Let’s get this out of the way, first — Don Draper was a bad man.
Despite the fact that he was a fictional character, nearly everything he did in his personal life in the brilliant AMC drama, Mad Men, was backward.
My wife loathes him.
We can’t get through an episode without her commenting about how little she thinks of him. (It’s her first time through the series.)
“He’s a great character,” she says, “and Jon Hamm (the actor portraying Draper) is great, but I hate him so much.”
Maybe it’s wrong for me to say this, but I’ve always liked him.
Not for who he was, of course.
I liked him because of the way he approached his work.
“Advertising is based on one thing — happiness.”
Over the last week, I’ve been reading Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller, taking notes along the way.
In the book, Miller walks you through the seven steps required to clarify a message to the point where your customers, prospects, or any type of audience will take notice and take action.
Somewhere around the sixth step, I started thinking about how Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, and his team of writers captured Miller’s idea so perfectly in the character of Don Draper.
While Don was the amalgam of dozens of writers and their experiences that doesn’t take away from his skill (or their execution).
Every time he was working on a client’s account, be it in the middle of a pitch or schooling his team, Don found the core of his customer’s needs.
His success wasn’t just finding the need. It was how effectively and efficiently he spoke to them.
“You — feeling something, is what sells.”
Aside from the season one finale, the best example of this is a small interaction Don has with characters Peggy Olsen and Sal Romano.
Peggy and Sal have been working on artwork for their client, Mohawk Airlines.
Don, unsurprisingly, is underwhelmed and uninspired. He doesn’t feel drawn to their idea — until he spots a little girl in the mock-up; reaching.
What happens next in the scene is Don at his best.
“What did you bring me, Daddy?” isn’t only a line that works for parents returning from a business trip. It speaks to the aspiration of everyone who wishes they were there with someone on that journey. Wishing they were seeing the things they saw. Wishing experienced everything they did.
That is what made Don Draper — the Madison Avenue executive — so compelling.
That is what made him so successful.
“Success comes from standing out. Not fitting in.”
Over the course of the show, Mad Men makes it clear that brands want to work with Sterling Cooper because they know Don approached his work differently than other communicators.
As Donald Miller would see it, Don took the time to understand the need every customer his clients had in their hero’s journey.
At the same time, he understood what it took for his clients to become the guide each hero (customer) needs.
Mad Men features hundreds of shots of Draper smoldering away — deep in thought and dragging on a Lucky Strike cigarette.
In these moments, I’m sure he was thinking about how he was going to lie to his family and get away with it.
I’m also convinced that he was placing himself in the shoes of his client’s customers during these moments.
The proof was in his work. While he was lousy at just about everything else, he sure was good at that.
A Place Where We Ache to Go Again
Do you know what your customers want? What they need? What makes them tick?
Do you know what drives them, beyond their obvious external needs?
How much time do you devote to existing in their mindset before creating a campaign, landing page, or product?
Don Draper may not have understood how to be a good person, but he sure was good at understanding a person.
And that’s a big lesson for every business.
This blog was originally published on jonsteiert.com.