Marketers, Where’s Your Inner Idol?

Heather Rast/Tree Full of Owls

Cheesy reality shows may be an addiction for American television audiences, but who’s to say clever marketers can’t find a good learning opportunity or two sandwiched somewhere between Steven, Jennifer, and Randy?

What marketers can learn from American Idol:

Know what you want to achieve.  Is your goal to increase the monthly lead base by 12 percent? Decrease inbound support requests by 20 percent, 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.

Be committed. Marketing success is not for the faint of heart, and never as easy as it may appear from the outside (like to those guys in sales). Just like the road to music stardom, digital marketing is fraught with risk, trial/error, and incremental achievements, small stages giving way to bigger and bigger stages. Make sure your marketing plans include reasonable goals and realistic milestones; rarely is a star (or stellar marketing case study) born overnight.

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 with cross-functional teams. 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 within your company. Reach out and share your vision before spending big dollars on a platform or print job. Group consensus isn’t necessary (or even desired), just the free flow of information. Generally speaking, people appreciate being in the know – even if they don’t need to know.

Hear what the critics have to say. Confidence in the soundness of your plan is essential, but if you think it’s foolproof or can’t be improved upon with a little collaboration or coaching, then it’s time for some self-awareness. Objective feedback from a mix of sources can ensure you’ve covered all the angles.

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 in your success (see “rally your support system,” above). Take your lumps like a pro 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.

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 lemmings 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 (

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 marketing 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 on track and in the competition faster than J. Lo can change her hairstyle.

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 (the grace with which the American Red Cross handled a communications crisis, not the Chrysler belly flop).

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 “know what you want to achieve,” above) 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 more than two electronic devices don’t buy your widget; they’re not the sort that’ll help you reach your goals. Focus on the 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.”

Act natural. One brand’s norm is another’s anomaly. Squash the impulse to blindly try what seemingly every other company is trying simply because you think you have to do so in order to compete. It’s better to skip Foursquare (or Pinterest, etc.) altogether than to launch an account unprepared (that is to say, without having thought through the logistics, mechanics, and implications).  Set goals and objectives first, then find the best tactics to support them given your product/service, audience, and market place.