4 Major Marketing Mistakes: A TV Lesson from HBO’s Silicon Valley

WARNING: This article contains light spoilers for the HBO hit series, Silicon Valley.

If you haven’t gotten into the hit series, Silicon Valley, yet — do yourself a favor. Crawl out of the cave you’ve been living in, borrow your friend’s HBO GO® login and throw on a pair of sweats. You’re going to want to binge-watch this one…

Why are we talking about it? Because a major theme in the plot also happens to be a common pain point for all types of organizations — bad marketing (or no marketing at all).

Silicon Valley follows the lives of 5 hilariously quirky software developers as they attempt to do what everyone in Northern California’s tech community dreams of — invent a piece of technology so sophisticated and imaginative, it changes the way the world works.

When they succeed, a bidding war breaks out among the largest technology corporations in the world, and the team of techie misfits quickly become the center of Silicon Valley attention. Their claim to fame is a ‘middle-out compression algorithm’ called Pied Piper. Yes, it has a real website. Yes — this fact totally got us jazzed!

Here’s the but…

On Pied Piper’s path to greatness, lead developer, Richard Hendricks makes a monumental mistake that, as it turns out, even the most genius coding can’t fix. He failed to consider who the solution was for and never took the time to define his target audience. This single misstep sabotaged his success before it even began.

Here’s a clip from the Silicon Valley episode that inspired today’s topic; a focus group sharing their initial reactions to Pied Piper.

Here’s how brand28 would have helped Pied Piper avoid total consumer confusion: 

Sourcing Pied Piper’s Big Problem

Marketing Mistake No. 1: Branding (Or Lack Thereof)

You can have the most revolutionary business idea of the 21st century, and it won’t amount to crap without the right branding. Had Richard done some research and given his solution some genuine thought, he might not have based his company name off of a dark, medieval German fairy tale (Dialogue courtesy of IMDb).


Richard: We love the name, Pied Piper. It's a classic fairy tale.


Jared: Well, I looked it up. It's about a predatory flautist who murders children in a cave.


Gilfoyle: It has all that going for it, Richard, and I still hate it.

Branding. Is. EVERYTHING.

Don’t be like Richard…run your concept through a branding process that helps define who you are. This will require a sit-down with your core team to answer questions like:

•   Why do you exist?

•   What kind of personality does your brand have?

•   Who are your competitors?

•   What makes you different?

•   How do you make your customers feel?

•   What is your brand story?

•   What five words best describe you?

•   How does your logo embody or communicate your brand?

•   What are your fonts and colors?

•   What does your voice sound like?

Marketing Mistake 2: Not Knowing Your Audience

Albeit shockingly outlandish with an obnoxious tendency to ‘lord’ over all the other tech nerds, Erlich deserves his spot at the Pied Piper table. He sees the big picture; something Richard struggles with throughout every season of the show. Erlich thinks about and gets the customer.


“Today’s user wants access to all their files, from all of their devices, instantly. That’s why cloud-based is the Holy Grail. Now Dropbox is winning. But when it comes to audio and video files, they might as well be called Dripbox.”

Your audience will drive every single marketing decision you make.

 To better understand them, ask yourself questions like:

•   What problems does my product or service solve?

•   Who is my ideal customer?

•   Where do they spend time online?

Conduct an absurd amount of market research, review any data you have that ties your brand to the outside world. Scrutinize information about existing customers and define their common traits. Your final step (and this one’s a doozie) is to create buyer personas.

Your audience is vast and diverse. Buyer Personas are profiles for fictitious people that represent each segment of your audience. They include vital information about your audience segments, including:

•   Demographic information

•   Job description

•   Hobbies/Interests

•   Pain points

•   Goals

With this information clearly laid out for each audience segment, you can align your product or service as their solution in a variety of ways and set highly targeted parameters for your marketing campaigns. 

Hubspot provides everything you ever wanted to know about personas right here.

buyer persona

Marketing Mistake 3: Failing to Adjust Your Language

Shannon coding, manipulating data, theoretical limits, Weissman scores…this is how Richard talks because Richard is unapologetically nerdy. brand28 digs your authenticity! But when it comes to Pied Piper and your marketing strategy — this won’t fly. Even his Senior Programmer, Dinesh Chugtai called him out on his complete lack of self-awareness!


“You turned down 10 million dollars to be able to develop something that you can’t even describe to another human being.”

Ouch. If you want to connect with your audience, earn their trust, and convince them that your product or service is the best solution for them, you’ve got to speak their language and humanize every marketing touchpoint. Try these tips:

  • Pay attention to how your target audience talks about their interests, pain points, industry, etc. One way to observe them in their natural habitat is to ramp up your social media presence.
  • Simplify your messaging. Even the most complex products or services can be broken down into casual conversation.
  • Avoid using buzzwords and industry jargon. This complicates your messaging, makes you sound generic, and will likely go right over your audiences head.
  • Adjust your vernacular to align with theirs, but don’t compromise your authenticity to “fit in”. How would you explain your product or service to a friend outside of the industry?

Marketing Mistake 4: Not Using Video

In 2017, video content will represent 74% of all internet traffic (HubSpot).

Especially if your product, service, or concept is complex (like Pied Piper), video is the most powerful way you can simplify your message and communicate with target audiences. Why? Because it works! Most people are visual learners. Video appeals to visual, auditory and emotion sensors in the brain to help viewers engage with and commit information to memory.

As Silicon Valley ruthlessly points out, the market is fiercely competitive and doesn't always play fair. Your organization needs every possible advantage to survive and succeed. If marketing isn't your shtick, partner with an agency like brand28. Our video marketing ideation process ensures that your brand and audience is always ingrained in your video marketing messaging. In other words, we help you walk the walk and talk the talk.  

Header image credit: http://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/silicon-valley/629938/