9 valuable marketing lessons learned from American Idol
9 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From American Idol
9 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From American Idol

Cheesy reality shows may be an embarrassing addiction for American television audiences, but if you’re of the mind to learn something from everything you do, read, or watch, then Tinsel Town and a crew of slicked-up stars have something to offer marketers.

Eyes on the prize, we can easily fall into “react” mode when pressured by our bosses, this months’ numbers, or an unanticipated competitive move. “Just get it done! I don’t care how!” isn’t exactly constructive, but you can channel the company’s quest for success into a cogent plan when you consider these nine lessons.

Marketing lessons from the big stage:

  1. Know what you want.  Is your goal to increase the monthly lead base by 12%? Decrease inbound support requests by 20% (thereby improving experience)? White papers and webinars or user forums and Twitter monitoring – independent, random tactics are just about as effective as cattle calls if you don’t know where it is you want to go. Get a solid plan that you can actually execute.
  2. Be committed. Marketing success is not for the faint of heart, and never as easy as it may appear from the outside. Like the road to music stardom, digital marketing is fraught with risk, trial/error, and incremental achievements. Make sure your plans include reasonable goals and realistic milestones; rarely is a star born overnight.
  3. Rally your support system.  Poster-waving, adoring fans are the stuff dreams are made of.  Build your own base of supporters when you share a well-researched, written plan. Think about the goals you’re setting and how any changes (implementation of the plan or downstream effects of the plan in action) might impact other teams or departments. Reach out and share your vision before spending big dollars on a platform or printing. Group consensus isn’t necessary (or even desired), just the free flow of information.
  4. Hear what the critics have to say. Confidence in the soundness of your plan is essential, but if you think its foolproof or can’t be improved upon with a little collaboration or coaching, then I sure can’t help you. Objective feedback from a mix of sources can ensure you’ve covered all the angles. If nothing else, the feedback could be superficial or cosmetic in which case you’re just about ready for the big stage.
  5. In the face of adversity, keep wearing a smile. A little off key? Choose the wrong song? Mistakes happen; institutionally they’re better tolerated when you’ve laid a foundation of inclusion that has others invested inCasey upright bass American Idol your success. Take your lumps like a big kid and others will respect you for it. Keep the self-flagellation for times you’re alone, and only then if it helps you work off tension so you can focus on fixing things.
  6. Know where you can shine, and work it ’til you own it. Sometimes winning isn’t about working the hardest or even being the best. There are way too many folks trying the same tack. Step around the bodies of those lemming and try for “different” instead. Can you create a new market space that appeals to underserved audiences? Do it and you’ll have found your blue ocean.
  7. Bring your accessory bag.  What if two minutes from curtain you discover a sagging hem? Or that your jacket sleeves are too short? Prepare for the unexpected by building contingencies into your plan. Some disasters can’t be averted with simple solutions like a little hem tape or wide bangle bracelets.  But thanks to your pre-plan research and the clued-in support system, the team will get you back in the competition faster than J. Lo can change her hairstyle.
  8. Don’t stare into the lights. Ever been on a stage to face the spotlight? The piercing glare can paralyze and disorient even the most seasoned performers. Take a lesson and keep your field of vision wide. Stay receptive to what’s happening on the stage around you and in the audience. A high level of awareness will help you respond to a snafu with grace and style (think Red Cross, not Chrysler).
  9. Haters are gonna hate. Face it, different music genres exist because some of us can’t tolerate the twang of country or the lyrics of hip-hop. Pleasing the masses isn’t only impractical, it’s impossible. And if you know what you’re after (see #1) then you’re not aiming for the masses anyway, you’re aiming for a specific target. It won’t matter if suburban 35-44 year-olds with 2+ electronic devices don’t buy your widget; they’re not the sort that’ll help you reach your goals.

Bonus marketing lessons:

  • Just be yourself, each and every time. Consistent brand experiences are critical to building customer trust and affinity. Don’t compromise your integrity because “it’s only Twitter.” Every touch point counts.
  • Act natural. Four inch heels might have worked for Pia, but on Lauren they’d look ridiculous. That is to say, what’s one brand’s norm is another’s anomaly. Untested and not fully integrated, squash the impulse to blindly try what everyone else is trying because you think you have to do so just to compete. It’s better to skip Foursquare all together than to launch an account unprepared (time, resources, plan) to use the tool to further your digital marketing efforts.
This is a fun, quirky deviation from the standard “lessons I learned” post. What would you add? In what other ways can digital marketing pros learn from American Idol? Or for that matter, any reality TV program?

About the Author

Heather Rast
Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.
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  • New thing from American Idol. You should be be hell of observer . Good going and thanks for sharing these useful tips.

  • bross

    Another thing I would add is sing what you you like and what you a passionate about, not what you think will best please your audience. Even in social media, you can’t adapt to your audience too much. They are reading your posts, tweets and status updates for a reason, and conforming to them can get out of hand. If a person is passionate about the song they sing or something they write about, then it will show and will most likely result in better work.

  • Allisonmdunne

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post, when I read the title I instantly wanted to read and see what exactly someone can learn from a show like American Idol. I really thought you picked out the right lessons to be learned from American Idol that can be the same in an office or working for someone who isn’t very supportive. I found this post really helpful and clear; you precisely pointed out the goals and explained them in both ways (of the show, and in professional environment.
    I completely agree with all your lessons, and it was very eye opening how simple it can be to make yourself prepared and ready at all times.

    • Hey, Allison. Thanks for your kind comments. This was a fun post to write (hey, I enjoy Idol as much as the next gal). And it struck me as I watched it – knowing all of the marketing and promotion that goes into a show on that level – that there were lessons the rest of us with more shallow pockets could learn. So I drew some parallels that I thought made sense. Glad you found them useful.

  • Hi Heather
    Really great post. I like the way you make these lessons so clear.
    What I don’t get though is the title. Why only speak about marketers? I mean, these great lessons about how getting out of the crowd and doing something great and sustainable apply to any of us.
    OK – we all need to market ourselves these days, so we are all marketers. Still I would have preferred the title to be something like “9 lessons we can all take from American Idol and apply to develop our own brand”. Because that’s really what it is about.

    • Hi, Jeremie. I’m glad you liked the post in general, and I’m sorry if it didn’t “pay off” the marketing angle for you as well as it could have. Personally, I don’t believe these are branding lessons – let alone “personal brand” lessons. Instead, I see them as areas those of us who work in marketing, promoting products and services each day, need to remain aware of. While rallying the support of stakeholders may seem like a no-brainer, you might be surprised by how little effort is often put into genuinely attracting and persuading internal groups to support a new program (just one example).

  • Hi, Paul. Thanks for adding your thoughts! I’m pleased you found the value as well as the humor. And I think you’re dead on with the name dropping point. It’s distasteful and elitist, and does nothing to build a common bridge. And what kind of star (singer or brand) could you be if you didn’t have real vulnerabilities (and wins) to share with your audiences? I suspect in your example Randy sees it as a way to validate his opinion, which is sad, really.

  • One more for you, Heather.

    Namedropping doesn’t impress anyone. It seems like every time Randy has an opinion, he first needs to name the artist of the original song and tell everyone either how good of a friend that person is, or how much he loves that person. The namedropping makes him look desperate, like he wants to be bigger than he is. It’s not very flattering.

    Your comments are spot on. And what’s more, if anyone were to read this right before one of the episodes, you would see these in action. I think you could take away a lot.


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