Selena Blue

About Selena Blue

Selena Blue, Partnership Content Manager, MECLABS As Partnership Content Manager, Selena crafts various content to serve MECLABS Partners. From writing books on customer insights to building PowerPoint decks, she creates stories around our Partners’ successes and experiment discoveries to aid their marketing optimization transformation. Prior to her current position, she started at MECLABS as copy editor, then moved into a writing role as reporter. Selena holds a B.S. in communications and an M.S. in integrated marketing and management communications, both from Florida State University.

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  1. Cynthia Nagle
    October 20th, 2015 at 23:45 | #1

    I have to admit, I approached this article with a healthy dose of skepticism, expecting really corny, meaningless analogies. (And maybe I’m biased since I only grudgingly watch The Walking Dead when my husband insists on monopolizing the TV.) But this article is actually quite good (and clever) – and the analogies, while nothing earth-shattering, do make sense. Nice work!

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