3 marketing lessons from a founding father

We all know him as a statesman, scientist and inventor, but Benjamin Franklin was something of a marketing pioneer as well. His Pennsylvania Gazette, for example, was the first newspaper to support itself with ad revenue. In celebration of July 4, here are three of Franklin’s best lessons for today’s marketers:

Manage your brand. Franklin was always mindful of his personal brand. As a young printer, he made sure he was always seen in public covered in ink, so prospective clients would take note of his industriousness. Later in life, he perpetuated his status as a living legend by sporting a coonskin cap, projecting the image of a backwoods sage (though he had never lived outside of the city). To this day, strong brands continue to take a page from Franklin’s book by changing their image to fit the times and connect with customers..

Keep it simple. Franklin was a master of keeping things short and memorable. As publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac, he brought us such maxims as “Early to bed, early to rise…” and “He who lies with dogs rises with fleas.” And let’s not forget his famous cartoon depicting a snake chopped into pieces, representing the colonies. With its blunt message, “JOIN, or DIE,” it mobilized the colonists to band together and fight. Now more than ever, complex messages get lost in the noise – and can’t translate into 140 characters. As Franklin intuitively knew, simpler is better.

Take risks. Doing anything in a lightning storm is risky, never mind flying a kite with a key attached. But Franklin wasn’t crazy. His experiments with electricity were backed by science – and lots of planning. Similarly, in business, calculated risks can reap great rewards. Everyone is looking to go viral with a YouTube video or a tweet as popular as the Ellen selfie but, to hit it big, you’ll probably need to leave your comfort zone. If you have confidence in your strategy, we say go for it. After all, you don’t end up on the $100 bill by playing it safe.


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